AirBNB, Displacement, and Freezing the Homeless to Death

On Martin Luther King Day it was reported an infant, possibly only hours old, had died in a homeless camp near a bus stop in downtown Portland, Oregon. First responders rushed the baby to OHSU, but it was too late. Reports were inconclusive as to whether the child was in fact stillborn, or died shortly after in what has become one of the most severe winters in what’s normally a very mild boreal climate.

This is certainly a tragic confluence of lack of mental health and homeless services, as well as an immediate incapability to shelter Portland’s thousands of homeless people when temperatures take a sudden plunge.

But even deeper is the problem of sky-rocketing rents, out of state developers pushing speculation in rental markets, a lack of affordable housing, and a booming cycle of new unaffordable condo construction.

Also clearly a factor is AirBNB. Willamette Week reported last year that the so-called ‘short term’ rental service was so lax in policing housing law, that their very own employees were getting in on this new black market. By law, short term rentals cannot be used as such year round. But with AirBNB allowed to self-regulate, the law is routinely broken.

Oregon is also a state that allows no-cause evictions, meaning your landlord can evict you whenever they want, for any reason, or for no reason, and there’s nothing you can do about it. AirBNB knows this.

And like any parasite, they know landlords would love to triple or quadruple what they charge for a long-term unit with short term AirBNB rentals. They’ll jump at that chance to evict their tenants via no-cause, even if it means putting people out on the street, where now the death toll stands at five people this winter in Portland.

Last year, while running for mayor, Ted Wheeler tweeted “I already am” when I asked him if he was committed to ending no-cause evictions in Portland. Easier said than done, as this is a state law that would need overturning.

Still, the city has its own lobbyist to push agendas in the state capital of Salem. And this needs to be on the city’s agenda.

As do the lax regulations that allow displacing gentrification and a rental market that’s out of control with speculation from developers who couldn’t care less about the harm they create. And truly, something needs to be done about regulating AirBNB. They’ve magnified this problem like never before at a time when children are now literally dying in the street without shelter.

Those at fault must be held accountable so this never happens again.