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Friday, August 2, 2013

Water District Lobbyist Adds Another Client Looking to Tilt with City Hall: Landlords

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Aug 2, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Just weeks after Portland's latest stab at housing discrimination testing was set to begin, the city's most prominent group of landlords and property managers, Multifamily NW, has unleashed insider Oregon lobbyist John Di Lorenzo in a bid to learn more about the testing process, the Mercury has learned.

DiLorenzo sent a records request (PDF) to the city attorney's office July 23 seeking detailed information about how the city's contract partners plan to test landlords for discrimination and also how those tests results would be recorded and transmitted to the city. The Mercury obtained a copy of DiLorenzo's records request thanks to our own records request.

It's another high-profile issue for DiLorenzo, who's already helping the industrial interests behind Portlanders for Water Reform mount a campaign to take strip the city's water and environmental services bureaus from City Hall's control.

DiLorenzo, whose office said he's on vacation, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Discrimination is a sore subject for landlords, stung by results from testing in 2011 that apparently showed widespread racial discrimination. Those results, however, were later cast aside as flawed—amid questions about methodology but also because they weren't considered strong enough to take to the state for further investigation and actual enforcement.

That testing was done by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO). After more than a year of contract haggling, the city wound up hiring another agency, the Fair Housing Center of Washington, to oversee FHCO's testing work. The Oregonian this spring reported the work was expected to begin as soon as July 1 and spelled out the point of the $70,000 contract.

The contract broadly states that the testing "may include" efforts to determine discrimination against any protected class, such as African Americans, people with disabilities or people with children, but it does not specify what categories will be tested.

The contract also authorizes the Fair Housing Center of Washington to use the results in enforcement activities, following consultation with city attorneys and the Oregon Department of Justice. The testing information also can be used by city attorneys for litigation, the contract states, but nothing in the contract prevents the agency from filing a complaint if Portland "elects not to pursue litigation."

The O's story pointed out that the contract with the Washington housing group attempts to keep some documents private, by leaving them with the group and not with the city. DiLorenzo's request notes the same thing but has an answer for why that clause in the contract won't be good enough.

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I've left a message for Deborah Imse, the executive director of Multifamily NW, but have yet to hear back. I also put a call into Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office for comment.

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