Fighting for an Eviction Moratorium in Medford

At the Dec. 22, 2020 Medford City Council meeting, with 20 families in Medford facing eviction, the Council President blocked a resolution to enact an eviction moratorium citing procedural concerns, despite unanimous verbal agreement from Councillors on putting a moratorium in place. Contact Mayor Lung-Koehn now to demand an eviction moratorium or sign the petition here.

Eviction Moratorium Blocked by Council President

For the past year, Our Revolution Medford members have been consistently attending City Council meetings. In 2017-2019 we showed up for a few key meetings here and there to support key community issues like matching the grant to build the new library and implementing a municipal energy aggregation program. But for the most part, the issues we cared the most about weren’t even being brought up at City Council meetings.

In 2020, after endorsing and helping win seats for Councillors Bears and Morell, our next step was to build in an accountability process. Politicians too often are elected to office and then lose their connection to the base that elected them. We were going to be different – we were going to put the time and effort in to pay attention to what our Councillors were doing all year round, not just at the time of the election. If they consistently acted outside of our interests, we simply wouldn’t endorse them again. One endorsement from OR in no way means a lifetime stamp of approval, and our endorsements in 2017 and 2019 reflect this.

But what we thought was a light accountability process for two people we knew and trusted (we’d show up to a few meetings, make sure they weren’t doing anything that undermined the Medford People’s Platform, and call it a day) turned into extensive education and research-in-practice about how the City Council works, who has power, and how it is wielded.

The Dec. 22nd meeting was another learning moment for all of us, and it made perfect sense in the pattern of behavior of the Medford City Council. Back in April, Councillor Bears, a consistently progressive voice on housing access, proposed a resolution to enact an eviction moratorium. By the time of the Council meeting, a state-level moratorium had been put in place, so the resolution was deemed unnecessary and the paper was moved to the Elderly & Housing Affairs Subcommittee (Bears, Marks, and Caraviello). According to Councillor Bears, the subcommittee held a meeting where the group discussed the paper and all agreed on their support of the legislation even though they no longer needed to bring it back up for a vote at that time.

Since the state moratorium has now expired, Medford is facing an eviction crisis. Councillor Bears responded to this emergency situation by putting the moratorium back on the agenda for the December 22nd, 2020 meeting. The word spread quickly and many people representing a variety of community groups in Medford and a wealth of lived experience showed up to the meeting to express their support for the moratorium. We came ready with facts, figures, and experiences, to convince the Council to pass the moratorium. Testimony was powerful. 

But before all of that testimony happened, President Falco ruled the paper out of order, insisting that the paper never left committee. Of course, the Councillors all agreed that they really wanted to pass the moratorium if they could, but they just couldn’t do that because it would be in violation of the rules.

Councillor Bears and President Falco seemed to disagree on the interpretation of the rules, or at least the interpretation of the paper’s status. But there was not much that Councillor Bears could do about the determination given the authority of the President and the strong majority on the Council backing him.

Even with the ruling that the paper could not be voted on because it hadn’t left committee, the President should have invited a suspension of the rules in order to move forward. This is the kind of leadership we need in an emergency. The rules exist for good reason in organizing the democratic process and ensuring equal participation, but they are not meant to stifle progress. In emergencies like our eviction crisis, people will literally lose homes as our Council argues about whether a paper has successfully left committee or not.

While we are sorely disappointed at President Falco’s actions now, it’s clear that this is just how the Council works when there is a Chair who has majority support. Considering Falco is widely considered the next-most-progressive Councillor after Bears and Morell, we are really just getting a taste of the power the President of the Council wields. In 2021 the Council will be led by soon-to-be President Caraviello, who has already exhibited a number of troubling behaviors at Council meetings over this past year and rarely supports progressive legislation. 

Furthermore, we are troubled at the lack of mentorship at best, and what in reality looks like a completely toxic environment for young people, renters, or other people who don’t fit in with the status quo on the Council. Veteran Councillors should mentor new ones, and this lack of support and mentorship and camaraderie (paired with at-large representation) is exactly why our Council lacks the diversity of our community. Only people with privilege can survive in such an atmosphere, and it stomps out many people from even trying to run and have a voice in city government. Our system is oppressive by design and this is on display in every single Council meeting we’ve attended this year and every political machination we’ve seen. 

The City Council agenda comes out on the Friday before each meeting, and before that Councillors often give each other a heads up about legislation they are proposing or opinions they have. In fact, this is the collegial thing to do. Anyone could have let Councillor Bears know that the paper was likely to be ruled out of order so that he could withdraw it, schedule a subcommittee meeting instead, and go through whatever process he needed to go through to present emergency eviction protection legislation.

And in the end, exactly those things are the next steps. With some communication and mentorship, they could have been taken much sooner. Councillor Bears will schedule a subcommittee meeting to occur over the next two weeks that should take no more than a couple minutes, since all of the Councillors agreed that they wanted the moratorium, they just couldn’t support it when the process was in violation of the rules. The subcommittee will vote on the paper, the paper will make it on to a future City Council meeting, and then a vote will finally occur.

In the meantime, 50 families are currently facing eviction in Medford and our most vulnerable neighbors could lose their housing. Mayor Lungo-Koehn can take emergency action on this at any time while the Council remains stymied by rules and procedure. We call on the Mayor to pass an executive order to establish an eviction moratorium as soon as possible. You can sign on to the petition supporting the eviction moratorium here.

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