Debt collection procedures in Portland must change

Debt collection procedures in Portland must change

As Portland is seriously rethinking its form of government, it is important to draw attention to some other hidden aspects of the broken system and how they are negatively impacting immigrants, refugees, BIPOC, and low-income Portlanders.

As the City Auditor’s report shows, the debt collection procedures - for fines, fees, liens, taxes, and so on - of the City of Portland are not streamlined. This inconsistency between the different bureaus  makes it harder for our communities, especially those who are not fluent in English, to settle their debts and comply with the law. As a consequence, these inconsistencies are adding to the already existing obstacles that our communities face in accessing financial services that allow them to live with dignity. Our communities already struggle to get by due to the high cost of living in Portland and income disparities for immigrants, refugees, and BIPOC folks , and aggressive & inconsistent debt collection practices do nothing but add existing challenges to our community members' lives.

Some people may receive communications from various bureaus referring them to collection agencies contracted by the City, thereby creating more confusion rather than streamlining the process. These inconsistencies are especially harmful to those who are not proficient in English, and may struggle to understand legal notices written in inaccessible language. Having multiple bureaus employing different collections procedures creates confusion and presents a particular challenge to immigrants and refugees.

The different bureaus also have their own policies and procedures regarding negotiating a fine or arranging a payment plan. Often people are not aware that these options exist and there is not a central route for people to approach these options. The City must ensure that all bureaus are providing opportunities for Portlanders to settle their debts in a meaningful, humane way.

The City of Portland must find a streamlined way of reporting fines, to make it easier for our communities to pay their debts or to negotiate possible alternatives. Even those with the financial resources to pay a fine may not have the other resources required to navigate the system, resulting in late payments and debt, which can add even more barriers to economic health and well-being.