Tackling a Piece of the Housing Crisis | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Tackling a Piece of the Housing Crisis 

Oregon House Democrats vote in favor of a bill limiting no-cause evictions and allowing rent control

Central Oregon's Republican delegation remains opposed

Oregon Democrats and Republicans agree on something: there is a housing crisis in the state. They don't agree, however, on how best to solve it. That isn't necessarily good news for the more than 500,000 Oregonians who rent their homes. For these individuals, the housing crisis is something all too real.

A recent nationwide study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition highlighted just how dire the rental crisis is. The study concluded that in Oregon, the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,008. To afford that rent and utilities without paying more than 30 percent of income on housing, you'll need to earn $3,360 a month, or $40,318 per year.

When looking at Central Oregon, the picture doesn't get much rosier. In Deschutes County the estimated hourly mean renter wage for 2016 was $11.86. The hourly wage necessary to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Deschutes County at Fair Market Rent would be $15.90, more than a $4 an hour difference.

Possible solutions include Oregon House Bill 2004, which, according to the bill's language, "Prohibits landlord from terminating month-to-month tenancy without cause after six months of occupancy except under certain circumstances with 90 days written notice and payment of relocation expenses amount equal to one month's periodic rent."

The bill also "permits city or county to implement rent stabilization program for rental of dwelling units." The bill narrowly made it past the House in April, with 31 voting favor and 27 voting against. Zero Republicans voted in favor of the bill—including Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) and Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver). The bill still must pass the Senate and receive the governor's signature before becoming law.

Support for the bill, or lack thereof, runs pretty much down party lines, with Democrats arguing in favor and Republicans against. Those speaking out against HB 2004 include House Republicans, who have argued that this bill would actually make the crisis worse by turning those away who might want to invest in rental properties and new construction. Bend's state senator has indicated he'll vote against the bill in the Senate.

"HB 2004 is already hurting the very people (it) was designed to help," wrote Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) in an email response to the Source Weekly. "Some landlords are listing their properties and giving up rentals because of all the additional cost and regulation being proposed. This is deceasing rental supply and will likely cause prices to go higher. What is needed is to rebalance supply, which there is not enough of right now," Knopp said.

In a heated debate on the House floor, Rep. Mark Meek, (D-Oregon City/Gladstone) argued in support of the bill, stating that, "Oregon families are struggling against record rent increases and housing insecurity right now."

Also supporting the bill is the Oregon Housing Alliance, urging support for the bill from its website, because, "Too many Oregonians face double or triple-digit rent increases. Oregon's towns and cities have low vacancy rates, between 1 to 3 percent. Communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes are disproportionately impacted when landlords exploit the eviction process."

In an article in the Statesman Journal, Rep. Carl Wilson (R-Grants Pass), said, "I think we should let the private market solve this shortage." Others speaking out against the bill include landlords. In a letter to the editor in The Oregonian, one landlord wrote against HB 2004, saying: "Requiring 90 days' notice and one month's rent for moving expenses is absurd. If the bill passes, I will be forced to increase the rents on the units to protect myself."

It isn't clear if HB 2004 will be what the Democrats state: a step in the right direction, or whether it would compound the housing crisis, as Republicans claim. For now, the next step in the process is a Senate Committee on Human Services work session on the bill, scheduled for May 31.

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