The Oregon State Legislature recently convened for a 35-day session, and affordable housing advocates are at work to expand tenant protections and lift the statewide ban on inclusionary zoning ordinances. On February 1, the first day of the new session, both the Senate Committee on Human Services and Early Childhood and the House Committee on Human Services and Housing held hearings on key housing bills. Numerous service providers, educators, elected officials, developers, landlords, and low income renters spoke to the importance of expanding affordable housing options and protecting tenants. In addition to speakers, 90 people submitted written testimony in support of tenant protections. Efforts to demonstrate support for key housing legislation were largely coordinated by NLIHC State Coalitions Oregon Opportunity Network (Oregon ON) and Oregon Housing Alliance, a coalition convened by Neighborhood Partnerships and consisting of more than 70 advocacy groups, service providers, and local governments.
Several hours of testimony were offered in support of House Bill 4143, which would protect tenants by requiring a 90-day notice for rent increases or no-cause evictions and would prevent rent increases during the first year of tenancy. The rapid escalation of rents in communities throughout Oregon often leaves renters with little time to either make adjustments to their household budgets or move from their homes. The new legislation will provide tenants with a more reasonable period in which to conduct increasingly difficult housing searches or find ways to increase their incomes. Landlords rallied against the bill, claiming that flexibility is important to their profitability and threatening that further tenant protections will lead to landlords selling single-family homes, removing supply from the overall rental market. The Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) provided examples and personal stories of the disruption for households caused by abrupt displacement.
The Oregon Inclusionary Zoning Coalition coordinated testimony on the opening day of session in support of Senate Bill 1533, which would allow local communities to enact inclusionary zoning ordinances. Inclusionary zoning requires all new developments to contain a certain percentage of affordable units or to provide “in-lieu” fees for affordable housing that is not being built. Inclusionary zoning is a common tool used to create more affordable housing options in more than 400 cities and counties. Only Oregon, Arizona, and Texas have banned municipalities from adopting the practice.
Portland leaders and advocates have wanted to adopt inclusionary zoning since it was banned by statute in 1999, but interest in inclusionary zoning ordinance extends well beyond Oregon’s major population centers. Census data show that Oregon has had the lowest rental vacancy rate in the country for three out of the past five years. The United National Movers Study reveals that Oregon has led the nation for three consecutive years in rates of in-state migration, with 69% of moves to and from the state being inbound in 2015. These factors have contributed to a strong partnership from small and rural communities in support of both bills.
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler (D) testified on the fiscal impact of failing to invest in housing, describing how healthcare, criminal justice, and education costs increase with high rates of homelessness and housing instability. Others offering testimony included local leaders and elected officials who spoke to the diversity of approaches to inclusionary zoning, emphasizing that their communities wanted the opportunity to decide for themselves if it was the best option to address their unique housing problems. Low income renters gave compelling first-hand accounts of living in cars and shelters when affordable housing options are unavailable. Homelessness is increasingly common in Oregon, with Portland one of three cities to recently declare a homeless state of emergency (see Memo, 10/5/2015). In 2015, a bill to lift the ban on inclusionary zoning passed in the House, but was never considered in the Senate.
“Momentum is building to pass these crucial housing bills, and that is due to the incredible organizing of our partners,” said Janet Byrd, Executive Director at Neighborhood Partnerships. “We need legislators to use this brief session to make a real difference for Oregon renters now.”
For more information about efforts in Oregon to repeal the ban on to expand tenant protections and lift the ban on inclusionary zoning, contact Jenny Lee, Housing Policy Director at Neighborhood Partnerships at firstname.lastname@example.org.