From the Field: Oregon Advocates Rally to Kickoff Advocacy for More Affordable Housing

Affordable housing advocates in Oregon gathered in Portland on January 27 to launch new advocacy efforts in support of the 2017 policy agenda of the Oregon Housing Alliance, an NLIHC state partner. The event’s playful title, “Kickoff to Kick-Ass in 2017,” captured the mood of advocates who expect to spur significant legislative action this session.

The Kickoff event speakers addressed the importance of housing programs and key strategies for achieving legislative success. Advocates in attendance included leaders from community organizations and low income renters who have previously experienced homelessness. In addition to Oregon Housing Alliance, the event was co-hosted by the Welcome Home Coalition, Community Alliance of Tenants, and Oregon Opportunity Network, also an NLIHC state partner.

A packed house of advocates gathers to plan for a successful 2017.

A packed house of advocates gathers to plan for a successful 2017.

Oregon advocates will continue to push for expanded renters’ rights in 2017. Community Alliance of Tenants Executive Director Katrina Holland spoke about the importance of a statewide policy on “just-cause” evictions. A proposed law would prevent “no-cause” evictions, which are increasingly prevalent in parts of the state where property values are escalating rapidly. Landlords in these areas often evict tenants to clear out a building for remodeling so that units can be rented at much higher monthly rates.

Communities that want to consider rent-stabilization policies to address abrupt rent increases causing displacement are thwarted by a statewide ban on rent control. In 2016, advocates secured passage of a law allowing communities to enact certain inclusionary zoning policies that would not violate the rent-control ban. Advocates hope for a broader victory this year to allow additional options for communities looking to stabilize rent increases without violating the law.

Advocates are prioritizing passage of several funding increases in 2017. One key proposal is to increase the state’s Emergency Housing Account (EHA) and State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP) to $50 million. EHA provides short-term rental assistance for households who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, while SHAP provides additional emergency shelter. The state’s focus on homelessness is timely given that Portland was one of four places in the U.S. that declared a homelessness state of emergency in 2015 (see Memo, 10/2/15).

The advocates are also prioritizing an increase in the state’s document recording fee by $20, doubling the revenue from this source. Document recording fees in Oregon support several affordable housing programs: 76% of proceeds are devoted to developing multifamily rental housing and 10% go to programs dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness, like EHA and SHAP. The remaining document recording fee revenue supports home ownership programs.

In addition to expanding housing programs, the legislature will consider two proposals in 2017 to preserve Oregon’s current affordable rental housing stock. One innovative approach would be to create a capital gains tax exemption for multifamily rental housing. This tax exemption would provide an incentive for property owners to sell already existing affordable housing to nonprofit organizations rather than to parties interested in demolishing the housing to build something new. Advocates will also seek to increase funding for preservation efforts by $100 million.

A young advocate excited about the “HOUSE THE PEOPLE” postcard campaign

A young advocate excited about the “HOUSE THE PEOPLE” postcard campaign.

A new postcard campaign—“HOUSE THE PEOPLE”—was launched at the event. Advocates will be distributing postcards throughout 2017 for constituents to send to their representatives in Salem. The message on the card is direct: “I’m writing to ask you to stand up for Oregon renters and residents with lower incomes. Too many are struggling to keep their homes or find a home. That’s why I’m asking you to make stable and affordable homes your priority for Oregon.”

In addition to discussing policies and strategies, advocates at the Kickoff event also opened their wallets and contributed more than $2,000 to support a “Tenant Travel Fund” to enable low income renters to travel to Salem to lobby their elected officials by supporting these advocates’ transportation, child care, and food costs.

“Last year we won important victories on inclusionary zoning at the state house and a dramatic expansion of affordable housing funding in Portland due to our local ballot initiative” said Jes Larson, director of the Welcome Home Coalition. “Now we need to capitalize on our momentum and use our tremendous network of advocates to achieve more progress with the state legislature in 2017.”

For more information about statewide advocacy efforts in Oregon, contact Welcome Home Coalition Director Jes Larson at: jes@welcomehomecoalition.org.

The Oregon Housing Alliance 2017 legislative agenda is at: http://bit.ly/2kxfVZ6