From the Field: Oregon Legislature Increases Funding for Housing Development but Fails to Protect Tenants

The 2017 Oregon legislative session ended on July 10 with victories for affordable housing as well as leaving much additional advocacy work to be done. The legislature significantly increased investments to address Oregon’s affordable housing needs, but it failed to pass a critical bill to provide greater housing stability for renters.

Oregon is facing a severe housing crisis that shows no sign of abating. Both rural and urban communities throughout Oregon are facing housing shortages, extreme rent increases, no-cause evictions, homelessness, and a lack of housing that people with low and even moderate incomes can afford.

The legislature approved $40 million for both the Emergency Housing Account and the State Homeless Assistance Program. These resources provide emergency rental assistance to prevent homelessness, move people into permanent housing, and support shelters and homeless services. Despite a tight fiscal environment, these programs received increases from previous years, demonstrating the legislature is recognizing the state’s acute level of need.

Housing development and preservation also received significant resources. SB 5506 allocated $80 million to the Local Innovation and Fast Track affordable housing program to develop more affordable housing, and SB 5530 allocated $25 million to preserve existing affordable homes.

The Oregon Housing Alliance, an NLIHC state partner, began the 2017 session advocating for investments in housing opportunity that would meaningfully address the state’s housing crisis. While the legislature’s investments ultimately fell short of the Oregon Housing Alliance’s goals, they represented the largest dedication of funds in years. These additional resources will change the lives of thousands of Oregonians by providing them with additional affordable housing options and services.

The legislature failed, however, to protect existing tenants. A broad coalition of advocates, including those from tenant rights, affordable housing, labor, faith-based and culturally specific organizations, worked tirelessly to pass HB 2004. This bill would have protected tenants by ending no-cause evictions and repealing the state ban on rent stabilization. The legislation passed out of the House and Senate committees but died on the Senate president’s desk. The four in ten Oregonians who rent their homes will continue to be at risk of losing their homes without the proposed protections.

The legislature also failed to fund foreclosure counseling at current levels when it cut the Oregon Foreclosure Avoidance program to $1.3 million. This program is crucial for homeowners who are struggling through the confusing foreclosure process. Counseling agencies will do their best to serve people with the resources available until they run out.

For housing advocates, the 2017 legislative session resulted in a greater state commitment to fund affordable housing and services but failed to afford Oregon renters the protections they need. Oregon’s housing advocates, like the Housing Alliance and NLIHC’s other Oregon state partner, the Oregon Opportunity Network, will continue to fight both for adequate affordable housing funding and for tenants’ rights in the coming legislative sessions. “We are so grateful for the advocacy of our many partners this session,” said Alison McIntosh of the Oregon Housing Alliance. “Their hard work, dedication, and compelling stories moved us forward. We look forward to reconvening and coming back in 2018 to continue this work together.”

To learn more, read the Oregon Housing Alliance’s 2017 Housing Opportunity Agenda and its outcomes here and their end-of-session recap here.