Oregon Legislature Passes Bills to Expand Renter Protections and Increase Affordable Housing Supply

The Oregon legislature passed several bills during the 2021 legislative session to build and maintain affordable housing, protect renters, and address homelessness. Budget bills S.B. 5505, H.B. 5006, and H.B. 5011 include more than $550 million in general funds and general obligation bonds to build new affordable housing – rental and homeownership – maintain existing affordable housing, preserve manufactured housing, and fund supportive services and emergency shelter. An additional $150 million was included for wildfire recovery housing. S.B. 8 removes barriers to affordable housing development, and S.B. 282 and S.B. 278 prevent statewide evictions. Throughout the legislative session, Oregon Housing Alliance and Housing Oregon (both NLIHC state partners) mobilized affordable housing advocates from across the state to share why a safe, stable, affordable, and accessible home is so critical, especially in times of emergency.

The budget bills fund an increase in supply of safe, stable, and affordable housing, as well as permanent supportive housing across Oregon. S.B. 5505 allocates $410 million in Article XI-Q General Obligation bonds over FY22 and FY23 for the Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) program and permanent supportive housing. The LIFT program creates many new affordable housing units – both rental and homeownership – to serve low-income Oregonians and historically underserved communities. H.B. 5006 and H.B. 5011 commit more than $13 million for rental assistance and services for supportive housing projects. Legislators also invested more than $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars in affordable housing projects around Oregon.

The budget provides funding to preserve and maintain all regulated, multifamily affordable housing, as well as public housing and manufactured homes. The legislature committed $100 million in general funds through H.B. 5006 to maintain existing affordable housing across the state. The budget also provides funding to prevent and end homelessness. H.B. 5011 commits $40 million to the Emergency Housing Account (EHA) and the State Homelessness Assistance Program (SHAP) for the biennium, and $27 million in onetime funds for emergency shelter.

S.B. 8 expands options for the development of affordable housing, enabling new affordable housing funds to be spent more. The bill allows affordable housing to be built by right on land zoned for commercial use, land owned by public entities, and land owned by non-profit religious institutions. A local jurisdiction would not be allowed to conduct a rezone process for the development but could impose requirements upon design and building permits. The bill also creates a statewide density bonus for affordable housing. Prior to bill’s passage, some jurisdictions could artificially limit the density of a site, limiting the affordable housing that could be built. Lastly, S.B. 8 expands protections to cover attorney fees when an affordable housing development is challenged to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) and the project prevails.

The governor signed S.B. 282 and S.B. 278, extending protections to renters given the ending of the federal eviction moratorium on July 30. S.B. 282 creates a grace period for rent missed during the COVID emergency period (April 2020 – June 2021). Back rent or current rental assistance can be paid any time before February 28, 2022. In addition, the bill provides an opportunity for tenants to expunge any evictions that happened during COVID, allows people to double up, and provides additional protections from retaliatory evictions. S.B. 278 tries to address problems in delivering rental assistance by providing anyone who has applied for assistance with an additional 60 days prior to eviction from the date they notify their landlord. The Oregon Law Center led the effort to pass these bills, and provides information to renters at: https://oregonlawhelp.org/resource/safe-harbor-grace-period-and-other-tenant-protections-as-the-moratorium-ends

Several bills advanced equity and racial justice, including S.B. 291, which supports people exiting the criminal justice system to access rental housing by requiring landlords to conduct individualized assessments for people with criminal histories. Tax credits for agricultural workforce housing were significant expanded by H.B. 2433 providing $16.75 million per biennium to build affordable housing for agricultural workers and their families.

Advocates from the Oregon Housing Alliance and Housing Oregon conducted advocacy actions throughout the legislative session to ensure affordable housing was a top priority for the state legislature. This year, Oregon Housing Alliance’s virtual Housing Opportunity Week was led by Residents Organizing for Change (ROC), an advocacy network of residents of affordable housing with lived experience with housing instability. Members of ROC encouraged legislators to pass renter protections to prevent mass evictions and to fund housing for the lowest income renters.

Other advocacy actions included members of ROC writing letters to the editor encouraging legislators to allocate American Rescue Plan Act State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to affordable housing programs. The statewide advocacy efforts succeeded: legislators increased funding for housing and homelessness for 2021-2023.

 “This past fifteen months has been incredibly difficult for Oregonians – between the impacts of COVID, last fall’s devastating wildfires, and then both extreme ice storms and more recent heat. The investments made by the Legislature will help more Oregonians access the safety and stability of a home, and we are grateful for their work,” said Alison McIntosh of the Oregon Housing Alliance. “In the coming months, we’ll be working diligently to get rent assistance to community members most impacted by COVID, and are looking forward to engaging with the Legislature in coming months around our next set of policy priorities.”

“This has been a historic legislative session with the State of Oregon doubling its investment in affordable housing and homeless services over the previous biennium,” said Brian Hoop, executive director of Housing Oregon. “Legislators stepped up to the challenges we faced in 2020 by ensuring low-income and BIPOC households disproportionately affected by COVID and wildfires are assured safe and stable housing as our state faces an ongoing housing crisis.”