Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, participates in a committee meeting in December 2022. (Connor Radnovich/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
Many Oregon tenants will see rent hikes capped at 10% in high-inflation years under a bill headed for Gov. Tina Kotek’s desk.
Senate Bill 611, which cleared the House on Saturday on a 32-18 vote with every Republican opposed, aims to prevent a repeat of the nearly 15% rent increases landlords were allowed to charge this year. A 2019 state law capped rent at 7% plus inflation, but high inflation last year resulted in tenants around the state seeing up to 14.7% increases.
Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, said the bill was necessary to help Oregon families stay in their homes. It would help renters immediately while the Legislature continues to work on long-term solutions to the housing crisis, she said.
“This cannot be an either-or approach,” she said. “We can protect Oregonians from unreasonable rent increases and fix our housing supply crisis.”
Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said he struggled over how to vote, but ultimately voted for the measure. It addresses a symptom of the housing crisis and a shrinking middle class, but not the cause, he said.
“While I don’t believe this bill is actually going to help a whole lot, it might help a few,” he said.
The debate highlighted the high rate of rental ownership in the state Capitol, where passive income from owning property makes it possible for lawmakers to afford to be in Salem for months each year on their $35,000 legislative salary. Portland Rep. Thuy Tran, one landlord, was one of only two Democrats who voted against the measure.
“Let the market work itself out,” Tran said.
But Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, described how she’s helping her college-aged children pay rent in Eugene and Atlanta at an unaffordable $1,400 and $1,700 per month. Bynum also owns four McDonald’s restaurants in the Portland area, and she has homeless people sleeping on her restaurant property.
“I believe to some extent in the free market, but I believe our market is broken,” Bynum said.
The 2019 rent control law caused many landlords to choose to increase rent by the maximum allowed each year, said Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford. Wallan said she has only increased rent at the property she owns by $100 monthly during the past five years, she said.
“I understand the impulse to do the simple thing,” Wallan said. “I understand the impulse just to get ourselves out of this emergency. But we got ourselves in this emergency.”
Another lawmaker who owned rentals, Republican Rep. Virgle Osborne of Roseburg, said he sold his rental properties in March because of Oregon’s rental laws. He evicted his tenants to sell, and new owners listed the properties at 40% higher rents than Osborne charged, he said.
Sen. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, introduced the measure to cap rent increases at no more than 8% or 3% plus inflation, whichever was lower. But strong objections from landlords resulted in a series of compromises, ending with an agreement that kept the status quo except for a 10% cap.
The state’s rent control law only applies to buildings once they’re 15 years old, and it doesn’t apply to subsidized housing. Landlords can raise rent between tenants as high as they want.
Almost 40% of Oregonians rent their homes, according to U.S. census data.
Rep. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem, said it sends a message to homebuilders and real estate investors that they’re going to have a hard time. Oregon already has land use laws that make getting permits for new homes or apartments expensive and time-consuming, he said, and builders have to pay high system development charges to cover infrastructure costs.
“We’re going to tell the potential property owner ‘We’re going to put the screws to you, and make it harder for you to provide housing,’” Mannix said.
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