By SARAH ZIMMERMAN , Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon will become the first state in the nation to impose statewide mandatory rent control after lawmakers passed a measure that will establish protections for people in the increasingly competitive housing market.
The House approved the landmark bill 35-25 on Tuesday, over objections from Republicans who argued rent control will discourage investment and do little to address the state's affordable housing crisis.
The measure, which previously passed the Senate, will now head to Gov. Kate Brown, who has said she will sign it. The bill will take effect immediately, as Democrats say the housing crisis constitutes an emergency.
Rep. Mark Meek, a Democrat from Oregon City who sponsored the bill in the House, said the measure will address the state's homelessness problem and provide Oregon residents "some predictability and stability with their expenses."
Oregon has been struggling to provide housing for the tens of thousands of people moving to the state each year looking for employment and lower costs of living.
The state's seen a 12.8 percent spike in homelessness over the past decade, with high rates of veterans, youth and families living without shelter, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"In every corner of Oregon, individuals are facing an emergency," said Rep. Tawna Sanchez, a Democrat from Portland and the Legislature's only Native American lawmaker. "From women fleeing domestic violence, to working families in communities big and small trying to get by, to indigenous people who struggle to find a safe and secure home, this crisis touches all of us."
The measure has made Oregon a nationwide leader in tenant protections, and advocates say rent control is the first step in addressing high rent, gentrification and a lack of affordable housing. New York has a statewide rent control law, but cities can choose whether to participate.
California restricts the ability of cities to impose rent control. Last November, voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have overturned that law.
Under the Oregon bill, landlords are limited to increasing rent only once per year. That increase can't be higher than 7 percent above the consumer price index — a benchmark figure that tracks average prices for most household purchases in the U.S.
Landlords also can't serve tenants no-cause evictions within a tenant's first year of occupancy, a provision designed to protect those living month-to-month, who are often most vulnerable to sudden rent hikes and abrupt lease terminations.
Republicans warned that the measure will only exacerbate the current housing crisis, saying the regulations will discourage investors and landlords from building and maintaining more property.
"Reduction in landlords means a reduction in housing, plain and simple," said Rep. Kim Wallen, a Republican from Medford. "This is the wrong solution for the whole state to make owning rentals so unpleasant that people simple stop getting into the business."
Opponents add that the state should instead focus on the critical shortage of affordable housing. It's estimated that 30,000 housing units must be built per year to meet the state's current housing deficit and to build for the future as more people move to Oregon, according to Democrat House Speaker Tina Kotek.
Democrats say that new builders are exempt from the rent control law for 15 years, which is meant to spur development throughout the state. They add that they plan to continue addressing the housing shortage with future legislation to incentivize affordable housing.
"Oregon is open for business," said Meek, who works as a realtor outside the Legislature.