Affordable Housing in Oregon, Part Two: Where Do We Go From Here


By Rep. Mike Nearman

In a previous piece, I wrote on the causes of the affordable housing crisis in Oregon. Some of the causes can be directly addressed, such as when the Legislature has created a problem, as in the case of Oregon’s restrictive land use laws. In this case, the Legislature can and should create some land use relief. This is especially necessary to establish the credibility of the state on this issue. If affordable housing is truly a crisis, the state needs to take the lead in delivering solutions that have no fiscal impact.

In light of this, it’s appropriate that the State create some relief from land use laws in order to provide development space for affordable housing. There are a handful of bills, including HB 2937, HB 2938, and HB 2433 which allow for small dwellings on agricultural land, but this hardly provides a solution to the problem, especially in urban areas where it is needed most. Perhaps the most effective is HB 2456 which permits affordable housing with county approval on rural residential land. These are all good policies, but I’m thinking that the State should do something to make the expansion of Urban Growth Boundaries easier.

Some of the causes of the affordable housing crisis aren’t the fault of state and local governments, but state and local governments can provide solutions. Federal legislation responding to the banking crisis of 2008 tightened lending practices, and even though the state didn’t cause this, we can do things to free up money for projects.

And then there are things that the Legislature is trying to do that aren’t going to fix the problem, but might even make it worse. Things like allowing local communities to adopt rent control – they call it “rent stabilization”. This is great for the few who get rent controlled housing, but bad for the rest of the world. There are a couple of bills HB 2001 and HB 2003 do this. HB 2004 eliminates “no-cause” evictions and forces landlords to pay for the moving costs of their tenants.

We didn’t get here because there has been a sudden spike in landlord greed or meanness. Landlords are just as mean and greedy as they have ever been, and targeting them isn’t going to fix the problem. In many cases, it will cause landlords to behave in ways that are less tenant friendly. Moreover, for years, there has been a coalition which has worked out compromises on landlord-tenant law. Because of this type of legislation, that coalition has disappeared.

I’ll predict today that 5 years from now, we’ll be worse off.

State Representative Mike Nearman (R-Independence) is a member of the House Committee on Human Services and Housing and is looking for solutions.