New rent control bill: More lipstick on a pig

By William MacKenzie,
Oregon reporter,

When a piece of legislation is flawed from the get-go, fiddling with it is fruitless.

Oregon’s Senate Committee on Housing and Development voted on April 3 to amend a rent control bill (SB 611) and send it to the Senate floor for a vote.

The original bill capped rent increases at 8%, or 3% plus the consumer price index, at buildings more than 3 years old. An amendment changed that to 10% or 5% plus the consumer price index.

But the problem isn’t the percentages. The problem is that rent control doesn’t work. Any short-term benefits, including the applause of some constituents, are always overshadowed by the long-term problems rent control creates.

Oregon foolishly started down this road in 2019 with a law prohibiting landlords across the state from raising rents more than 7 percent per year, plus the annual change in the consumer price index (CPI) at buildings more than 15 years old. Now, rather than abandon the whole idea, Democrats in the Senate, backed up by tenant groups, continue to ignore economic realities.

Potentially compounding the problem, the legislature is considering House Bill 3503  which would allow cities and counties across the state to enact their own rent control laws.

In testimony submitted to the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness, Ariel Nelson, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, endorsed the bill, arguing, “The current state preemption prevents local governments from enacting rent control policies that are tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of their communities. Local governments are closer to their communities, more responsive, and are able to act more quickly. HB 3503 will provide local governments with a critical tool to address the affordable housing crisis for their residents.”

But, as with SB 611, the measure would likely do more to hamper than stimulate the construction of more affordable housing in Oregon.

As Deborah Imse, Executive Director of Multifamily NW told the committee, “… this legislation opens the door for 417 municipalities to enact their own rent control. That is 417 different sets of requirements that not only do nothing to address the underlying cause of rising rents, but create a regulatory hellscape for housing providers in every corner of the state. That is arguably irresponsible state policy and simply not sustainable for any housing provider, large or small.”

But, hey, what do Democrats care. No matter how compelling the case against rent control, advocates can position themselves as saviors against the forces of evil. And that can translate into votes.