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Democratic Rep. Chris Gorsek champions affordable housing bill in state Legislature

The housing crisis in Portland and East Multnomah County has been largely acknowledged by cities and local lawmakers. But the issue is how to take that problem and craft a solution. Past the halfway mark in a short legislative session, Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, hopes a package of four bills can make a clear impact.

“We’re the place where many displaced renters are going to find affordable housing. Our communities and my constituents are facing large price tags for rent and services,” Gorsek said. “We’re seeing buildings being bought here to provide emergency housing. We need a way to bring order to what, without intervention such as ours, will become increasingly difficult, if not catastrophic.”

Gorsek has worked on House Bill 4143 that will provide assurances to rent prices, banning rent increases during the first year of a month-to-month lease, and requiring a 90-day notice after the first year to increase costs.

“A year free from rent increases after the initial notification and 90 days’ notice thereafter can provide for some of these folks much-needed certainty in the housing market,” he said. “This bill provides precious time for families and seniors to plan better, especially when Section 8 vouchers only provide 30 days to find alternative rentals. With rents rising by at least 40 percent in my district, these changes are not an undue burden.”

He added the impact of his bill is immediate.

“It brings some market stability for those on fixed or moderate incomes in the face of what is essentially a strong bull market that could really be described as a second and maybe more permanent bubble market driven by the 10,000 people moving to the city of Portland each year, for the next two decades if projections are to be believed,” Gorsek said.

But it works in conjunction with three other bills designed to make a lasting impact in East Multnomah County and Oregon.

Senate Bill 1533 introduces inclusionary zoning changes, something sought by affordable housing advocates. The concept, if passed in the House as well, would give cities the power to offer incentives to builders in exchange for multifamily housing, set aside for working-class residents.

“So as our market evolves inclusionary zoning will provide affordable units in areas where infrastructure exists,” Gorsek said. “For both bills I think we’re considering at-risk populations to stifle some of the more difficult aspects of the housing market while attempting to capture the externalized costs that come from homelessness and as areas gentrify an exodus of folks to the periphery where infrastructure to support them doesn’t exist.”

The other two bills marketed as part of the affordable housing package have yet to see votes on the floor, but HB 4143 was approved in the House with 48-11, and SB 1533 passed in the Senate with a 20-8 vote.

House Bill 4079 would establish a pilot program, allowing local governments to site and develop affordable housing. The Land Conservation and Development Commission would select one city with a population less than 30,000 and one city with a population more than 30,000 to test the program, essentially expanding existing urban growth boundaries.

Senate Bill 1573 would make the annexation process easier, letting cities annex land without an election, as long as everyone in the area agreed with the annexation.

These bills are expected to see a vote soon and hopefully make it to the other side before the session ends March 6.

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