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Lawmakers to respond to state housing crisis

Lawmakers plan to offer an omnibus housing bill in February to respond to a shortage of affordable housing that has reached crisis levels statewide.

The House Committee on Human Services and Housing has two months to finalize details of the proposal, said committee Chairwoman Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer.

“We want to figure out what we can do to help people who are struggling right now,” Keny-Guyer said.

The Portland Democrat said the committee also plans to bring back legislation to increase funding for a state program that helps build new affordable housing for families with children who are at risk of homelessness. In 2015, the Legislature committed $40 million of general obligation bonds to support the program.

Keny-Guyer said she wants lawmakers to approve $60 million more.

Lawmakers also are looking at resurrecting a bill to provide more general assistance to homeless adults, especially veterans.

Committee members listened to two hours of testimony recently outlining the extent of the crisis and hearing proposals for addressing the shortage.

Janet Byrd of the Oregon Housing Alliance called for a one-year moratorium on no-cause evictions and excessive rent increases.

She noted that one in five Oregonians move every year, an indication of a market “in turmoil.”

Insufficient supply of housing contributes to the problem. Investors who buy buildings, clear out existing tenants and raise rents are pricing low- and middle-income residents out of the market, Byrd said.

The Legislature has an obligation to address some of that “rampant greed” in the market, Byrd said.

Jon Chandler of Oregon Home Builders Association said onerous permitting rules, land use laws, and fees are obstacles to building more affordable housing units.

Portland City Council declared a housing emergency last month and took a series of stopgap measures to address the crisis, including waiving city code to allow temporary homeless shelters.

Testimony Tuesday made clear that the crisis has tentacles throughout the state.

In Central Oregon, there are a handful of rental vacancies at any given time, said Lynne McConnell of HomeSource and Assets for NeighborImpact, which helps families access housing. It’s common for 20 people to apply for one unit, each paying a $40 application fee.

“You can imagine how much money is going out the door just to get in line,” she said.