Affordable housing issues will take center stage at the Portland City Council and Oregon Legislature this year. Advocates for low-income renters and potential home buyers will be pressing for local rent control measures, a ban on no-cause evictions, more multifamily housing in single-family neighborhoods, and more money for government subsidized housing projects.
And in addition to working on such issues, the council will be joining the advocates in Salem.
By coincidence, the council adopted state and federal legislative agendas that prioritized those issues on the same day that leaders of six affordable housing advocacy organizations appeared on a panel in downtown Portland to discuss them. Reducing homelessness and increasing affordable housing were the No. 1 priorities on both of the council's agendas.
"The City of Portland and communities across the state are experiencing an unprecedented housing affordability crisis," read the description of the problem in the state agenda approved last Thursday. Home prices jumped 13.8 percent in 2016, while rents increased 6.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the Zillow real estate research firm.
At the panel discussion, the advocates were joined by state Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, who urged those attending to lobby Salem lawmakers to include more funding for rent subsidies and affordable housing projects in the next state budget. The co-chairs of the legislative Ways and Means Committee released a proposed budget earlier in the day that significantly reduced such funding to eliminate a projected $1.8 million budget shortfall.
"There's nothing in the budget, nothing. Everyone needs to come to Salem to say that's not acceptable," said Keny-Guyer, who admitted the proposal was a "shock budget" meant to spark a public discussion about the state's financial situation following the defeat of the corporate sales tax measure at the November 2016 general election that would have raised $3 billion a year.
The discussion at the First Unitarian Church was hosted by the Oregon Opportunity Network, a coalition of dozens of homeless, affordable housing, social justice and land-use advocacy organizations. Executive Director Jerome Brooks said the affordable housing crisis has been building for a long time, but became a priority for public officials after Portland and Oregon experienced some of the highest rent and home price increases in the country in recent years.
Only one panelist, Madeline Kovacs, program director for Portland for Everyone, said her focus was purely local. The organization is a project of the statewide 1000 Friends of Oregon land-use watchdog organization that works to restrict the urban growth boundaries where new development can occur. Among other things, Kovacs said she will spend the coming year working to ensure the Residential Infill Project concept plan approved by the council in 2016 allows new multifamily housing projects in existing single-family neighborhoods.
"We need to end the exclusionary gated communities without gates in Portland," Kovacs said.
The other panelists were: Katrina Holland, executive director of the statewide Community Alliance of Tenants; Lauren Macbeth, assistant director of ROSE Community Development; Amanda Manjarrez, advocacy director of the Coalition of Communities of Color; and Travis Phillips, director of housing and development for Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives. All said renters should not be evicted without reason and urged the 2017 Oregon Legislature to repeal the statewide ban on local rent control measures.
Holland objected to the term "rent control," saying local "rent stabilization" policies would be flexible and tailored to the needs of local communities. They will be opposed at the state Capitol by organizations representing landlords and multifamily business owners, who are expected to argue that any form of rent control will discourage the creation of more rental properties.
Keny-Guyer also said she supports reducing or repealing the existing mortgage income tax deduction that allows homeowners to deduct interest payments from the state taxes. She said the state was "desperate" for more revenue and the additional money could be dedicated to affordable housing projects.
"It would be the perfect place if we could do it," Keny-Guyer said.
The advocates are launching their lobbying efforts with a rally and party titled House the People on Jan. 27, four days before the Leguslature convenes in Salem. "Kick-Off to Kick Ass in 2017," reads the flier announcing it.