SALEM, Ore. — Tenants from across Oregon gathered in Salem Monday to testify at the first committee hearing for Senate Bill 611, which would cap annual rent increases at either 3% plus inflation or a flat 8% — whichever is lower.
Oregon passed a previous rent control rule in 2019, Senate Bill 608, that capped rent at 7% plus inflation, but tenant organizations reacted with alarm last year when state economists announced that the high rate of inflation meant that rents could be hiked by up to 14.6%.
"(The current formula) has resulted in 14.6% increases, which is having the very destabilizing effect that we wanted to prevent," said Sybil Hebb, director of legislative advocacy at the Oregon Law Center, testifying in support of SB 611.
SB 611 would also increase the amount of money landlords owe tenants in cases where tenants are evicted due to landlord-initiated causes such as renovating, demolishing or selling the property, raising the payment from one month's rent to three months' rent.
Each person was given two minutes to testify at Monday's hearing before the Senate Committee on Housing and Development, but with so many people signed up, the hearing lasted nearly an hour and a half. Many tenants spoke about how much the protections in the bill would mean to them.
"In the past year alone, I've gotten behind on my heat. I've had to forego medical treatment... and my family doesn't eat anything we can't buy without food stamps," said one of the renters, James Vancuren. "We don't take my kids out to the park because we can't afford the gas. We used to go camping every summer. We can't do that anymore. We have cut back on all recreational activities so we can stay housed."
Others testified that they could lose their home without legislative intervention.
"People like me are going to be the new face of homelessness in Oregon," said Catherine Chambers, who lives in Salem. "I live with the constant stress that if my landlord raises my rent by the allowable 14.6 percent, I will be priced out of my home. My fixed income is just above the threshold to qualify for any assistance but not enough income to pay that kind of rent increase."
A significant part of the testimony was in opposition, arguing that a hard cap on rent increases would make Oregon a less attractive market for housing builders, and that the 14.6% rent hike is an aberration and doesn't prove that SB 608 needs to be adjusted.
"SB 608 was a landmark bill that we passed with a great deal of deliberation, input and consideration... because of the pandemic, it has not had an opportunity to actually take root and prove its merits," said Ron Garcia, executive director for public policy at the Rental Housing Alliance of Oregon.
Kennedy Amundson owns Propagate Property Management which serves Yamhill, Polk and Marion counties. If the SB 611 passes, she believes it could drive investors to take their money out of state.
"Continuing to house Oregonians at the sole expense of those providing their housing is not sound public policy and is not a sustainable way to address housing instability, said Amundson. "We need to focus on permanent rent assistance and increasing supply."
The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, starting with a committee work session scheduled for Wednesday. If it passes the committee, it will also need to pass the full Senate and the Oregon House before going to the governor's desk for her signature.
Advocates like the group Stable Homes for Oregon Families have described SB 611 as one piece of an envisioned "Homelessness Prevention Package" that also includes Senate Bill 799, which would lengthen the required notice period before landlords can evict for nonpayment.
SB 799 drew nearly 80 people to testify at a hearing in January. The bill does not appear to have made it out of committee, but its central provision was included in a $200 million housing and homeless package that the Oregon House passed two weeks ago, raising the eviction notice period from 72 hours to 10 days.