Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 79th Legislative Assembly convened this week for the 2017 session. My focus continues to be making sure all Oregonians have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed – and this session won’t be any different. Now, more than ever, Oregonians should lean on our shared values – equal opportunity for all, respectful communities, and a healthy world – to guide us in meeting the challenges in the months ahead.
Last month, when legislators took the oath of office, I was also elected by my colleagues to serve a third term as the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. I’m deeply humbled by this responsibility and eager to get to work on the enormous “to do” list ahead of us this session.
During the Joint Session of the Legislature on opening day, I spoke about how Oregon is both a leader – and a work in progress – when it comes to ensuring equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity in our neighborhoods, our schools, and our places of work. You can click here to read the speech, or click on the image above to watch.
I also want to say THANK YOU to everyone who attended the pre-session town hall last Saturday at Portland Community College. With a standing-room-only crowd of over 300 people, we had a great conversation about a lot of issues – school funding, housing, transportation, health care, air quality, foster care, and much more. Please stay engaged!
In this newsletter, I’m going to talk about two big topics on the legislative “to do” list – budget/revenue and housing. Next time, I’ll have an update on transportation, including the results from December’s survey.
The Big Picture – Oregon’s Budget and Revenue Reality
The state budget is a reflection of our values and priorities, in good times and in bad. It is the result of choices that have been made by voters and lawmakers over many years.
Currently, Oregon is projected to have $1.8 billion less than it needs for the next two-year budget to fund core existing programs in education, health care and public safety, as well as three recently passed ballot measures for career and technical education, outdoor school, and veteran services. Without any additional revenue, this budget gap will mean painful cuts to schools and critical programs. People in every corner of the state will feel the impact of these cuts.
These potential cuts include: larger class sizes; a shorter school year; teacher layoffs; fewer educational supports; higher college tuition and reduced financial assistance for struggling students; less help for seniors, people with disabilities, and struggling families; cuts to mental health care, substance abuse treatment programs, and health insurance coverage for low-income families; and fewer resources for our public safety system to be smart on crime.
Our current budget gap is due in large part to revenue decisions that were made 25 years ago that slashed funding to K-12 schools. Since the 1990’s, we have been trying to fund schools and critical programs with nowhere near the revenue needed to sustain them.
Even in the face of difficult budget decisions, I remain committed to fighting for the needs of students, low-income seniors, working families, and other vulnerable Oregonians. We know there is no magic solution to creating a budget that protects Oregonians’ priorities. It will require us to improve efficiency in programs where we can, streamline the way we deliver critical services, make difficult decisions about what can’t get funded, and find sustainable ways to support core services.
Efficiencies and wise spending decisions alone won’t solve the problem. Can we have the state we want while still having the lowest corporate taxes in the country? Without broader reform to our revenue system, future budgets will only continue to get worse. Band-Aid fixes to our budgets are only shortchanging our children and our state. I hope all of us can get behind really solving this problem.
Because of the size of the challenge facing us, the budget committee will be holding pubic meetings around the state in the coming month. Legislators need to hear from you about what’s at stake and how we should address this crisis.
The schedule is below – I hope you will make your voice heard!
Friday, February 10 – Salem
5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Hearing Room F
Oregon State Capitol
900 Court Street NE, Salem
Saturday, February 11 – Portland
Noon to 2:00 p.m.
Main Mall, Amo DeBernardis CC Building
PCC Sylvania Campus
12000 SW 49th Avenue, Portland
Friday, February 17 – Hermiston
5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Hermiston High School
600 S 1st Street, Hermiston
Saturday, February 18 – Madras
1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Performing Arts Center
Madras High School
390 SE 10th Street, Madras
Friday, February 24 – Ashland
5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Rogue River Room
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland
Saturday, February 25 – Eugene
1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Rooms 308-309 Building 17 (The Forum)
Lane Community College
4000 E 30th Avenue, Eugene
Friday, March 3 – Tillamook
6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Port of Tillamook Bay
6825 Officers Row, Tillamook
Taking on Oregon’s Housing Crisis
Oregon has a housing crisis. It is our shared responsibility to solve it.
The foreclosure epidemic and the Great Recession pushed a tidal wave of Oregonians into the rental market at the same time construction of new housing slowed down. And, over the past few years, people have been moving to Oregon in record numbers. Construction has not been able to catch up, creating intense competition for rental housing. Based on 2016 data, our state economist estimates that Oregon would have needed to TRIPLE our production of units just to keep pace with new demand.
In Portland alone, housing has been underbuilt by 23,000 units over the past decade. The City recently released a report that revealed that there are no neighborhoods anywhere in the city where the average African-American household, Latino household, Native-American household, or single-mother household can afford to rent. ZERO neighborhoods are affordable – not one. And the possibility of home ownership is even bleaker.
A housing crisis of this magnitude is not just bad for renters – the ripple effects of this crisis also negatively impact Oregon businesses. It’s simply harder to recruit and retain middle-wage workers. Rising rates of homelessness also create public safety and public health concerns, which are not only bad for people, but also bad for business.
The Legislature made some progress last year, but more must be done. In order to truly get ahead of this crisis, we need to focus on three key strategies:
- Preserve the affordable housing stock that we have;
- Build more affordable and market rate units; and
- Protect tenants who are experiencing immediate hardships.
Preservation Since 2006, the state has invested over $122 million to help preserve a total of nearly 10,000 publicly-supported, affordable units. Oregon is up to the task of preserving units, but it needs to be an ongoing priority. That will be a major challenge because, as described above, the state budget has a $1.8 billion gap between current services and forecasted revenue. I’m working on that, but it’s a big challenge.
Construction I firmly believe we need to address barriers to development at the local level to allow developers to do their job as cost effectively and as quickly as possible. I’ve been meeting with developers and investors, seeking their input and suggestions about how the state can help.
If we can figure out how to raise additional revenue, I will be asking for $250 million in additional state support to help local communities:
- $100 million for LIFT, an affordable housing program that helps finance the construction of affordable housing for low-income households;
- $100 million for preservation for existing affordable unites; and
- $50 million for emergency housing and shelter assistance.
Some people have proposed new tax incentives, and we can certainly discuss those. But they also cost money, and it seems more prudent to go directly to means-tested, existing programs for additional investment.
Tenant Protections I’m going to work very hard to help us build our way out of this crisis, but that solution will take time and that’s not enough for families who are struggling right now, every day. That’s why the Legislature will also need to discuss stronger protections for tenants in order to provide some immediate relief and stability for the 40 percent of Oregonians who are renters.
I will also focus on three key tenant protections:
- Lifting the statewide ban on rent control so local governments can pass rent stabilization ordinances designed to meet their community’s needs;
- Implementing a one-year, statewide moratorium on rent increases; and
- Ending “no cause” evictions to provide more predictability for renters.
Rent Stabilization: Eighteen families, including 26 Rigler Elementary School students, recently received notices that their rent will double from $600 per month to $1,250 per month in April. (Oregonian – “Northeast Portland families face tough choice after new owner more than doubles their rent“).
Thank you Multnomah County for providing a one-time fix for these families through the rest of the school year. We all know that’s not a sustainable approach to these types of disruptions. Children need stability. Families need stability. This needs to stop.
Lifting the statewide ban on rent control will allow local jurisdictions to pass rent stabilization ordinances designed to meet their community’s needs. Modern (sometimes called “second generation”) rent stabilization programs include a customized set of policies that are based on the unique housing market of the community where the policy is enacted. These policies typically include a local body that determines the rate of allowable rent increases, an appeal process for landlords who may need an additional increase for various reasons, and exemptions to ensure that landlords stay in the market and the needs of low-income renters are being met.
Rent stabilization is one effective approach to address a housing crisis that is resulting in widespread displacement. In hot housing markets, rent stabilization can maintain the supply of units affordable to low-income people and promote racial and ethnic diversity, if implemented correctly. Data shows that the crisis has already driven many low-income people and people of color out of our cities, and policies like rent stabilization would stop them from being economically evicted and displaced.
One-Year Cap on Rent Increases: If landlords aren’t price-gouging, this proposed legislation would not affect them. Our office consulted with housing policy experts and researched trends in property tax increases and inflation, which indicated that temporarily limiting rent increases above 5% would ensure that landlords are able to keep up with operating expenses, while still providing some immediate relief to vulnerable renters. Providers of affordable housing would be exempt from this moratorium because they are already doing their part in providing reduced rents to residents.
Ending No-Cause Eviction: Fifty-nine children enrolled in Portland Public Schools live in Titan Manor in St. Johns. In October, this property was sold to an out-of-state owner, who recently began issuing mass “no cause” eviction notices. (Willamette Week: “North Portland Apartment Building With 59 Public-School Students Has Begun Issuing “No Cause” Evictions”).
Under current law, landlords can evict tenants without any reason – even if they have always paid their rent on time and been respectful of the property. Families can be forced to move out in as little as 30 days.
What does this mean for the Oregonians who are evicted? Their whole lives are suddenly disrupted, their kids will likely have to switch schools mid-year, and their search for an available, affordable place will be extremely difficult because of the low vacancy rates. We know the most affected households are typically poor, often women, and disproportionately people of color.
I support ending no-cause evictions in Oregon and support my colleagues who are proposing a “just cause” standard that will help stabilize communities and also be fair to landlords. See House Bill 2004.
Please Stay Engaged
We have a great deal of work ahead of us in the 2017 session. I hope you will stay engaged and let me know what is important to you.
If you’d like to set up a constituent meeting in the district during the upcoming session, please email Cheyenne.McPherson@oregonlegislature.gov or call 503-986-1444 and my session legislative assistant, Cheyenne, will work to set up an appointment.
House District 44
Speaker of the House