The lack of affordable housing has long been a problem throughout the state of Oregon, but there has never been a consensus on how to fix it. Some argue that the best way to keep costs down is to allow new housing to be built, while others favor government-mandated Rent Control and limiting evictions to control costs. House Bill 2004 would represent a small victory for the latter group if it becomes law.
HB 2004 limits the ability of landlords to evict, terminate, or otherwise remove month-to-month tenants after the first six months of occupancy without a stated cause. Should a landlord decide to pursue such an eviction, he or she must provide the tenant with 90 days notice and one month of rent under HB 2004. Proponents argue that landlords abuse no-cause evictions by unjustly evicting large numbers of people to increase the rent and line their own pockets. Racial discrimination has also been cited as a contributing factor in certain instances.
The measure does not establish state-mandated Rent Control, but it does open the door for local governments at the city and county levels to do to do so. HB 2004 also requires landlords to pay a portion of a tenant’s moving costs in certain circumstances. A group of city commissioners in Portland ruled that landlords are liable for the relocation costs of their tenants in cases of no-cause eviction last February, setting a precedent that may be used to pass rent controls in multiple neighborhoods.
The net effect of these changes would be to force landlords to think long and hard before accepting a tenant, effectively reducing the available supply of an already scarce commodity (housing). Economics 101 dictates that decreasing the supply of a good will drive up its price, the exact opposite of what HB 2004 is trying to do. Thankfully, the measure has not passed yet. It cleared the House 31-27 in a vote that unfolded largely according to party lines, with Democrats generally favoring the bill while Republicans oppose it. HB 2004 now heads to the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 17-13 majority. Despite the advantage, the bill is expected to face a difficult test in clearing the second chamber.
Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) was one of two Democrats who voted against the measure, arguing that the only feasible solutions to Oregon’s housing problem are to build new units or fix a lot of existing ones. In his opinion,incentivizing landlords to leave properties vacant will only make the housing issue worse. Democrats in the Senate would be wise to listen to their colleague’s advice and vote against HB 2004. Rod Monroe of East Portland and Betsy Johnson of Scappoose are the state Senators considered most likely to vote against it.
HB 2004 is not as bad as it could be, as the relocation expenses incurred by landlords were reduced as the bill was debated in the House. It also excuses landlords with four or fewer dwellings from paying them at all. Still, better options exist to solve Oregon’s housing crisis.