By Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain
Over the years, Portland has been recognized as one of America’s best cities in a number of categories, including seniors, livability, food, beer drinking, vegans, and year after year the best airport in the country. All of which are good, and all recognize the uniqueness of Portland.
Recently, Portland received another first: Leading the nation in the fastest rising housing costs. Last year housing costs in Portland increased by 11.1 percent. According to a 2015-16 Wage Trend Report by the MBL Group, Portland Metro wages increased by 3 percent.
Lower income households have been disproportionately impacted. The rule of thumb of percentage of income spent on housing is 30 percent of a worker’s income. In Oregon, Fair Market Rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1,008 per month, and $1,208 in the Portland Metropolitan Area. The average Oregon renter is paying upwards of 50 percent of their income on housing costs.
To state the problem in a different way, a minimum wage worker in Portland would have to work 100 hours per week to afford a 2-bedroom apartment — if they can find one. Oregon’s housing inventories are the lowest since 2005, when Oregon’s population was 400,000 people less than it is today.
Oregon’s low inventory of housing has given landlords an unbridled opportunity to reap large profits at the expense of working people. It doesn’t matter if you live in Medford, Bend, or Portland, workers are finding it harder and harder to pay the bills and feed their kids. And they now face a housing market that pushes them farther and farther from their workplace and essential services.
No-cause evictions and rampant rent increases are left unchecked by a state which forbids rent stabilization at the local level and, until recently, forbade inclusionary zoning.
House Bill 2004 was introduced to provide stability for the 4-in-10 Oregonians who rent their homes. Far too many renters who pay their rent on time and play by the rules are evicted without cause and in some cases, in retaliation for requesting repairs to their homes. Others are evicted because the landowner wants to raise the rent, but doesn’t want to explain that to the tenant. House Bill 2004 puts an end to these destabilizing practices. The establishment of a just-cause standard for the termination of a lease prevents landlords from using no-cause evictions as a means to retaliate or discriminate against tenants.
House Bill 2004 would give local governments the ability to stabilize rents in their communities. It provides landlords with a reasonable rate of return on their investment and gives renters predictability of rent increases at a moderate rate. And, finally, House Bill 2004 allows local government the authority to develop policies to pay the cost of renter relocation by the landlord under certain conditions.
I encourage all of you reading this article to write, email or call your state legislator and ask them to support House Bill 2004. The housing crisis is affecting all workers, including those represented by a union on the job. This bill is an important way to give the necessary and immediate relief to renters in this incredibly difficult time. It is easy: go to oraflcio.org/salem to find your legislator’s contact information.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 130,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.