Oregon’s attempt to tackle homelessness: State legislature introduces several housing bills, one endorsed by Benton County


Ashton Bisner

A donation box in downtown Corvallis in August of 2022. Since Gov. Tina Kotek’s declaration of homelessness as a state of emergency this last January, multiple legislative bills have been proposed to address the issue that has been an increasing issue in Oregon.

Skand S., News Contributor

With Gov. Tina Kotek having declared homelessness as a state of emergency in several counties across Oregon, numerous housing related legislative bills have been proposed to tackle this priority

One such bill is HB 2001 that is aimed at requiring Oregon Housing and Community Services to study affordable housing in Oregon by Sept. 15, 2024 and submit a report to the legislature.

The bill that is being introduced jointly by Democratic representative Maxine Dexter and Republican representative Jeff Helfrich, and Democratic senator Kayse Jama and Republican senator Dick Anderson is expected to get bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Xan Augerot, vice chair of the Benton County Board of Commissioners, recently testified in writing in support of the bill.

“We need to invest in housing and services all across the state, so that each community can meet the needs of our unhoused neighbors in the place where they have family and other support networks,” Augerot said in the written statement.

Democratic representative Andrea Valderrama, Democratic senator Wlnsvey Campos along with Democratic senator Sara Gelser Blouin who represents Corvallis, is jointly introducing SB 611 called the Reasonable Rent Bill that limits rent increases every 12 months to any building older than three years. 

In addition to this, the bill provides more support to tenants receiving no-fault evictions by requiring landlords to provide three months relocation assistance rather than one month.

According to Valderrama, the legislation attempts to balance the constitutional right of return for landlords with the devastating effects of displacement for tenants.

“What we know is that being evicted is catastrophic and can lead to a cycle of homelessness. The best way to break that cycle is by making sure people stay housed,” Valderrama said.

The same version of the senate bill is also being introduced in the House as HB 2733.

However, that is only one side of the story. Another bill HB 2171 that aims to repeal limits on increases to residential rent has been introduced by Sen. David Brock Smith and Rep. Boomer Wright.

In addition to this, another bill HB 2217 that would terminate month-to-month residential tenancies without cause has also been introduced in the House.

Another important bill that is potentially going to affect several Oregonian renters including OSU students is SB 684 that caps the rental application fee to $10.

According to Democratic representative Khanh Pham, who is a co-sponsor for the bill, the motivation for introducing it is to ensure quick accessibility of housing with as few barriers as possible. The current rental application fees range from $20 to $75 per adult.

“Capping these rental application fees at $10 eliminates most of the problems caused by these fees and improves access to housing, protects consumer rights, and reduces discrimination and segregation in the housing market,” Pham said.

This is not the first time that a cap on application fees has been introduced in Oregon. Eugene’s city council in July, 2022 voted to have such a cap but early this year in January, a Lane County judge determined that the city is preempted by the state law from enforcing the $10 cap.

The ruling served as an inspiration for Pham to introduce it in the state legislature. Although several groups such as Springfield Eugene Tenants Association and Community Alliance of Tenants are supporting the bill, Pham anticipates that large landlord lobbyists will oppose the bill.

Gabe Shepherd, the Corvallis city councilor for Ward 4, said that the city council has not yet taken any position on bills relating to housing. 

Corvallis local housing community organization, Unity Shelter has also not taken any stance on the proposed bills, nor has Corvallis Housing First.

However, Executive Director of CHF Andrea Myhre, did say that she was unhappy with Benton County not being included in the recent declaration of homelessness as a state of emergency by Kotek.

 “It’s great that she (Kotek) is making progress on homelessness issues, but not including our county and the rest of rural Oregon, was a huge oversight,” Myhre said.

Although Benton County is not considered as a rural county, it is a part of the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care — a quasi-governmental organization that provides grants to organizations addressing homelessness.

The executive order from Kotek was based on the increase in homelessness measured by the Point-in-Time count — an annual count of number of people on the street and in shelters which was suspended in most rural counties during the pandemic due to lack of capacity to perform counting.

According to Myhre, Benton County has a similar per-capita homelessness rate when compared to  metro areas in Oregon and homelessness is not only an urban issue but also a rural one.

“So, we’re hoping that the governor can find ways to include our areas in with that declaration,” Myhre said.

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