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Oregon's Experiment In Statewide Rent Control


Last month, Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass statewide rent control. Supporters argued the bill was necessary to ease the state's affordable housing crisis and provide tenants with long-term housing stability. But as Oregon Public Broadcasting's Lauren Dake reports, not everyone's convinced this will work.

LAUREN DAKE, BYLINE: First came the 30 percent rent spike.

GLORIA MARIN: So it was quite a hike for us. And it was a surprise because there were no repairs done. The apartments weren't fixed up or things like that.

DAKE: That's Gloria Marin (ph). She lived in the same apartment in a suburb of Portland, Ore., for eight years. After the rent increase, she thought about moving. But her family decided to stay so their young daughter didn't have to switch schools. But then came the no-cause eviction.

MARIN: It was really, really devastating and scary because my daughter was still in school. And everywhere I looked, the rents were so expensive.

DAKE: That was before Democratic lawmakers last month passed a bill capping how much landlords can raise the rent. Now landlords in the state, who took a largely neutral stance on the legislation, are prohibited from increasing rents more than 7 percent annually plus inflation. Next year, that amounts to a 10 percent cap. The bill also included a provision saying landlords can no longer evict tenants without just cause after the person has lived in the building for more than one year. Senate President Peter Courtney joined his Democratic colleagues arguing that the housing crunch created an urgency for the measure.

PETER COURTNEY: It's easy for me. I mean, I got a home. I got a home. It's paid for it. You know, I don't have to worry about it. But I got people that are struggling in my district, throughout the state, throughout the state, throughout the state. So let's go.

DAKE: Since 2010, Oregon's population has grown by nearly 10 percent. But during the recession, a lot of the building in the state slowed. With a limited housing and rental inventory, rents skyrocketed. Not everyone is convinced imposing rent control is the answer. Republicans in the Oregon State House say the new law doesn't address the real need, a lack of housing supply and stagnant wages. Republican lawmaker Gary Leif argued the solution isn't one-size-fits-all and said the bill would not help rural parts of the state.


GARY LEIF: We do not need, do not want and believe that this legislation will harm the great citizens of southern Oregon.

DAKE: Some tenant rights advocates were critical of the bill, believing the rent increase cap is too high. Margot Black is a co-founder of Portland Tenants United.

MARGOT BLACK: This bill protects middle-class renters from 30, 40, 50 percent rent increases. For low-income renters who are already paying 50 percent or more of their income in rent, those people will be priced out.

DAKE: Still, tenant activists elsewhere have been inspired. Efforts to expand rent control policies are underway in a handful of other states, including Illinois and Washington. And in California, where landlord groups spent millions to defeat a rent control ballot measure last November, Democratic lawmakers there are now considering a handful of bills that could increase protections for tenants. Although the bill came too late to prevent Gloria Marin from being evicted, she still feels a greater sense of security knowing it's the law.

MARIN: I feel less scared of being displaced from a community and having my life turned upside down.

DAKE: Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed the rent control bill into law last month. And it took effect immediately. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Dake in Portland.

(SOUNDBITE OF HATCHIE SONG, "SURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Dake
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