Executive Director Reflections from the 2016 Legislative Session

HousingPortrait-1392By Janet Byrd

The Legislature adjourned Thursday, March 3rd after a fast-paced and intense 32-day short session. The 90 members made history and headlines on many issues. Most important to me and the Neighborhood Partnerships team are of course the advances in housing policy, critically needed funding for housing, the minimum wage, and the small technical fixes to the Individual Development Account Initiative statutes. There are so many more important achievements that could also be on the list—the expansion of the earned income tax credit and the restoration of a General Assistance program are just two examples. It’s been hard to follow all the excitement.

There will be lots of specific detail and analysis to come, plenty of time to debrief what happened and what we can learn from it, and then to hone in on and finalize goals for next session. For now, let’s just all take a moment and reflect on the progress that was made. And congratulate one another, ourselves, our allies, and the legislators that made it happen.

Wow! Look at what was accomplished this session!!

POLICY WINS

  • Tenants in Oregon are now protected from rent increases in the first year of tenancy. This is huge for the high percentage of tenants who are not offered a lease, and was an issue of concern for tenants as well as the many organizations helping individuals and families find housing. Now, people won’t learn of unaffordable rent increases soon after moving in.
  • Tenants in Oregon will now receive a 90-day notice before a rent increase. Portland residents have had this protection as part of the state of emergency declaration—now tenants across the state will be protected.
  • Cities and counties may now impose a Construction Excise Tax on all new construction. Taxes on residential construction are limited to 1% of the permit value, and all of the money must be used to make housing affordable. Taxes on industrial and commercial construction are not limited, and half must go to housing. This is a significant new source of money dedicated to housing affordability.
  • Cities and counties may now require inclusionary development. Specifically, they may require that developers of multifamily housing building properties or developments of more than 20 homes make 20% of them affordable at 80% of area median income, or pay a fee in an amount to be determined by the city or county. Some level of subsidy must be offered if units are made affordable, but the amount is to be determined by the local jurisdiction. We expect that cities and counties will also be able to negotiate lower levels of affordability in return for additional subsidies
  • A modest pilot program that might create opportunities for affordable development adjacent to urban growth boundaries was approved. We are eager to see what possibilities are brought forward under this pilot.
  • Statutory guidelines for the new state LIFT (Local Innovation and Fast Track Development) bond financing program were finalized.

STATE FUNDING WINS

  • $10 million to help meet critical emergency housing needs through the Emergency Housing Account and State Homeless Assistance Program.
  • $2.5 million to help preserve existing affordable housing. This will be added to the pool of gap funds to help keep properties with rent subsidies or manufactured home parks affordable to the Oregonians who now live in them
  • $2.73 million to help homeowners facing foreclosure prepare for mediation. Counseling is essential to help homeowners evaluate their options as they prepare for foreclosure mediation.

THANK YOU

  • Thank you to everyone who took time to share personal stories with legislators, reporters, and advocates. Thank you to those who shared stories of the ways that housing scarcity and lack of affordability is affecting all of us in communities throughout the state. Thank you to those who called, wrote, or came to Salem to speak up for housing opportunity.
  • Thank you to the partners who called out for real and fundamental change, who shifted the political climate and dynamic in ways that made progress possible.
  • Thank you to the strategists, negotiators, policy wonks, and lobbyists who teamed up to help make our case and fight back against the many entrenched and well-funded opponents. Thanks to those who stayed in the conversation even when we disagreed.
  •  Thank you to the legislators who took hard positions, who spoke up for tenants, who pushed back against developers and landlords. Thank you to the legislators who kept an open mind and challenged their constituents, the members of their caucus, their friends, and their neighbors to think differently.
  • Thank you to Speaker Kotek, President Courtney, and the Governor, who wouldn’t let housing fall to the bottom of the priority list this year, who kept housing at the forefront of priorities.

NEXT STEPS

Did we advance everything we wanted? No. Have we addressed the housing issues that are holding us back from being the state we want to be? Only partially.  Are tenants protected from the negative economic and health impacts of evictions made without a stated reason? No.

It’s already time to look ahead to 2017. As the Housing Alliance, we’ll be creating new avenues for issues to move forward, identifying new opportunities for participation and leadership within the coalition, and reaching out to new and existing allies.  We look forward to working with our partners and the community, and to continuing our progress towards housing opportunity.