Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

It may feel like the 2019 legislative session just started, but big pieces of Democrats’ affordable housing agenda will see major action this week. The bills will also be an early test for the Bend area’s two first-year House members, Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond. Their votes could be a litmus test for supporters and opponents in the 2020 election.

The housing bills and early fundraising activity for the next election are among the highlights from the Capitol:

Housing in the House

A controversial bill aimed at increasing affordable housing will come up Monday in the House Committee on Human Services and Housing. It also sets up an interesting early look at the political tilt of Helt and Zika. House Bill 2001 would effectively bar zoning that only allows for single-family homes.

Its author is House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. The bill is supported by affordable housing advocates and opposed by real estate interests and some business groups. So many people have signed up to speak at the 1 p.m. hearing that the committee has already announced it will recess at 2:45 p.m. and resume at 5 p.m. The bill is expected to win approval from the Democratic-majority committee. Zika has been critical of the bill and is expected to be a “no” vote — he’s a real estate broker, and his 2020 campaign was backed by the housing industry. Helt, who ran as a moderate Republican and represents most of the city of Bend, said last week she will wait to hear testimony and take advice from constituents before announcing her position. It’s a contentious issue back home. Bend’s rapid growth has led to a shortage of affordable housing. The city’s population has risen to 89,905 and Deschutes County’s 3.3 percent population growth rate is the highest of all 36 Oregon counties. The median sale price of a single-family home in the Bend area was $432,000 in December, 9 percent higher than December 2017. But many residents have voiced concerns that an increase in multifamily homes would change the atmosphere of the community.

Rent control on fast track

Helt and Zika will likely soon be having to make up their minds on another major affordable housing initiative sponsored by Democratic leaders. A bill to implement statewide rent control is barreling through the Legislature. Senate Bill 608 is expected to come up for a vote on the Senate floor this week. If passed, it would likely go next to the House Human Services and Housing Committee, which includes both Helt and Zika. The bill is expected to be on a fast track through to a floor vote. Advocates have a goal of getting the bill to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk by month’s end. The bill would cap most rent increases to 7 percent per year, plus any percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index. It also prohibits landlords from terminating month-to-month tenancy without cause after a renter has lived in a unit for 12 months. Brown said last Thursday that she was supportive of the “framework” of the bill, though she said she is concerned about how the legislation would be put into effect. Brown said both landlords and tenants need to have access to help lines and legal advice. Without resources for implementation, “they are asking for a lot of headaches,” Brown said.

Redmond tries again

Before the rent control bill, the same committee will consider House Bill 2336. The official summary of the bill reads: “Removing population requirement for affordable housing pilot program if no qualifying nomination is received for city with population under 25,000.” The practical effect of the bill is to give Redmond a second shot at an affordable housing pilot program awarded last year to Bend. Redmond was the only other applicant. The program allowed for two projects, but required one go to a city under 25,000. No smaller city submitted a proposal. Under the Affordable Housing Pilot Project, a city can approve a development outside of its urban growth boundary without having to go through the normal UGB process. The bill has bipartisan support and includes both Zika and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, among the chief co-sponsors. So far the bill has received one piece of testimony, a letter of support from Redmond Mayor George Endicott saying if approved, the city would like to add to the development of Skyline Village.

A tale of two districts

With elections to the state House every two years, campaign fundraising has become a nonstop effort for many lawmakers, especially those in competitive districts. Early 2019 campaign finance filings show the very different electoral realities in the two Bend-area House districts. Aided by disarray on the Democratic side, Helt won House District 54 last November despite a sizable Democratic voter registration edge. Democrats are expected to target the district in 2020 as they work to maintain or expand their 38-22 supermajority in the House. Campaign finance records with the secretary of state show Helt won’t be caught unaware. She began the year with just over $20,000 in her campaign fund. Helt raised just under $30,000 in the first two weeks of 2019. State campaign finance law allow political committees up to 30 days to report contributions. Helt’s total is through Jan. 13. More than half that total came in a $15,000 contribution from the Promote Oregon Leadership PAC, the campaign arm of House Republicans. She’s also received $5,000 from the campaign PAC of Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles. She received $2,000 from the Oregon Health Care Association PAC, and $1,000 each from Indiana-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, San Francisco-based biotechnology firm Genentech and the AGC Committee for Action, an Oregon construction industry PAC. Helt has spent $35,000 on G Squared LLC, a Boise, Idaho-based political management firm. Zika won House District 53, a solidly Republican district that circles Bend and takes in a slice of the city. Zika took in just under $2,500 in the first two weeks of 2019, with no contribution of more than $500. He’s spent $1,000 on Insite LGA Corp., a political management firm in Bend. Helt and Zika use the same treasurer, Dana Billingsley, of Bend, to keep track of their books. Of note: Knopp, whose Senate district will be up for election in 2020, has about $100,000 in his campaign fund. He has raised and spent about $2,500 in 2019.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750,