Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

SALEM — Statewide rent control took a step closer to reality Wednesday with the approval of a key House panel.

The House Human Services and Housing Committee approved Senate Bill 608 on a 6-3 vote. Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, voted no.

The bill now goes to the full House. Committee chair Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, said a floor vote could come as early as next week.

If approved by the House and signed by Gov. Kate Brown, Oregon would be the first to enact statewide rent control.

The bill caps rent increases at 7 percent, plus the annual increase in the consumer price index. Buildings less than 15 years old are exempt. It also prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for no reason after they have lived in a unit for 12 months or more.

The bill has an emergency clause, meaning that if Brown signs, as expected, it would immediately become law.

Keny-Guyer said during committee debate on the bill that rapid rent increases and “no cause” evictions were a problem across the state, not just in Portland.

“We hear from communities that are very stressed out,” she said, calling the legislation an “anti-gouging, anti-spiking bill.”

Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, said the quick pace of the bill through the Legislature indicated a breadth of support with lawmakers and their constituents.

“We’ve waited too long as it is,” Sanchez said. “It is an emergency.”

The two Bend-area House members on the committee argued against the bill — Zika strongly and Helt with some reservations.

Zika said the issue was important and disagreed with the proposed solution.

“I believe we all want the same thing,” Zika said. “We all want people to have stability, to have affordable housing. I just don’t think this is the way to go. I don’t think this will help with the supply issue. It’s basic market principles. It’s supply and demand. We need more supply to bring down the price of housing. It’s as simple as that.”

Zika argued the bill would make things worse for renters as landlords automatically raised rents or withdrew properties from the rental market and sold to homebuyers.

“Rent control will do the opposite of what is intended,” Zika said. “The more we do, the worse it is going to get.”

Helt said she wished the bill could be split in two, saying she was “sympathetic” to tenants who face no-cause evictions.

“I wish these two weren’t paired together,” Helt said.

Helt said she could not support the bill because she did not believe it would alleviate the housing problem in Central Oregon. She worried it would scare off investment in rental housing.

“The city I represent, Bend, is the fourth-fastest growing city in the United States,” Helt said. “I believe we need a lot of capital investments to be able to change our housing crisis.”

Helt agreed with Zika that the bill could lead to higher rents.

“This has great potential to harm the tenants we are trying to help,” Helt said.

Helt sided with Democrats to defeat an amendment offered by Zika that would have removed the emergency clause.

“I don’t agree with the bill, but when the choice is made, I worry about unintended consequences for tenants if we wait,” Helt said after the vote.

Democrats on the committee said they were worried that allowing a gap between the time the bill was signed and when it went into effect could lead landlords to raise rents or evict tenants before the deadline.

Helt and Zika supported two other amendments offered by Republicans. One would have allowed cities to opt into the rent control program. The other would have limited the bill to cities over 150,000.

“What works in Portland doesn’t work in Bend or Pendleton,” Helt said.

The amendments were defeated by the Democratic majority on the committee.

The House floor would be the last stop for the bill before going to Brown.

SB 608 passed the Senate on Feb. 12 by a 17-11 vote. Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, voted no.

The bill is expected to get a quick vote in the House.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, is one of the chief co-sponsors of the bill.

Rent control is just the first of a pair of contentious bills to come up for a vote in House Human Services and Housing Committee.

No date has been set for a committee vote on House Bill 2001.

It requires cities with population over 10,000 and counties with population over 15,000 to allow up to four units on lots zoned for single-family homes within the urban growth boundary.

It also has an emergency clause, meaning it immediately becomes law if the governor signs the bill.

—Reporter: 541-640-2750,