|Affordable housing remains one of our primary challenges across Oregon and acutely here in our district. Oregon has one of the highest homeless rates in the U.S., with more than 14,600 people needing stable housing in 2020, a rate of 2.5%.
Josh Lehner, from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, told members of the House Interim Committee on Housing on Wednesday that the increased gap isn’t so much because of a big boom in population. Oregon’s population has stayed relatively steady during the pandemic, but household size dropped and the number of households boomed. The new housing units did not meet the increased demand.
Lehrer listed items that he said would help close the gap – increasing land availability, turning that land into buildable lots more quickly, allowing more units to be built, and decreasing or stabilizing development costs. But he focused on another issue – increasing the construction workforce, in both the private and public sectors. “If we want to build more units, we have to have more workers,” he said.
Oregon needs 13,000 more construction workers per year to help close the housing gap. Finding those workers in a tight labor market will be challenging. City and county planning departments also will need 400-500 additional public sector employees to approve, permit and inspect these additional housing units.
Other speakers at Wednesday’s hearing touched on different areas of the housing crunch, such as barriers to developing housing, the importance of preserving existing affordable housing, and programs meant to aid people who are unsheltered.
One bright spot statewide and locally is Project Turnkey, which has provided funding to turn underused hotels and motels throughout the state into shelters for the homeless. The project has added 867 units statewide. A second round of funding for the project has been approved.
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Meanwhile, rents are surging across Oregon. A measure passed in 2019 capped annual rent increases to 7% plus inflation. But then came the inflation of 2022. And under the formula of Senate Bill 608, landlords in 2023 may raise their rent up to 14.6%, the state announced last week.
The measure also prohibits landlords from terminating month-to-month tenancy without cause. And while it was sponsored by my party leadership, I voted “no”, believing it would discourage new housing investment here and make workforce housing scarcer rather than more affordable.
An editorial in the Oregonian this week acknowledges that the long-term solution is increased supply to reduce costs and that Oregon simply needs more housing across the board. “That means we need our state and local governments to amend land-use policies to make housing development easier, streamline notoriously cumbersome permitting processes and lower taxes or unnecessary requirements that depress development.” Oregonians, too, must play a part in easing the housing crisis, most critically by accepting higher-density developments in neighborhoods.
Keep in mind that landlords do not have to raise the rent at all, much less to 14.6%. Landlords would be wise to keep increases to the bare minimum necessary.