State Senate

Oregon state Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, speaks on the floor of the Senate on Monday at the Oregon Capitol in Salem. The Oregon Senate on Tuesday passed the nation’s first state-wide rent-control law.

SALEM — The Oregon Senate voted 17-11 Tuesday to make Oregon the first state in the nation to adopt statewide rent control and make it harder for landlords to evict tenants without a reason.

Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, who recently unseated an incumbent in a race dominated by housing, opened the floor debate with a story she often told on the campaign trail: She was 15 and showed up at a large Victorian-style house in East Portland to visit her mother, who was struggling with addiction issues.

It turned out her mother lived beneath the large house, not inside.

“Instead of walking up the steps, she dropped to all fours and crawled into the porch and she invited us into her home,” Fagan told her Senate colleagues.

Fagan told her fellow lawmakers the rent control measure was personal to her but also about “making it easier for our neighbors who are working hard and playing by the rules to stay in their homes.” She noted Oregon’s high rate of homeless children.

Democrats have made it clear this bill is a priority and, with a majority in both chambers, its sponsors are moving it at a breakneck speed through the Legislature.

Under Senate Bill 608, landlords across the state could raise rent no more than 7 percent per year, plus the annual change in the consumer price index. The bill carves out an exemption for rental properties that are less than 15 years old. The measure would also prevent a landlord’s ability to evict tenants without a reason after they have lived in the building for a year.

Senate Republicans decried the measure.

Sen. Tim Knopp, a Republican who represents the booming Bend area, warned that the measure will have a chilling effect on investors and developers. He said he’s already spoke to investors who said they are going to get out of Oregon’s market.

“Those rental homes when sold are not going stay in the rental pool,” Knopp said.

And the problem, Knopp said, is the lack of supply.

“This bill does nothing to address the supply issue, I think you all know that, so the real question is when will this body truly address supply?” Knopp said.

Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, blamed Democrats for the state’s affordable housing crisis; he says they caused a shortage in housing stock by blocking the expansion of urban growth boundaries and caused the cost of labor to spike by supporting higher minimum wages.

Other Republicans called out Democrats for railroading them in their efforts to swiftly pass the controversial policy. Democrats have blocked any amendments or changes to the bill.

“Again, I fully realize elections have consequences, but Republican colleagues were willing to be involved and yet we weren’t invited. … We can do better,” said Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Pendleton.

Democrats have made it clear the coalition supporting the bill is fragile; they fear any changes could cause the legislation to fall apart.

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said he’s unwilling to go back to his district and tell people about to lose their home that lawmakers were close to brokering a deal but, in an attempt to address all the concerns, couldn’t get there.

“We can’t do that,” Golden said.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

It now moves to the House.

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