HB 2724: Amplifying the power of renter education with a landlord mitigation fund

This post is the second in a series explaining key housing bills that passed during the 2017 legislative session. Thank you to Caitlyn Kennedy, Rent Well Administrator at Transition Projects, for her help with this post.

Alexandra was a single parent to an 8 month old and a 1.5 year old living at an emergency shelter. Determined to succeed for her family, she found a job that paid well enough that she could afford rent. Still, her rental history was spotty and she struggled to find housing. Alexandra was far from alone: across Oregon, families and individuals are struggling with low vacancy rates and extreme competition for rental units. For tenants with barriers to renting an apartment, such as a history of poor credit, evictions, or criminal convictions, they may find it next to impossible to find a safe, decent, and affordable place to rent.

Motivated to find a good home for herself and her family, Alexandra enrolled in the Rent Well program, a renter education program that teaches tenants about their rights and responsibilities. With a Rent Well graduation certificate in hand, she found a landlord willing to rent to her and has been in her home for over three years now. Alexandra believed in the power of this program so much that she became a Rent Well instructor herself, helping others achieve housing stability.

A new program created by House Bill 2724, a Rental Assurance Fund for Tenants, will amplify the power of renter education programs throughout Oregon and help support more renters like Alexandra. This bill passed out of the 2017 Legislature and will create additional housing stability for renters.

Renter education programs help to address these barriers. These programs equip participants with the knowledge they need to be successful renters by educating them on their rights and responsibilities, as well as skills such as communicating with their landlord. By building their skills and knowledge as renters, these programs build stronger, more successful relationships between landlords and tenants. And for tenants with barriers to renting, such as a poor credit or rental history, the completion of a renter education gives them a better chance of finding a rental home.

The rental assurance fund for tenants created in HB 2724 will increase the power of these programs. Landlords who rent to program graduates not only know that they are renting to a tenant who has completed a tenant education curriculum but that they are back with a type of renter’s insurance. The RAFT fund assurances that if the graduate leaves their rental in the first year of tenancy and has any unpaid rent, eviction fees, or damaged costs, the landlord will receive compensation for their expenses. In Oregon’s extremely competitive rental markets, a rental assurance fund can increase housing opportunities for tenants with barriers to housing.

The success of this bill was the product of dedicated advocacy, including the testimony at of renter education program administrators, instructors, and participants. Many legislative champions helped move this bill forward, including Representative Tawna Sanchez, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Human Services and Housing and Director of Family Services at the Native American Youth and Family Center, who has run this program as well and knows the impact it has had on their clients. We would like to thank Representative Keny-Guyer and Senator Dembrow for their work in passing this bill. Special thanks to two of our Housing Alliance members, the Oregon Housing Authorities, and Caitlyn Kennedy, Rent Well Program Administrator at Transition Projects, Inc. for their leadership and advocacy on this bill that will help renters throughout Oregon find stable housing. We would also like to thank Alexandra herself for testifying in person at the Capitol and sharing her family’s story of how a renter education program changed their lives.