We Did It! 2016 Legislative Session Wrap Up

We came in to 2016 calling for bold action on housing opportunity. Communities throughout the state face unprecedented barriers to housing stability, and we selected a slate of policy and funding priorities to comprehensively address these challenges. Many of these bills changed throughout the process, requiring flexible and dynamic responses. In the end, a number of our priorities and support agenda items were successful this session—a big achievement given that the session was only 32 days long! These successes were only possible with the hard work of Housing Alliance members, other partners, and community members who called for action on housing opportunity. Think of what we will be able to achieve together in 2017’s long session! We’re excited to get started.

Read on for the final results of this session. You can read more from Janet Byrd, executive director of Neighborhood Partnerships, in her reflections here. We’re looking forward to the Governor signing these priority and support bills into law!

Housing Alliance agenda priorities

Tenant protections (HB 4143): Tenants in Oregon will now be protected from rent increases during the first year of tenancy, preventing new renters who lack a lease from facing an unexpected—and likely unaffordable—increase in their rent. This bill also protects tenants from sudden increases in their rent by requiring 90 days’ notice for any rent increases. Communities throughout the state are facing record low vacancy rates, and providing additional time to plan for rent increases will help relieve some of this pressure.

Local Innovation and Fast Track housing program parameters (SB 1582): Last year, the LIFT program received $40 million to develop affordable housing, a historic sum that will help meet Oregon’s housing needs. This bill sets parameters for the program and provides funds to administer it that will allow the program to begin creating more affordable housing as quickly as possible.

Removing the sunset on property tax exemptions for affordable housing (HB 4081): Keeping rents affordable is a complicated business, and we certainly can’t afford to lose any affordable housing units. The passage of this bill will help maintain existing affordable housing units by providing predictability for non-profit developments receiving property tax exemptions.

Inclusionary zoning and construction excise tax (SB 1533): (The Housing Alliance supports inclusionary zoning, but was neutral on the final version of this bill, including the construction excise tax) After 17 years, Oregon’s total ban on inclusionary zoning was repealed with this bill, which allows local governments to mandate that developers set aside a portion of new units as affordable. This bill sets various parameters on IZ ordinances; you can read a summary of final version of the bill here. The Housing Alliance was ultimately neutral on this bill, and while it was not everything we hoped for, some cities such as Portland felt that this bill would create an effective tool to create more affordable housing. The bill also gives cities and counties the ability to impose a construction excise tax of up to 1%. On residential properties, 100% of revenue would go toward affordable housing, and half of proceeds from a commercial or industrial CET would also be allocated for housing.

Funding priorities

Our funding priorities—which will make a real difference in increasing housing stability by helping prevent and end homelessness, ensuring we don’t lose any affordable units, and helping homeowners avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes—made it into the final budget bill, SB 5701! The budget includes the following appropriations:

  • Emergency Housing Account and State Homeless Assistance Program: $10 million ($8 million for EHA and $2 million for SHAP) to provide critical emergency housing assistance to prevent and end homelessness
  • Preservation of existing affordable housing units: $2.5 million for gap funds to help keep properties with rent subsidies or manufactured home parks affordable for the Oregonians currently living in them
  • Foreclosure counseling: $2.73 million to help homeowners evaluate their options in preparation for foreclosure mediation

Support agenda items

Restoring General Assistance (HB 4042): Oregon’s General Assistance program was de-funded in 2005, and this much-needed restoration will increase housing opportunity for some of the most vulnerable Oregonians. The program will focus on individuals with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness. The Department of Human Services will contact these individuals, offer financial assistance through the GA program, and help them apply for federal Social Security disability benefits. Congratulations to Housing Alliance members Oregon Law Center and the Oregon Food Bank, who submitted this as a support item and spearheaded advocacy efforts on this bill.

Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for families with young children (HB 4110): A large body of research exists showing that the EITC has lifelong benefits in health, educational achievement, and financial stability, particularly for young children whose families receive the EITC. This bill increased Oregon’s EITC from 8% to 11% of the federal EITC for families with children under 3. While HB 4120 (increasing the EITC by 1% for all claimants) and HB 4144 (establishing an EITC utilization task force) did not pass this session, the expansion in HB 4110 will make a big impact by targeting resources at families with young children. Congratulations to Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, who submitted this as a support item, as well as new Housing Alliance member Oregon Center for Public Policy, for their leadership on this bill.

Increasing resources for veterans (HJR 202): This joint resolution will put to voters a ballot measure to dedicate 1.5% of lottery revenues toward veterans’ issues. In addition to providing much-needed resources to support veterans, it will also help more veterans to receive the federal benefits they have earned, increasing their financial security while also boosting Oregon’s economy. Congratulations to the Oregon Housing Authorities and Oregon ON for their success!

Minimum wage (SB 1532): Oregon’s minimum wage workers will receive a significant boost in their earnings thanks to this bill, which will raise the minimum wage by region over the next six years, helping workers cope with rising housing costs.

Agenda items that did not pass: HB 4043 (increasing the document recording fee and creating a capital gains tax exemption for market properties sold as affordable housing) did not move, and additional funding for 211info did not make it into the budget bill. We look forward to continuing to support additional revenue and incentives for affordable housing, as well as support for resources to increase access to housing.

Other bills to watch:

Two other housing-related bills passed this session. HB 4079 establishes a voluntary pilot program for two communities to expand the urban growth boundary up to 50 acres for affordable housing, and SB 1573 ends voter-approved annexation.While the Housing Alliance was neutral on these bills, they were considered part of the broader housing package that included HB 4143 and SB 1533.

Thank you again for all of your incredible advocacy this session. On to 2017!