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Fair Housing Advocates Applaud Oregon's Historic Rent Control Law—But Vow to Fight for Even Better Protections

"Let's call this cap 'anti-price gouging,' and continue to demand that the state lift the ban on rent control so that local lawmakers can finish the job the state was unwilling to do."

Oregon's Gov. Kate Brown signed the nation's first statewide rent control bill on Thursday. (Photo: Rebecca/Flickr/cc)

Oregon's new rent control law, described as both "unprecedented" and "historic," will help to combat the most unjust actions of landlords across the state—but fair housing advocates said Friday that while progress is welcome, the job is far from done.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 608 into law on Thursday, enacting the United States' first statewide "rent control" law to help alleviate Oregon's growing homelessness crisis and provide relief to tenants, some of whom have seen their rents explode by more than 100 percent from year to year.

"S.B. 608 should be recognized for limiting extreme rent hikes and beginning to curtail the use of harmful no-cause evictions," said Portland Tenants United (PTU), a local tenants' rights group, in a statement. "That these protections will be statewide is indeed historic and unprecedented, and is the result of a strong tenant movement that PTU is proud to a be part of."

But PTU argued that the law will only "prevent the most egregious of landlord behaviors while still leaving many Oregon tenants vulnerable to displacement."

Senate Bill 608, which goes into effect immediately, will cap yearly rent increases in many buildings at seven percent plus inflation, with the yearly limit expected to work out to nine to 12 percent. The legislation will apply only to buildings that are older than 15 years, but will also make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants. Brown is also directing lawmakers to pass a $400 billion investment to increase housing supply.

State House Speaker Tina Kotek told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the law achieves state Democrats' main goal: to "end the practice of rent gouging," while advocates for fair housing the homeless raised doubts about how far-reaching the new stipulations would be. 

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"It's a start. Calling it rent control seems like an overstatement," Gus Cole-Kroll, a self-described advocate for the homeless told Common Dreams.

PTU noted that a proposal to also restore local control to cities and counties seeking to enact more stringent controls on landlords was left out of the final bill.

"Let's call this cap 'anti-price gouging,' and continue to demand that the state lift the ban on rent control so that local lawmakers can finish the job the state was unwilling to do," said PTU.

Brown indicated agreement with housing advocates who are skeptical of the improvements S.B. 608 will make to the state's renters.

The bill "will provide immediate relief to Oregonians struggling to keep up with rising rents and a tight rental market, but it doesn't work on its own," the governor said as she signed the bill. "It's going to take much more work to ensure that every Oregonian in our communities large and small have access to housing choices."

Katrina Holland of the Community Alliance of Tenants, which applauded the passage of the bill on Twitter but was dissatisfied with the reforms it offers, told the Oregonian that the fight was far from over. 

"You'd better believe we'll be back," said Holland.

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