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Senate committee considers testimony on bill that has cleared the House, but it puts off action; majority Democrats can afford to lose one vote to ensure OK

No new arguments were raised and no minds were changed, but a Senate committee heard plenty of voices Wednesday for and against a bill to ban most no-cause evictions and lift Oregon's 32-year ban on local rent control.

The Human Services Committee took no action after the 90-minute hearing, for which nearly 400 email messages and written testimony were filed in advance. Spectators filled two additional hearing rooms and the galleria outside where the committee met in the Capitol in Salem.STOCK IMAGE - Many, or arguably, most of the Portland metro region's home prices and rental prices have risen beyond 25 percent of a single-family income.

House Bill 2004 passed the House on a 31-27 vote a month ago, and assuming all Republicans oppose it, majority Democrats can afford to lose only one from their ranks to pass it in the Senate.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, declined to say before the hearing whether one of the bill's major provisions might be stripped to ensure passage of the rest.

"We know we need to do something. I can't tell you what is going to happen," said Monnes Anderson, who sits on the committee. "We need 16 votes and we are going to do everything we can to get them."

Chairwoman Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, said after the hearing the bill would return for a committee discussion, but did not set a date.

Although Portland has been the focus of rising rents, the bill's advocates argue that other Oregon communities have been feeling the pinch. According to United Van Lines surveys of customers, Oregon topped the list of receiving states for three years but yielded in 2016 to South Dakota.

"Rent stabilization programs alone cannot prevent undesirable social dynamics we are experiencing," said Robin Hahnel, a retired American University economist who will teach at Willamette University and lives in Northeast Portland.

"They do not provide the long-run answer because they do not increase the supply of new affordable units. But they can mitigate the damage while we are looking for longer-term solutions."

Tenants disagree

Coya Crespin said something needs to be done now.

Crespin is a single parent and a tenant of Titan Manor, a 72-unit complex in the North Portland neighborhood of St. Johns, where tenants began receiving no-cause eviction notices starting in January. The notices have since been rescinded.

"But it's really difficult that every time I come home with my children, there might be a piece of paper lying on the ground or put in the door," Crespin said. "The look on my daughter's face — that we can be put out of our home for any reason, and we don't know why — it takes a toll and it takes a lot out of you every day."

The bill's chief sponsor is House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who met with some of the residents earlier this year and whose district contains the complex.

But Richard Wilson of Woodburn says the bill is having the opposite effect on landlords, who are serving notice they will sell their properties rather than comply with the bill's requirements.

"It is all because of the threat of passage of HB 2004. It is already harming tenants," said Wilson, who with his wife is faced with the prospect of moving in with his children.

"If this is happening to us, the same thing is happening to thousands of others. If it passes, it will only cause more damage and will not protect tenants one iota."

He joined a number of opponents, mostly rental owners, urging the committee to reject the entire bill.

More disagreement

The bill would allow cities and counties to set "fair rates of return" and exempt new construction from rent regulation for five years.

"But the unintended consequences of the bill would have the opposite effect," said Dan Hays, owner of Real Property Management Solutions in Portland.

"We need to have protection too," said Michelle Barth of Springfield, another landlord. "I do not think we should have to pay (relocation costs), but tenants nothing."

Beth Kellan, a Portland real estate broker, had a differing view.

"I do not believe this is an issue about good landlords vs. bad tenants or bad landlords vs. good tenants," she said. "Something has to change and this does not infringe on my rights as a property owner," because Oregon law allows for-cause evictions with notice periods ranging from 24 hours to 30 days.

Patti Jay received a 60-day eviction notice the day after a contractor completed removal of mold in her bathroom. A veteran of the Oregon Air National Guard — and a cofounder of the Veterans and Families Resource Center in Milwaukie — she was able to obtain short-term help from the Clackamas County Veterans Service office to find another rental. But she said the new place costs her $400 more each month.

"I have a great job now. I am happy and stable," she said. "However, the fear that it could happen again never quite leaves my family. My boys deserve stability."

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