Giving Salem more control won’t fix housing crisis

Industry News,

Source: Bend Bulletin:

There is an affordable housing crisis afflicting Central Oregon. When I talk to folks in Redmond, Bend and rural Deschutes County, I hear, repeatedly, how residents are struggling to afford to live in Central Oregon, and businesses are struggling to attract employees due to the high cost of living here. One of the main reasons I ran for state representative was to help fix this crisis.

One reason why Central Oregon housing prices — and prices in other popular places in Oregon — quickly outpace the ability of its residents to pay them is the many barriers Oregon places in the path of creating more housing, such as creating more supply.

The barriers are of two primary varieties. The first is that Oregon’s infamous land use system severely restricts the land available for housing development.

Such development must occur within urban growth boundaries, and the state makes it difficult to substantially enlarge those boundaries to build more housing. Bend spent millions of dollars and a decade expanding its UGB. Redmond may need another expansion after only a handful of years. UGB expansion in the Portland area recently required an actual act of the Legislature. Salem’s tight constraints on land lead to higher housing prices.

As the scarcity of developable land has driven up housing costs, some lawmakers have tried to ameliorate the effect. Former Rep. Knute Buehler wrote and passed a bill that gives one larger city the ability to expand its UGB to accommodate more affordable housing. Bend and Redmond applied and Bend won. I am co-sponsoring a bill that would allow Bend and Redmond to add affordable housing.

The second type of barrier is the state’s penchant for hyper-regulating residential rental arrangements. Oregon has long had an extensive list of regulations that landlords must meet in order to rent their property to tenants in need of housing. Some of those regulations are good, some not so good. Unnecessary and overly onerous regulations make it more costly and less desirable to create rental housing, which has contributed to our housing crisis.

The common theme behind these barriers is that they arose from concentrating power and decision-making in Salem. As Salem has concentrated its control over housing policy, the system has gotten worse. During good economic times, prices skyrocket with residents straining to buy or rent; during bad times, Oregon’s stretched homeowners and renters are especially vulnerable to disruptions in employment.

By any reasonable definition, the Salem-centric approach to housing policy has failed; one would hope our leaders would recognize this and change. Instead, they want to double down on what has failed so drastically in the past — seeking to concentrate more power and decision-making in Salem.

Most troubling is the effort underway to make Oregon the first state in the country with statewide rent control. The control envisioned is a cap on how much landlords can increase the rent. The end effect, however, will be to, once again, make it less desirable to create more rental housing, which decreases the supply, which will make quality rental housing — the very thing we desperately need more of — more scarce. Rent control will harm the people it’s intended to help and worsen the ongoing housing crisis.

Central Oregonians need more — not less — control over housing policies. While the theme of this session appears to be Salem doubling down on failed housing policies, I will stand up for Central Oregon and what will help fix our housing crisis.

— Jack Zika, a Republican, is state representative for House District 53.