Hey Salem! Renters Have an Emergency: Pass HB2004.

By Pete Hybertsen of Portland, Oregon. Peter is a renter and organizer with Portland Tenants United.

For any of you who’ve been thawed out of a glacier lately, or just haven’t been keeping much of an eye on Oregon politics, let’s get this out of the way first; Housing is arguably the biggest issue under debate right now. How could it not be? Very few things are more important to our survival and wellbeing than the shelter of a stable home. Thanks to tireless organizing and grassroots pressure from renting Oregonians and allies, we have a bill in Salem this legislative session. In its current form, this bill would be a historic victory for hundreds of thousands of tenants statewide.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends of all gender identities; Meet House Bill 2004, which desperately needs your vocal support to liberate it intact from the clutches of the Human Services and Housing Committee. There’s a bit more to it, and you can read the bill in all its wonky glory here, but HB2004 does three major things. It declares a housing state of emergency statewide. It bans no-cause evictions in most cases, with mandatory payment of relocation expenses where it’s allowed. And, best for last, it repeals the current ban on local rent control.

If you have a basic sense of fairness and a conscience, it seems difficult to make an honest case against banning no cause evictions. As long as landlords have the power to kick anybody out of their home on a whim, no renters have genuinely secure homes. Maybe some of you’re thinking, “But I always pay my rent on time. I take good care of my home. My landlord loves me and intends to name their firstborn in my honor.” That’s great and all, but it doesn’t buy you any actual rights, and if you’re holding up your end of the deal the rest shouldn’t matter.

Right now your landlord might evict you for making maintenance requests “too often,” or if they (rightly) hate that damn fedora you wear all the time, and anything in between. Sure it’s “illegal” for landlords to retaliate, but they know it’s hard to prove; it happens all the time. This has to stop. As long as a law allowing no cause evictions is on the books, any other legal rights tenants have are paper shields at best.

It’s not just the literal evictions though. Rent increases are putting people on the streets too. In the Portland area, rent increases of 100% or more are far from unheard of. Officially, that’s not an “eviction,” but try making that distinction to the families who are calling homeless shelters right now because their wages aren’t remotely close to keeping up, and they’re struggling to find anywhere else they can still afford.

The situation may be more extreme in the Portland area than some of Oregon’s other communities, but HB 2004 isn’t just about keeping Portland weird. Times are tough for renters all over Oregon, from Bend and Medford, to Eugene, Ashland, and The Dalles. Housing issues are inherently local, and this bill allows communities to rein in runaway rent increases according to their specific needs by eliminating the state ban on rent control.

There’s no defense for allowing our friends, family and neighbors to be forced out of their homes when nothing changed but the intensity of a landlord’s greed. There’s even less of a defense for tolerating that while also stripping our communities of the power to prove that change starts at home. As long as our hands are tied on the local level, it’ll be open season for price gouging on Oregon’s tenants. Hopefully, there will be enough Oregon legislators who are willing to stop defending the indefensible this year.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then you might just be a landlord who’s afraid to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to social responsibility. Or you might be Democratic Representatives Jeff Reardon and Mark Meek, and Senator Rod Monroe, though they still have time to change their minds and get on the right side of history. Rod Monroe wins an extra special prize for being both a current barrier to HB2004’s progress and landlord to a multi-million dollar apartment complex in East Portland.

It matters that HB 2004 names the statewide housing emergency for what it is. That’s old news to tenuously housed tenants who live it every day. It’s even older news to communities of color, LGBTQ+ people, and former renters who have been forced into homelessness. Declaring a state of emergency is everything, in a way, in that it acknowledges that the emergency is “man-made.” The decisions of a wealthy few made this emergency, not some law of nature, or even those Yanni-listening, heavily armed nudists who lived by you that one time. This law won’t get the job done on its own, but it gives back the tools we need to start unmaking it.

We’ve got to pass HB 2004 intact, and we need your voice to do it. This isn’t just any bill sitting there on Capitol Hill, folks. It’s more important than ever, with dark times from D.C. still ahead, to remember that sanctuary literally starts with a home. It’s more important than ever to act and be a part of solutions where you live. We’ve got to pass this bill, but we won’t get there on passive faith in politicians. If you think the basic dignity of being secure in your own home is worth fighting for, then join us.

Call key Democrats today to let them know that you insist they vote YES on HB 2004.
Representative Jeff Reardon (503)-986-1448 Representative Mark Meek (503-986-1440 * Senator Rod Monroe (503)-986-1724

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