California tenant advocates flummoxed by reluctant Democratic lawmakers have a new north star to guide their political strategy: Oregon.
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California tenant groups have had a rough go in the state Capitol. Bills to allow cities to expand rent control have flamed out each of the past two years. Anti-eviction legislation hasn’t come close to a governor’s signature. And the last remaining high-profile tenant proposal of 2019—an anti-rent gouging bill that would be in effect for only three years—faces difficult votes in the weeks ahead.
There’s plenty of reasons why renters don’t have much power in Sacramento. But flummoxed tenant advocates may have a new north star to guide their political strategy: Oregon. And moderate Democratic lawmakers may not like the lessons California renter groups are gleaning from their neighbors.
Earlier this year, Oregon became the first state in the nation to enact a statewide limit on how much landlords can increase the rent year over year.
While the legislation disappointed some on the left for stopping short of full-fledged rent control—the new law caps annual rent increases at 7 percent plus inflation, and is tailored more at preventing extreme rent hikes—the bill’s passage nevertheless marked a watershed victory for West Coast tenant groups.
“We’ve done what folks thought impossible, which is breach the conversation…that no state will regulate the rent in this way,” Pam Phan, advocacy and organizing director for the Community Alliance of Tenants in Oregon, said on “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast.”
So how were Oregon tenant groups able to do it?
Well, ask former Oregon state Sen. Rod Monroe, a three-term Democratic incumbent who opposed a rent control bill Phan’s group was pushing in 2018. Tenant groups ran their own candidate against Monroe in a Democratic primary, and won by more than 40 points.
A clear and compelling message had been delivered to Oregon lawmakers, said Phan. Within months, the statewide rent cap passed.
“I think (lawmakers) should be scared,” said Phan, who stressed that other organizing tactics along with the primary victory were also pivotal. “I think they should be thinking about what is the level of political power that tenants are building.”
On this episode of “Gimme Shelter,” CalMatters’ Matt Levin and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon discuss how Oregon passed a rent-gouging cap and a first-in-the-nation bill to eliminate single-family-only zoning. They interview Phan and Mary Kyle McCurdy, deputy director of 1000 Friends of Oregon.