If Robbin McMain gets another rent increase, she’s worried she’ll become homeless. 

McMain lives in a 55-and-older mobile home park in Brookings, Oregon, where she—like many  other such residents—owns her mobile home while renting the lot it sits on. This year, McMain and her neighbors all received a 14.6 percent rental increase—the maximum allowed under current state law. For seniors who are on fixed incomes, the increase is squeezing their limited budgets and upending their housing stability.

“I love my home. I’m retired, and I don’t want to go anywhere else,” McMain said. “If we want to stop homelessness, we need to stop putting people like me and my neighbors in this impossible predicament.”

Senate Bill 611, sponsored by several Democratic legislators like Senator WInsvey Campos of Aloha and Representative Andrea Valderrama of East Portland, aims to protect renters like McCain from being priced out of their homes.

Oregon’s current rent increase restrictions, established in 2019, cap yearly rent increases at 7 percent plus inflation. At the time, the cap was considered a strong protection for renters that still struck a fair balance for landlords. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a record-high spike in inflation, leading to rent increases being limited to 14.6 percent in Oregon this year. The nearly 15 percent limit only applies to buildings more than 15 years old—newer buildings are subject to unrestricted rental increases. As Oregon faces a housing crisis, with state estimates showing that the region is short over 100,000 housing units, buildings less than fifteen years old can be subject to rent increases upward of 20 and 30 percent as landlords aim to match “market price.”

SB611 would cap year-to-year rent increases to 3 percent plus inflation or 8 percent total, whichever is lower. The bill would also close the rent control exemption from buildings built within the last 15 years to buildings constructed in the last three years, as well as increase the relocation support fee—the amount of money a landlord has to pay a renter for a no-cause eviction—to three months of rent. Landlords with four units or less would be exempt from the relocation fee.

Supporters of the bill say that tenant protections are a critical element of the state’s efforts to reduce homelessness. According to the US Government Accountability Office, a $100 increase in median rent is associated with a 9 percent increase in homelessness. While Oregon is making significant investments in moving unhoused residents off the streets and into transitional housing, that work is considerably less effective if the competitive housing market continues to push people out of housing and exacerbate homelessness.

“Oregon’s housing emergency goes beyond lack of supply and the number of people living without homes or shelter,” Kim McCarty, executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, told legislators during a public hearing Monday. “We have a rental emergency as well, with tenants living just one rent increase notice away from displacement and possible homelessness.”

Property owners and landlords have rallied in opposition to the bill, arguing that the bill would make Oregon a less attractive place for property owners to invest, which would in turn limit new development of housing—another key component of addressing the state’s housing crisis. Kennedy Amundson, a property management owner south of Portland, compared SB611’s renter protections to “biting the hand that feeds” renters: landlords.

“If you were pleading to an investor that was considering building rentals in Oregon, how would you draw them in?” Amundson asked legislators during Monday’s public hearing. “What would be the attraction you’d be able to offer to entice them to move forward with said investment? Because from my view, and the view of many, this bill will seal the deal on ensuring there is nothing but a bad reputation for landlords in the rental market in Oregon.”

Notably, new buildings would fall under the three year exemption for rental limits. SB611’s rent cap also only applies to year-to-year increases with the same tenant and does not restrict landlords from raising rents more than 8 percent when putting a rental on the market for new tenants.

Renters, landlords, and state leaders agree that building more housing, especially dedicated affordable housing, is a critical response to the state’s housing crisis. However, renters who are currently in affordable housing note that they need intervention now before they get priced out of the state’s most deeply affordable housing.

James VanCuren, a Portland renter, lives in affordable housing. However, the past couple years have brought significant rent increases, nearly doubling his rent from $550 to $903. According to VanCuren, his rent now consumes his entire social security check, causing his family to forgo medical treatment and cut back on outings to the park with his kids because they can no longer afford the extra gas.

“I’m in affordable housing now and it’s still a problem,” VanCuren said. “It won’t matter if there is more housing if it’s all empty because no one can afford to occupy it. If you want to solve homelessness, this is where it starts.”

SB611 is scheduled for a legislative work session Wednesday, March 29.