Rent control advocates rally outside the Multnomah County administration building on April 7, 2016.

Rent control advocates rally outside the Multnomah County administration building on April 7, 2016.

Rob Manning/OPB

A group representing Oregon landlords aims to pass a renter assistance program over the objections of one of the state’s top Democrats.

The proposal is a counteroffer to the push for rent control, which some Democratic leaders support but landlords oppose. 

The landlord group, Multifamily Northwest, wants lawmakers to approve a $25 million rental assistance program, to be funded by state tax credits. Oregon already has federally funded rent assistance through housing authorities.  

Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek, who supports rent control, told Willamette Week the landlords’ proposal was a “taxpayer funded giveaway.”

John DiLorenzo with Multifamily Northwest told OPB he’s disappointed Kotek is opposing the idea without discussing it.

“You know, there’s one thing about the Legislature, there are two houses,” DiLorenzo said. “And if you can’t move a bill in the House, you move it in the Senate.” 

DiLorenzo chafes at suggestions the proposal would drive up rents and makes two points in its defense: First, participating landlords would have to agree not to raise rents above market conditions, and second, the program’s limit of 20,000 households would be too small a group to affect the market.

DiLorenzo conceded the program might be open to criticism for not helping enough renters in need.       

He said the tax credit auction that would potentially fund the program would work like existing state tax credit efforts to fund the Oregon film industry, for instance. It’s money that would be diverted away from the state general fund, which is one reason the Multifamily Northwest proposal is kept to $25 million.

Economists have said the key to reining in the rising cost of housing in places like Portland and Bend is to build more affordable homes.

Gov. Kate Brown has included more than $300 million in her budget aimed at increasing the construction of affordable housing. And some metropolitan areas are moving ahead on their own. Portland voters approved an increase to local property taxes in November to fund a housing bond worth nearly $260 million

DiLorenzo agrees that building more affordable housing is the ultimate solution, but contends that will take a long time. He said his group is offering the rental assistance as a “stop-gap” program.

Some backers of rent control have also said their policies could be short-term, until the runaway increases in rent have subsided.