Plans to put $20 million into affordable housing &
in what would have been the largest such investment from the state in years &
were defeated Monday as the Oregon Legislature churned toward closure.
To pass, the bill would have needed 36 votes in the House. Although all 31 Democrats united behind it, they were joined by only two Republicans, Reps. Patti Smith of Corbett and Chuck Burley of Bend.
The rest of the Republican caucus opposed the bill, citing the proposed increase in fees paid by Oregonians recording real estate and other documents at county courthouses, from the current $11 charge to $24. That would boost the fee on a house that costs approximately $248,000 to around $124, said Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland.
Legislative attorneys had ruled that the increase amounted to a raise in taxes, and thus required the 36-vote supermajority.
"They locked up this morning &
they have a very disciplined caucus," said Mark Nelson, a lobbyist for the Housing Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit groups from around the state who were backing the bill. "There were (Republicans) who wanted to vote for this, but they were following their leaders."
Both sides are likely to recycle the issue in upcoming elections. Republicans are looking to leave this session with the claim that they kept a lid on various proposed taxes, including one on cigarettes to fund an expansion of children's health insurance, a beer tax for state police and a bump in the minimum taxes paid by corporations, to go for higher education.
"This is a tax that we cannot afford to burden new homeowners with," said Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg.
Democrats will counter that the GOP stymied publicly popular priorities, like the affordable housing measure.
"It's very disappointing," Rep. Dave Hunt said. "They don't care about affordable housing."
The affordable housing issue has been on the edge of the agenda in Salem for years. Former Gov. Barbara Roberts put $14 million into a housing trust fund created in 1991, hoping that the investment earnings would subsidize future investments. But that money was quickly siphoned for other uses.
The cost of housing is an issue in just about every corner of the state. A recent survey by the Oregon Progress Board found that 82 percent of low-income renters are spending more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing; the same is true for nearly half of all low-income homeowners in Oregon.
After debate on Monday, Rep. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, changed his vote to keep the bill alive for possible reconsideration. But time is running short, and Nelson, the housing industry advocate, said the measure was now "on life support."
Affordable housing bill dies