Candidates for governor in the May 17 primary answered how they would increase the housing stock in Oregon. (Salem Reporter/file)
Cutting red tape, reducing government fees and changing Oregon’s land use laws are among steps those running for governor in Oregon would take to increasing the supply of housing.
Every candidate running was invited to address questions on key issues facing the state. Journalists across the state drafted the following 15 questions, which were distributed to candidates by the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon.
This is part of an unprecedented collaboration among newsrooms to provide voters better information about those who would be governor. The primary election is May 17 and voting is underway now with Oregon’s vote-by-mail system.
Responses are in the candidates’ own words and have been trimmed at the 300-word limit. To learn more about the candidates and to see their responses across five issues, see: Candidates for Oregon governor address key state issues in unique presentation
THE QUESTION: There are housing shortages in both rural and urban communities across Oregon. What specific steps would you take to increase access to housing and housing stock for low and middle-income Oregonians?
Amber R Richardson – Republican
De-regulate, stop redtaping, stop over permitting. Get our logging industry back. Get the inflation down in our state, start utilizing our resources so we can survive in our state. These are all common sense policies that help bring costs down. We need to stop making everything so much harder, again long term solutions actually work so people can actaully survive in a real way. Cut down these boards that have overlapped that have caused major issues so nothing can even get done.
Betsy Johnson - independent
Oregon has a housing affordability crisis because we have a housing supply crisis. As governor, I will lead to increase the supply of housing to decrease the cost of housing – all types of housing choices. We cannot overcome our massive housing supply deficit simply through publicly funded or subsidized housing programs. And the legislature needs to stop telling homebuilders how to build homes. We need to unleash the power of the private marketplace to meet the growing demand for housing that exists across Oregon. We cannot make housing even more expensive with excessive rules, mandates, taxes, and fees. Unfortunately, this is something that has become all too common in Oregon. As governor, I will convene conversations with local mayors, city councils, county commissions, and tribal leaders, as well as the home building industry, about what is standing in the way of creating more housing – and lead to remove those barriers. We must face the reality of our situation and recognize we cannot continue doing the same thing and expect a different result. We are proud of our land-use system that has protected farms and wilderness, but if a lack of land for housing has made Oregon unaffordable for families, it is time to talk about targeted adjustments. Leading to make Oregon more affordable for people who work paycheck to paycheck – especially housing – will be one of my highest priorities.
Bill Sizemore – Republican
I mentioned this above. End the urban growth boundary approach to land use. Increase the supply of land upon which houses can be built. Housing prices are primarily a result of supply and demand, a law that cannot be repealed. We also need a moratorium on unnecessary system development charges, which can add tens of thousands of dollars onto the cost of a house.
Bob Tiernan – Republican
So many steps, so little time. First I think the new Governor needs to call a housing summit, like Governor Goldschmidt did for worker’s comp. Only this time I may have to lock all the parties in to the state fairgrounds for a couple of weeks because it’s that big of an issue involving so many different stakeholders.
Second, this incoming Governor doesn’t like the idea that government has all the answers— seems like the laws of supply and demand often work better when it comes to housing. For example, Oregon imposed rent control but yet rents are up by 50% on average according to a recent annual survey. Other overregulation for climate change policies, energy efficiency rules, permit problems, and SDCs, all drive up costs for home builders. I’m sure these are all concerns would come up at the housing summit.
Finally, I would can deal with those concerns to increase access and affordability for low and middle-income housing. In addition, land use laws continue to be the biggest factor for many in this equation. Among other options, I support expanding a pilot program which allows for 50-acre extensions of the urban growth boundary using public-private partnerships to create more opportunities for affordable housing in limited cases around Oregon.
Brandon C Merritt Republican - No response.
Bridget Barton – Republican
Since I began my work as a conservative writer, publisher and advocate 30 years ago, I have watched radical environmental groups execute an experiment on Oregon that they started in the 1970s. The basic premise of their effort is this: restrict the land on which you can build. It’s pretty simple that when you reduce supply (of housing) then you increase demand—and that drives up prices. Renters in Portland recently experienced the biggest average rent hikes in the nation. Families struggle to pay rent and mortgages here because leftist environmental groups restricted where and what we can build.
And more recently, state building codes require builders to tack on green extras like bike racks and electric vehicle charging outlets that cost us all a lot of money. So when young people can’t afford homes here, it’s because the market has been manipulated by environmental policies that make life more expensive.
I have kids who are starting young families. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a neighborhood home where they can ride their bikes. But that’s way out of reach for too many families. I will work to expand opportunities for builders to build more homes and apartments and reduce ridiculous building requirements and restrictions that make building or remodeling too expensive. I plan to take a hard look at Oregon’s land use policies that are choking off supply for both housing and business expansion.
Bud Pierce – Republican
To build affordable housing, we must take several steps. We must lower the cost of land by modifying our land-use planning to allow more land to become buildable. We must dramatically reduce the fees, red tape, and time the builders invest in building homes. Finally, we must loosen stringent building requirements that significantly increase the cost of building a house.
Christine Drazan – Republican
Our state government has repeatedly interfered with the private sector’s ability to meet the demand for housing. The result has been skyrocketing housing costs with little hope of ever building the number of units economists say are needed to address our housing crisis. To add to it, policies like inclusionary zoning and the regulatory complexities of our land use system add thousands of dollars to the cost of building new homes. We must expedite the process to make buildable land available, speed up the development of new units, and lower the cost associated with building new housing in Oregon. We must also protect existing programs – like the mortgage interest deduction and first-time home buyer program – while holding down property taxes that already make up a significant portion of Oregonians’ monthly mortgage bills.
Court Boice – Republican
Let’s get a bit more specific here: How do you build “low income housing?” What makes a new structure affordable to people who do not have sufficient income to buy a house? Where do you put affordable housing? Is the effort aimed at rental? Where do you put these low income apartment developments? Who makes these decisions and what level of public input is required? Housing is a major component of the economy. If you try to separate housing from the economy, you can’t legitimately address either one. Stay out of trying to manipulate the economy and deal with how these people became homeless. Oregon’s involvement in rent control and the pending effort to dis-allow mortgage interest as a tax-deductible item and the increases in property taxes, will continue to complicate the housing component of the economy. Currently, there is no suggested solution to the perceived housing shortage that does not involve increased taxation or increased deficit spending and growth of public debt to fund massive building projects which further degrade the foundations of the economy. As I mentioned and repeat here: Oregon’s individual tax burden is one of the highest in the country at 9.9%. We’re looking at $27+ billion failure of PERS (essential bankruptcy) and we’re spending about $55 billion annually on an estimated $47 billion revenue stream and we’re sitting on approximately $44 billion in debt. Get clear that “Just write the check, your grandkids can cash it” is not a solution.
Dave W Stauffer – Democrat – No response.
David A Burch – Republican – No response.
David Beem – Democrat –No response.
Genevieve Wilson H – Democrat –No response.
George L Carrillo – Democrat
The housing shortage did not occur overnight. This is a massive failure by our Democratic party years in the making. They were aware of the community needs for many years, of which we are now seeing the long-term effects of housing shortages all across Oregon. When the problem was increasingly worsening, we didn’t step in with appropriate funding to build more housing, didn’t have a coordinated approach, nor create a transitional system and continuum of care that works for anybody.
The specific steps I would take to increase access to housing and housing stock for low and middle-income Oregonians starts with protecting current renters so they can stay in their homes. This includes placing a 30% income limit on rent and ensuring renters have a protected right of access to court-appointed counsel. I will reinvest our Section 8 housing funds and other program funds to allow a tax break for landlords who continue to provide low-income housing.
I will work towards ending gentrification and exclusionary zoning because this keeps affordable housing out of neighborhoods through land use and building code requirements and raises the price of rent, homes, and property values.
For renters who experience houselessness, I will create new facilities throughout the state that provides on-site services to address the needs of our houseless community This includes expanding the concept of shelters by addressing the social determinants of health of an individual or family who is willing to engage.
I will support funding to create diverse transitional housing throughout the state that provides on-site services to address the need of our houseless community and assist with the shift in becoming self-sufficient. This includes expanding the concept of shelters by addressing the social determinants of health of an individual or family willing to engage in services.
]Ifeanyichukwu C Diru –Democrat – No response.
Jessica Gomez – Republican
Oregon has spent many decades enacting public policies that have driven up the cost of housing, making our small, mostly rural state one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Reversing this situation starts with amending Oregon’s land use system, which limits the supply of buildable land. We also need to revisit Oregon’s property tax system which is pricing so many senior citizens on fixed incomes out of their own homes. I will encourage local communities to revisit their building codes to ensure they are not overly restrictive or costly for builders, or for those who may want to add on to their home or site a “tiny home” on their property. I would also look to eliminate or dramatically lower “system development charges” which are a huge driver of the cost of home building in Oregon.
John G Presco – Republican – No response.
John Sweeney – Democrat
House building is done at the city & county level. They need to speed up the permit process & lower their permit fees to increase the building of more houses.
Julian Bell – Democrat
Housing is an emergency across the state for many Oregonians. The problem with housing and homelessness in Oregon is lack of housing. We have been relying on a free market system to build housing in Oregon, but a free market only works if you can afford to be the highest bidder. With the appalling income inequality in American this is a recipe for disaster – the disaster we have. The state of Oregon, which is the custodian of the people’s tax dollars, needs to put these tax dollars to work to address voter’s most urgent issues, in this case housing. In my view there is no other way to make affordable housing available to low income or working Oregonians other than to leverage the state’s resources to build housing units.
Keisha Lanell Merchant – Democrat
Universal housing on public lands. Tax exemption, and Universal housing in all abandoned sites, and properties, and buildings or businesses, renovate and get habitat with humanity to partner with organizations to renovate inactive sites. Provide Urban and Park ranger systems, and let communities to live rent free in return for social responsibility to the space.
Kerry McQuisten –Republican – No response.
Marc Thielman – Republican
As Governor, I will implement immediate changes that will greatly reduce the time, cost and affordability of housing for hard working Oregonians. Specifically, making state and county owned property available to developers for little cost, streamlining permitting and planning to reduce delays that raise costs, and delivering quality houses to new home buyer at a truly affordable price (around $180,000). Making state funds available to lenders that subsidize down payment and closing costs for those who have been making high rental payments but are unable to save for a down payment will go along way to getting young families into home ownership and equity building. Further reduction in permitting and planning charges by local counties/municipalities will also help as they will be able to access a 1% increase in property tax assessment thereby paying themselves back for lost fees overtime. Government should be working aggressively to solve the affordable housing shortage and doing so will mean thinking differently and acting aggressively in support of working Oregonians.
Michael Cross – Democrat – No response
Michael Trimble – Democrat
There are entirely way too many vacant properties and buildings just sitting going to waste. As governor, I will seize those properties and buildings under eminent domain and give them to nonprofit organizations/agencies to retrofit them into housing. I will work with state/public/ngo agencies to build at least 25,000 low-income houses/apartments each year and rent these to low-income and unemployed Oregonians. I will transition us to a renter-to-owner program rather than the existing rent only/mortgage program.
I will lower rents of middle-to-low-income by at least $100 at multi-unit apartment properties in my first 100 days while I work with the legislature to ultimately cap rents of middle-to-low-income to 30% of their income in my first term. I will ban all rent related nonrefundable fees including application and pet fees, as well as criminalize vacancies longer than 45 days. If a vacancy can't be filled after 45 days, the government will give that unit to a tenant on the waiting list. There is no reason for vacancies with so many people looking for housing. Where I live, there have been vacant units sitting unoccupied for months because the property management company refuses to rent at below market value. All that will end as your governor.
I will mandate Section 8 be accepted by all landlords/property managers and work to cut the obscenely egregious waiting lists/times to under 100 days. I will seize all vacant buildings/properties under eminent domain and give them to nonprofits/organizations/agencies ready to convert them into housing. I will overhaul zoning to discourage single unit only dwellings to expand multi unit/shared dwellings.
Nick Hess – Republican
Most of this comes back with encouraging counties to grow and to take the necessary steps to do so. To spur supply to match our increase in housing demands, we need:
Increase housing supply through city and county zoning changes. We need to build denser in our urban centers. Currently, many of our metro suburbs can build no more than 5 stories. We also need to be sure we are maximizing our space by placing parking underground.
Decrease housing regulations that add unnecessary costs to new builds. We must also pause unnecessary requirements that are placed upon construction companies. One example of this is the Portland city ordinance that requires 20% of new construction to be built by minority-owned businesses. This is a well-intentioned ordinance but the reality is that there are very few businesses that fit these requirements. It is causing delays and cancellations of construction projects.
Government-run housing either needs to be streamlined or handed off to private non-profits with a history of success. To put it simply, the government is not doing enough in its current capacity to be considered “successful” and throwing more money at the problem will not solve it.
Patrick E Starnes – Democrat
I am the only candidate for governor who has increased housing in Oregon. My wife and I restore old abandoned houses (often abandoned for over 6 years). Doing this work helped me develop my plan for the Oregon Shelter Fund (OSF) which will be outside the General Fund in Salem. When I come up with a new fund I feel responsible to propose a way to pay for it. A Vacancy Fee on these old abandoned properties will not only put revenue into the OSF but also push incentives on the owners of these abandoned properties to restore them and provide us more housing. Often these abandoned properties are owned by wealth out of state interests who are using them to write-off the depreciation. The OSF can be used for matching funds with Federal and local dollars to provide permanent housing for the unhoused and also for working families so they can eventually own them.
Peter W Hall – Democrat
We need to spread out business investment so that those real estate developers will have an incentive to produce more housing in rural areas. We can also expand urban growth boundaries and planning codes to make more land available for housing in urban areas as well as create public/private partnerships to produce proper housing for a variety of citizens and their individual needs.
Raymond Baldwin – Republican – No response.
Reed Christensen – Republican – No longer running.
Stan Pulliam – Republican
Both the state and federal government have been derelict in their duty to support communities’ infrastructure projects such as wastewater, water treatment, and roads. And now local municipalities have had to start investing in high-speed broadband internet access. All these items create huge strains on local rural communities. If the state government wants to get serious on the housing affordability issue, they need to pick up their responsibility on these critical infrastructure items so that local municipalities can begin to lower their system development charges for developers.
Stefan G Strek (Stregoi) – Republican – Declined to participate in the Q&A.
Tim McCloud – Republican
As Governor, I will prioritize development of single and multi-family living accommodations throughout Oregon, and redevelopment of inactive commercial spaces into transitional housing. I will seek to reduce constraints on maximum occupant restrictions and seek changes to home lending policies that traditionally disadvantage students and low-income borrowers.
Tina Kotek – Democrat
Oregon’s housing and homelessness crisis is the most pressing issue impacting our communities. As Governor, I will bring more urgency to help our unhoused neighbors get into permanent housing, and I will also focus on increasing the overall amount of housing in our state.
Oregon has a shortage of at least 111,000 homes, with the greatest shortage being homes that are affordable to lower-income families. Statewide, we need to build about 36,000 new homes each year over the next decade to address the current shortage of housing and keep pace with future housing demand.
As House Speaker, I led the way to invest more than $1.5 billion over the last five years to help build more affordable housing, provide more rental assistance to keep people housed, and maintain the current supply of affordable housing. But that’s not enough. As your Governor, I will lead a comprehensive approach to tackling our housing and homelessness crisis, focusing on these five priorities:
End unsheltered homelessness for veterans, families with children, unaccompanied young adults, and people 65 years and older by 2025, and continue to strengthen pathways to permanent housing for all Oregonians experiencing homelessness.
Build enough housing to meet the need for people currently experiencing homelessness, address the current shortage of housing, and keep pace with future affordable housing demand by 2033.
Advance racial equity by reducing the racial homeownership gap by 20 percent by 2027.
Keep people housed who are currently on the brink of homelessness.
Encourage intergovernmental and private sector partnerships to have more effective and efficient responses to solving this crisis.
If we’re going to solve Oregon’s housing crisis, we need both near-term and long-term strategies. As Governor, I will move Oregon forward on meeting both the immediate challenges and tackling the root causes of this crisis.
Tobias Read – Democrat
There is no solution to our housing crisis that won’t involve the private sector working closely with state and local government. We need more investment in housing, and that will only occur when we identify the specific measures that will unlock these dollars–increasing access to buildable land, co-investing in building critical infrastructure, and providing flexibility in our land use planning system in exchange for developments that meet our climate goals. And we must look to streamline and remove red-tape in order to deploy the billions of dollars that have already been approved by the State and Metro-area governments to build more affordable housing in Oregon.
Wilson R Bright – Democrat
My affordable housing plan is based on the theory that to reduce prices we must drastically affect supply. My proposal is the State of Oregon acts as the developer of affordable housing units. The state doesn’t want to be the landlord, the state wants to be the mortgage holder.
We will focus on building 350-550 sq ft units that will have mortgages around $150,000 each. This results in a $270 - $300 per sq ft construction price. If we charge a 4% interest rate the monthly mortgage cost would be around $716.19 a month. According to my calculations, a full-time employee with working minimum wage should be able to afford such a cost.
We plan that these properties will be a part of a Rent-to-Own system directed towards solving the homelessness problem. In this system, a down-payment is not required. After getting clean in our program, learning some occupational skills, maintaining a job and paying rent on time for 3 years, these citizens will have the
opportunity to apply for the Rent-to-Own program. Stay clean (we test), work and pay rent for 3 years we will waive a down payment and your next payment becomes a mortgage payment.
We will offer this same rent to own program to those who are working minimum wage jobs but do not make enough to save for a down payment.