A real estate agent's rental sign in Portland's West End. With demand for the city's limited housing stock soaring, renters face a difficult time. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)
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New rental data compiled by the city could point to the effectiveness of a 2020 rent control ordinance passed by Portland voters.

Rent-controlled units in Portland showed a lower average increase in the last year (1.6 percent) than non-rent controlled units (2.5 percent).

Of the 14,444 units compiled by the city’s Housing Safety Office (HSO), the board analyzed 8,779 (61 percent), removing eight percent of units identified as outliers, and another 31 percent with no “current rents,” listed.

District 1 board member Amir Familmohammadi said the data was not as clear as board members might have hoped because of outliers and limitations, but he has confidence in the sample size they took from.

“It appears that the overwhelming majority of landlords that own rent-controlled units are continuing to offer reasonable rents to current tenants despite the ordinance being in place,” said Familmohammadi, who said he is an economist but declined to identify his employer.

Rental rates from the past year obtained from the city’s Housing Safety Office (HSO) were analyzed by the Portland Rent Board at their Oct. 26 meeting. Data points list average rental rates for units by the number of bedrooms, and also compare average increases between units under rent control and those that aren’t.

The Portland Rent Board was established by the citizen referendum passed by voters in 2020 to enact certain rent-control measures in Portland, like caps on certain rental increases. The Rent Board interprets the referendum and determines whether proposed rent-increases fit the criteria of the ordinance.

Also per the ordinance, the board must complete an annual report to present to the city council. They voted it forward unanimously at their last meeting, and it’s expected to appear before the council this month.

Based on the data available, Familmohammadi said he feels that rent control is working as intended in Portland — both for landlords and tenants.

When looking only at units that had rent increases, he explained, those that were rent-controlled saw a 5.4 percent increase in the past year, compared to a 7.2 percent increase — which is evidence that landlords are opting to keep their tenants’ rents manageable — even within the scope of rent control. In some cases, landlords are offering lower increases than legally permitted.

“The data shows, to me, that arguments that the rent control ordinance would trigger widespread and large rental increases for current tenants was unfounded,” Familmohammadi said.

Due to a lack of historical data, the Rent Board is constrained in their ability to analyze longer-term trends. HSO began collecting rental data in 2020 as part of the ordinance. Strengthening the data and eliminating outliers should help paint a clearer picture of the rental market in the long term, he said.

“I think it’s important for HSO to identify why these outliers exist and attempt to remedy them,” Familmohammadi said. “The more accurate, live and publicly available data HSO can publish to the public, the better the insights we can all develop as a city.”

Rent Board Chair Elliott Simpson said he’s hesitant to take anything significant away from it due to those limitations.

“My message would be to not view these as super insightful [and] approach it with obvious limitations in mind,” Simpson said.

The report highlights and separately lists outliers to point to how “obviously incorrect,” some of those points were, according to Simpson.

Prior to listing data tables, the report reads: “The Rent Board notes there are significant limitations to the data that cause limitations to the analyses performed and the conclusions formed.”

The board listened to 27 applications from landlords in the last year and approved 13, partially approved 12 (meaning an approval, but with a modified increase) and denied two.

Last fall, confusion from landlords and tenants was rampant as Portland residents and the board itself wrestled with the specifics of the ordinance. Tenants complained about steep rent increases and unfair evictions, while landlords struggled to understand what was “allowable” and what wasn’t.

Portland voters considered another ballot measure to strengthen rent-control in the city on Nov. 8.


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