SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a $200 million funding package to address homelessness and boost affordable housing, passing it with widespread bipartisan support.
The bulk of the package, $130 million, fulfills Gov. Tina Kotek’s request for an immediate influx of funding to begin addressing unsheltered homelessness in much of the state.
One of Kotek’s first official acts as governor was to declare a state of emergency for homelessness, with one controversial aspect — it applies only to counties where the unsheltered homeless population increased by 50% or more between 2017 and 2022. A number of counties were thus left out of the state of emergency. Clatsop County was later added after lobbying the state.
In her proposal, Kotek’s office said that the vast majority of that funding would go toward rent assistance and eviction protection services, adding low-barrier shelter beds and rehousing people currently living unsheltered in areas covered by the state of emergency.
“Every Oregonian deserves to have access to safe and affordable housing in the community of their choice,” said Rep. Maxine Dexter, a Democrat from Portland who chairs the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness. “We have answered this moment of intense need with a swift and collaborative response. I am proud to put forth this package that will deliver relief to every corner of the state.”
While a number of House Republicans voted in favor of the two bills that comprise the package, they were more pessimistic about their efficacy within the full context of Oregon’s homelessness crisis.
“Without a bipartisan commitment to reform Measure 110 and truly tackle the drug crisis in Oregon, I fear we will continue to see more of the same,” said House Minority Leader Vicki Breese-Iverson, a Republican from Prineville. “While the bill provides expanded shelter capacity and rental assistance, I do not believe it gets to the heart of this issue – the failure of Measure 110 to provide meaningful access to treatment.”
Affordable housing and policy changes
After meeting Gov. Kotek’s request, the remainder of that $200 million package is largely earmarked for initiatives designed to expand affordable housing throughout the state and support rural communities that might otherwise be excluded from the governor’s state of emergency.
The package would put $27 million toward the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care, which operates in 26 rural counties.
“As a legislator representing parts of rural and coastal Oregon, it was important to me that we made sure our state’s response to homelessness be continuous and reach the 26 rural counties and hundreds of small cities and towns,” said Rep. David Gomberg, a Democrat representing parts of Lincoln, Benton and Lane counties. “This package achieves just that and will connect rural and coastal Oregonians living on the street with the critical services they need and on the path out of homelessness.”
Youth homelessness is the target of another $25 million, funding efforts to connect vulnerable youth with things like rental assistance, shelters, outreach and mental health or substance abuse services.
“By providing resources, including wraparound services, to homeless youth, we can dramatically reduce the risk that youth become homeless adults,” said Rep. Lisa Reynolds, a Democrat from Washington County. “Without intervention, two-thirds of homeless youth go on to experience homelessness as adults. This is the right thing to do and the fiscally responsible thing to do.”
$20 million would go toward the production of modular homes using Oregon mass timber, among other materials, that can be built in factories and shopped to wherever they are most needed, lawmakers said. Companies that benefit from the funding will have to prioritize homes for areas impacted by wildfires and other disasters.
“This is our chance to think differently about how we get housing on the ground. By producing more modular housing, we can make sure working families have affordable places to live,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, a Democrat representing southern Jackson County.
Another $3 million would go toward a Revolving Loan Fund, supporting local governments and developers in building affordable housing for people with “family wage jobs.” House Democrats cited teachers and construction or health care workers as examples.
The package also offers $5 million in grants for farmers to improve on-site housing for farm workers.
Some other aspects of the bill don’t have a price tag attached, but are supposed to help align the state toward making affordable housing Oregon’s biggest priority.
Under the package, the Oregon Housing Needs Analysis would assist cities in figuring out where to prioritize housing production and developing their own strategies for moving forward. The state Department of Land Conservation and Development would then have “increased tools” to hold local governments accountable to those plans.
Part of the package also represents a compromise between landlords and tenant advocates. Tenants faced with eviction for non-payment would have more time to access rental assistance and other services, lengthening the eviction notice timeline from 72 hours to 10 days and adding a right of redemption.
The $200 million package consists of two separate bills. In a statement released Wednesday, Oregon House Democrats said that House Bill 5019 passed 49-19 and House Bill 2001 passed 50-9. Both how head to the state Senate for consideration.
Together, the two bills represent a big step in the direction of Gov. Tina Kotek’s proposals, but not a complete fulfillment. At the end of January, Kotek produced a $32.1 billion budget proposal that included hundreds of millions in new funding for housing and homelessness, mental health and addiction services, and education and childcare.
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