Oregon News

Lawmakers add to Kotek’s request for housing money

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By PETER WONG
Oregon Capital Bureau

Oregon lawmakers are closing in on mid-March votes on two big priorities for their 2023 session.

One would spend more than $200 million for Gov. Tina Kotek’s plans to help unhoused people and avert further homelessness — and some related programs she and lawmakers want to increase housing.

Also part of the package is a related policy (House Bill 2001) that would enable the state to prod cities to plan for more housing production, combined with more help for homeless youths and more notice for evictions based on nonpayment.

The other would set aside $200 million, also supported by Kotek, to help businesses and others seek part of the $52 billion available in federal incentives to expand domestic manufacturing and semiconductors and related activity.

The housing package awaits consideration by the Legislature’s joint budget committee in the first full week of March.

The semiconductor aid plan is still being debated in a different joint committee, but the amended Senate Bill 4 is expected to go to the budget panel soon.

Kotek, who took office Jan. 9 on a campaign pledge to reduce homelessness in her first year, has prodded her former colleagues to act soon.

“No Oregonian should be living on the streets,” she told reporters last month in her temporary ceremonial office, as the Capitol undergoes seismic reinforcement.

“It’s not just about the resources. The package will keep people from becoming homeless, help people who are experiencing homelessness to get into a shelter, and help people who are in shelters get into housing.”

Budget add-ons

The governor’s original $130 million proposal for immediate spending grew by at least $27 million more for the 26 counties not covered by her Jan. 10 executive order, which designated five regions where more than 75% of the 18,000 people in the 2022 point-in-time count of unhoused people live. Those regions: Portland (three counties), Bend/Central Oregon (three counties), Salem (two counties), Eugene/Springfield and Medford/Ashland (one county each).

Kotek conceded that the point-in-time counts are “incomplete,” but they’re also the best available information, she said.

Rep. David Gomberg, a Democrat from the central coast, said the added money is a compromise between Kotek and the League of Oregon Cities and the Oregon Mayors Association, which proposed per-capita state assistance at $40 per resident, with a minimum of $50,000 per city.

Gomberg is the House co-chair of the budget subcommittee that will take up both the money measure (House Bill 5019) and the housing policy measure.

“As a legislator representing parts of rural and coastal Oregon, it was important to me that our response to homelessness reach the entire state,” Gomberg said in a statement. “I’m proud to say we were able to secure funding that ensures our rural and coastal regions will be taken care of.”

Kotek’s response: “That was an add-on in conversation with the Legislature that I am completely comfortable with.”

The other budget add-ons, some of which Kotek requested in her budget recommendations for the next (2023-25) cycle:

  • $25 million for aid to homeless youths, such as shelters, rental assistance, outreach, and connections with mental health and addiction treatment services and programs for specific cultural needs.
  • $20 million for production of modular homes, priority going to areas where wildfires or other disasters prompt the need for replacement housing. Marine Terminal 2 at the Port of Portland is being converted into a modular-housing production plant using mass timber, which is expected to reduce the cost of and construction time for housing.
  • $5 million for improvements in on-site housing for farmworkers. The housing must be in camps registered with the Department of Consumer and Business Services.
  • $3 million for a revolving loan fund to help communities and developers jump-start construction for worker housing. The fund is aimed at helping developers get advance help for such pre-construction expenses as permit fees and systems development charges.

State housing goal

The plan also will contain provisions in House Bill 2001 to enable the state land use planning agency to help cities and counties — and Metro, in the three Portland-area counties — set housing production goals and identify ways to make development easier within urban growth boundaries.

The Land Conservation and Development Commission, the agency’s policy-making arm, also would be empowered to issue enforcement orders if local governments do not comply.

The proposed requirements do not apply to cities of fewer than 10,000 people.

Other provisions in HB 2001 connect with the proposed spending listed above.

Rep. Maxine Dexter, a Democrat from Northwest Portland, leads the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness. She said lawmakers felt it was important to get a jump start on how Oregon can reach Kotek’s stated production target of 36,000 new housing units annually.

Kotek’s goal represents an 80% increase from the annual average of 20,000 during the past five years. Much of that housing is needed by families earning far less than the household area median income, which is roughly $70,000 in the Portland metro area.

“It was felt to be an early legislative down payment on what we all see as a crisis in every one of our communities,” Dexter said. “We are trying to address some of those issues now.”

She said the housing committees have more work to do about the long-range issues of production.

Although adequate housing was one of the original requirements envisioned in Oregon’s 1973 land use planning law — the requirements, known as goals, were adopted at the end of 1974 — there has been little legislation or litigation to put it into effect.

“We have done a good job of protecting land (for farming and forestry) and getting people engaged,” Dexter told reporters after her committee acted on HB 2001 last week. “What we have seen is that to some degree, it has slowed down our ability to deliver on the housing we need — and we need to reprioritize. Bringing housing as a top-level goal is important for all of us.

“This is intended to be a partnership.”

Dexter and House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, said lawmakers have more work to do to identify potential sources for cities and other local governments to pay for the public works infrastructure required for more housing.

Other issues

Left unanswered for now is the status of the extensive unincorporated urban communities in Washington County.

Dexter said the Legislature is looking at taking up that matter in the 2024 short session, and legislative researchers have been tasked with coming up with a framework by then.

“It’s been an unanswered question for many decades,” said Dexter, who previously represented a significant portion of those communities, before redistricting shifted her district further into Portland proper. “That is work on the table I am committed to.”

House Bill 2001 also proposes compromise language that would lengthen the required notice for evictions from 72 hours (three days) to 10 days, which would allow more time for tenants to obtain rental assistance or other help to avert evictions based on nonpayment of rent. The debate between tenant advocates and housing providers occurred Jan. 30 in a Senate committee considering Senate Bill 799.

MultiFamily NW, which represents owners of about 275,000 rental units in the state, said it still had some concerns about the overall bill but took no stance on the proposed changes in evictions notices.

Sen. Kayse Jama, a Democrat from Southeast Portland, leads the Senate Housing and Development Committee that considered testimony from 80 witnesses on eviction notices.

“Oregonians need relief now, and they need stability in the long term,” he said in a statement. “This bill accomplishes both.”

INFO BOX

Homeless Spending

The specifics of Gov. Tina Kotek’s revised $155 million request for the Legislature to address homelessness:

$85.2 million to rehouse people experiencing homelessness (1,200 households) and expand shelter capacity by 600 beds in the five regions (and 10 counties) she specified in her executive order.

$33.6 million to prevent homelessness of another 8,750 households statewide.

$27.4 million to rehouse people experiencing homelessness (450 households) and expand shelter capacity by 100 beds in the 26 other counties not covered by her Jan. 10 order.

$3.9 million for emergency response by the Department of Emergency Management and the Department of Housing and Community Services.

$5 million direct allocation to federally recognized tribes.

$200,000 to develop a proposal for a long-term rental assistance program. Kotek has proposed to create the state’s first such program, following $500 million Oregon spent on rental assistance during the coronavirus pandemic. Most came from federal money, though the Legislature approved $100 million from the state budget in December 2020, when prospects for federal aid appeared uncertain.

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