The Oregon Legislature’s marquee housing package cleared a key legislative hurdle on Friday, paving the way for what supporters hope will be a new approach to building homes in the state while also making a dent in the homelessness crisis.
House Bills 2001 and 5019 would carve out about $200 million dollars to build more affordable housing in the state and help prevent those who are on the cusp of homelessness from losing their housing.
The measures would also force Oregonians to rethink a generation-old approach to the way they build housing. For the first time, cities with a population greater than 10,000 would be required to set building targets for specific income levels and then build the actual number of affordable housing units they deem necessary. The legislation also aims to streamline the often-litigious and lengthy process of bringing more land inside urban growth boundaries, making it easier to build faster.
Both bills passed the powerful Joint Ways and Means Committee and now head to the Oregon House for a vote. Supporters said they would like to see the bills on the governor’s desk for her approval by the end of the month.
One longtime state lawmaker, Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, lamented the fact that the state didn’t do enough to address the housing and homelessness issues before they became full-blown emergencies.
“Did we not know kids were being born, and did we not know homes were not being built?” Smith said during Friday’s hearing. “And now we find ourselves in an emergency as our youth, families and moms and grandparents are out on the streets. And so, I feel as if I personally dropped the ball, and I would hope the rest of us would look around and look in the mirror and say ‘Gosh, now we have an emergency, how did we drop the ball?’”
Although most everyone on the legislative panel agreed that Oregon is in crisis, several Republicans worried about whether the bill would do enough to fix the problem in the short term and how they would ensure the money was being well spent.
“If we are going to spend all this money, how are we ensuring we have accountability?” said Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, who said housing legislation should include clear specific objectives and metrics by which progress could be measured.
Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, echoed those concerns: “I just have the feeling we’re throwing money at the problem at a rate that the money can’t be absorbed.”
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said the state will track how many people are rehoused with the dollars.
“Because accountability is very important, Senator, I couldn’t agree with you more,” Steiner said, noting the governor made the numbers she expected to be met clear.
Gov. Tina Kotek, also a Democrat, has issued an executive order calling on Oregon to produce 36,000 new housing units a year, up from 22,000.
The housing bills would also change eviction notices; landlords are now required to give 72 hours before evicting tenants. The current measure would require 10-days notice for a nonpayment eviction.
The legislative package devotes $25 million to address youth homelessness, $20 million to help build more modular housing, $3 million to help developers who are trying to build affordable homes, $5 million to go toward helping farmers improve living conditions for their employees and $27 million for 26 rural counties to help them address homelessness.