Oregon Democrats propose scaled-down version of Gov. Tina Kotek’s housing bill

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
Feb. 13, 2024 9:53 p.m.

Kotek had called for $500 million in state spending on a package to encourage more housing development, but some Democrats proposed slashing $150 million in spending.

FILE - Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-District 33, left, confers with Rep. Thuy Tran, D-District 45, while in session at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, March 20, 2023.

FILE - Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-District 33, left, confers with Rep. Thuy Tran, D-District 45, while in session at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, March 20, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Less than one week after Gov. Tina Kotek made her pitch for her priority housing bill this legislative session, Democratic lawmakers unveiled a proposal scaling it back by $150 million.


The governor has made it clear her main mission in the short legislative session is to make a significant dent in the housing and homelessness crisis. Legislators in her own party agreed with the task, but altered two key provisions: dialing back the spending, and reducing the amount of land that could bypass land-use laws and be developed.

“There is not enough money to do everything, but we are making some really strategic and impactful investments,” said Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-Portland, who chairs the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness.

The most controversial piece of Kotek’s legislation would give cities a one-time opportunity to ignore state land-use laws and bring in either 150 acres or 75 acres of land for housing as long as certain criteria are met, including that at least 30% of the development is reserved for affordable housing. The latest proposal lowers the threshold to no more than 100 acres for cities with a population greater than 25,000 people and no more than 50 acres for those with fewer than 25,000 people.

Many members of Kotek’s own party refused to support a measure in the previous legislative session due to concerns over ignoring the state’s vaunted land-use laws.

Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem, voted the measure out of the Senate Committee on Housing and Development, but said she still has reservations about the bill and is uncertain how she will cast her vote when it hits the Senate floor.


“I’m voting yes in gratitude for the hard work [put into the bill] … and the recognition of the need for more affordable housing, but I have real concerns about chipping away at Oregon’s land-use laws,” she said, noting she didn’t want to see “the death by a thousand cuts” when it comes to the laws that govern where, how and when people can develop in the state.

The latest proposal also reduces spending from the $500 million Kotek suggested to $350 million.

Dexter noted the short session is only 35 days and that there are a lot of competing needs.

One aspect of the measure Dexter said she’s most hopeful about is the creation of a $75 million fund to help create more affordable middle-class housing. It would offer interest-free loans to local governments to finance the production of affordable housing for those with an income less than or equal to 120% and greater than 80% percent of the area median income. For a family of four living in Portland, that is roughly $90,000.

“There is a huge gap in affordable housing for middle-income earners, those starter homes that used to be quite common for people to afford; our teachers or nurses and community firefighters, they are unaffordable right now,” Dexter said.

The bill would also create a new state agency, the Housing Accountability and Production Office, that would help developers and local governments navigate state housing laws.

The latest package carves out $100 million to go toward projects that are ready to be built; $65 million for existing homeless shelters; $40 million for rental assistance; $10 million for land acquisition for affordable housing; $3.5 million for air conditioners and air filters for at-risk people; $4 million to help people get heat pumps; and $7.5 million to help with home repairs and energy improvements.

The package now moves to the Committee on Ways and Means.