Politics

Oregon state senators approve more than $350 million to help state’s housing and homelessness crisis

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
Feb. 29, 2024 11:19 p.m. Updated: March 1, 2024 4:47 p.m.

The vote is the first major movement on a bill that Gov. Tina Kotek identified as her top priority this session, though it includes significantly less funding than Kotek requested.

Oregon state Senators approved spending more than 350 million taxpayer dollars toward addressing the state’s housing crisis. The money would boost housing production, create a new housing division to help navigate housing bureaucracies, help fund existing homeless shelters and give cities a one-time chance to bypass state land-use laws to build housing.

Sen. Kayse Jama, who Chairs the Senate Committee on Housing and Development, said the housing package will offer immediate relief for some houseless Oregonians.

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

“If people don’t have a roof over their head, nothing else matters. We have to build more affordable housing, we have to increase our housing production,” Sen. Jama, a Democrat from Portland, said in a press conference after the vote.

FILE: (From left) Democratic Sens. ​Jeff Golden, James I. Manning Jr., and Kayse Jama, listen during a press conference on the first day of the legislative session at the Oregon state Capitol, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Salem, Ore. "We have to build more affordable housing, we have to increase our housing production,” Sen. Jama, a Democrat from Portland, said in a press conference after Thursday's vote.

FILE: (From left) Democratic Sens. ​Jeff Golden, James I. Manning Jr., and Kayse Jama, listen during a press conference on the first day of the legislative session at the Oregon state Capitol, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Salem, Ore. "We have to build more affordable housing, we have to increase our housing production,” Sen. Jama, a Democrat from Portland, said in a press conference after Thursday's vote.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said there are elements in the wide-ranging measures that make members of both parties slightly uncomfortable, but that it was a bipartisan effort to craft them.

“We know the best product comes from much input from both sides of the aisle, from urban and rural and this bill reflects that,” Knopp said.

Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, made addressing housing her main priority this session. She noted earlier she was “chief architect” and “chief cheerleader” of the package. The passage of the measures marks a crucial milestone, despite her fellow Democrats scaling back her initial $500 million ask by about $124 million.

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

The state senators approved two measures, Senate Bills 1537 and 1530 that will now head to the House. Those two measures, along with House Bill 4134, will send a total of $376 million toward boosting housing production and infrastructure and supporting renters.

Senate Bill 1537 would create the Housing Accountability and Production Office to help local governments streamline their building processes. It also funnels $75 million toward creating a revolving loan fund, which would make interest-free loans to local governments to finance affordable housing projects.

One of the initial sticking points in Senate Bill 1537 was the exemption to allow cities a one-time opportunity to ignore state land-use laws and bring in 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.

Several Democrats noted they had significant environmental-related concerns about allowing cities to bypass the state’s land-use laws in order to build faster. Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, a Democrat from Corvallis, said she was initially in that camp, but appreciated how many concerns were addressed in the negotiations.

“Ultimately this is a very big and complicated bill about a big and complicated and urgent issue,” she said. “Oregonians need a place to live. Oregonians need shelter and we do not have enough to keep people safe, warmed and housed. This bill addresses many of the levers to produce housing.”

Senate Bill 1530 funnels money into a wide range of projects, including $131 million for housing and homelessness projects such as Project Turnkey, which includes projects like buying hotels to convert into emergency housing. The bill carves out an additional $123.5 million to support shovel-ready housing production for counties, to acquire land and to develop properties. Finally, $24.5 million will be reserved to provide air conditioners and air filters on an emergency basis, support warming and cooling shelters and help support home improvements to lower energy usage.

Some lawmakers lamented that certain projects in their districts or communities were cut out of the final project list. Sen. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, said the city of Sandy needed wastewater infrastructure so they could support an increase in housing. Without it, the city cannot continue to grow. Bonham voted against the measure, noting Sandy had the capacity to grow in terms of land, but couldn’t without the infrastructure.

But Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, who helped craft the bill, said the state has a lot of priorities and noted the state’s budget isn’t limitless.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the bill creates a new housing division within an existing state agency, not an entirely new agency. OPB regrets the error.

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:
THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

Related Stories

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek urges lawmakers to pass her housing bill

Gov. Tina Kotek has staked her political future and legacy on delivering on one promise: improving the state’s housing and homelessness crisis. And there is one bill this session she hopes will help her make good on the promise: Senate Bill 1537.