Oregon Democrats in the legislature joined with a number of local officials from around the state to announce an ambitious $400 million proposal to respond to the homelessness crisis statewide, and to bolster the affordable housing market.
“I think the reality is that we are facing what I’m calling a humanitarian crisis in our community.
"This has been a long time in the making,” Rep. Kayse Jama (D-Portland) told The Skanner. “What’s different is that we are focusing on this issue as today’s issue as well as tomorrow’s issue. What that means is we want to try to respond quickly to the crisis on the issue of homelessness, but also build on investments to increase the supply of affordable housing.”
This past fiscal quarter income and business tax revenue surpassed estimates by about $800 million. Acknowledging that there are about 15,000 people experiencing homelessness in Oregon, and that Portland rent has increased by 25% in the past five years, Gov. Kate Brown had announced her intention that half of that should be earmarked for affordable housing and addressing the housing issue.
Under the proposal, $165 million would go to addressing homelessness by expanding shelter capacity and services like resource referrals, resources for unaccompanied homeless youth, hygiene services, and rapid rehousing.
“Our North star has to be making investments in programs and in housing that actually work to get people on the path out of homelessness, not just move folks from one place to another or warehouse them somewhere out of sight,” Rep. Julie Fahey (D-Eugene) said.
Project Turnkey would receive $50 million. The organization is a public-private partnership that purchases motels, hotels and other suitable buildings that can be quickly converted into safe dwelling units. So far the state has approved nearly $75 million for the program, allowing the purchase of 19 properties throughout Oregon and providing 865 new emergency housing units.
Eugene mayor Lucy Vinis spoke about her city’s success in adding 357 shelter spaces in the form of safe sleep sights, rest stops, and microsites since April 2020. She described many of the sites as low-barrier, often meaning there are no sobriety or employment requirements for those seeking emergency shelter. Many of those sites offer drug and alcohol recovery programs.
“With determination, teamwork and ingenuity, our cities created a diverse range of new, full-time, year-round shelters striving to balance livability, sanitation, safety and security,” Vinis said during a press conference last week.
“The cost of these efforts is comparable to an ongoing natural disaster.
"These critical additional state resources allow us to press forward now, to build and expand our work.”
Vinis described her city’s partnership “with service providers who nurture relationships, assess needs, and offer pathways to better lives.”
Rep. Mark Meek (D-Clackamas County), who sits on the Joint Task Force on Addressing Racial Disparities in Home Ownership, elaborated on how state funding could bring down housing-associated costs.
“With these investments we can take an active role in building more affordable housing to help bring down the cost,” Meek said. “This includes sizable investments to keep current affordable housing units available, and building new affordable homes to rent and buy. It also includes supporting affordable housing construction projects that are struggling with market conditions and supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic…(It also includes) supporting manufactured housing parks to keep them affordable, seeding investments to produce new affordable manufactured homes and assisting with land acquisition for affordable housing projects.”
Meek emphasized that home ownership was critical to building generational wealth.
“Oregon needs to focus on building pathways to home ownership,” he said. “This means making investments to increase capacity for homeownership centers and other nonprofits that help families navigate home ownership, mortgages and the home-buying process.”
“We also have to address some of the root causes of what we are facing,” Fahey said. “This package makes significant investments in our supply of affordable housing. That will help ensure that even with rents and the cost of living increasing, low-income families don’t lose ground.”
According to Redfin, the median sale price of a home in Portland is $511,000, presenting high barriers to home ownership and leaving communities of color far behind white Oregonians in home ownership rates.
“One of the biggest barriers is the significant down payment required,” Ernesto Fonseca, CEO of the Hacienda Community Development Corporation, said. “While families and individuals work to save for their down payment, housing prices continue to climb and frankly, the increasing costs of living make it hard to make ends meet, let alone save for a house. Many of the low down payment mortgage loans that people are accessing today require mortgage insurance, which in many cases stays there for the life of the loan and keeps increasing the price of those homes for these families.
"A Hacienda second mortgage loan will help families buy their first homes sooner.
"It will help them keep their savings for difficult times while meeting the 20% minimum required to avoid costly fees.”
Fonseca emphasized home ownership was the surest path to housing stability.
Jama emphasized that the proposed funds would be delivered quickly and effectively through on-the-ground organizations.
“What we’re trying to do here is emphasizing that in order to make the money reach the community faster, we’re investing in proven programs that have a proven track record,” Jama said.
Meanwhile, Democrats have secured six Republican co-sponsors on House Bill 4123, which would create a statewide homeless response system and fund the creation of central oversight offices in various counties to aid homeless populations.