Emergency Declaration: Legislators Urge $120 Million For Shelters, Affordable Housing For Homeless 

state Capitol by Robert Aughenbaugh.jpg

House Speaker Tina Kotek wants an emergency declaration recognizing the state’s homelessness crisis, with the state spending $120 million on affordable housing and shelter needs.

Kotek’s push during the short session comes amid a heightened housing crunch in Oregon. Affordable housing continues to be elusive for low-income Oregonians. Oregon has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the nation, with about 61% of the state’s homeless are living without any shelter, according to a 2019 study by the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services.

A key piece of Kotek’s proposal, House Bill 4001, puts $40 million toward the state’s shortage of emergency shelter beds. Oregon would need nearly 6,000 more beds to take care of all the homeless people, the study found.

“We must approach this data with an emergency mindset,” Kotek, D-Portland, said Wednesday to the House Committee on Human Services and Housing, which heard the bill. “If a natural disaster struck and displaced the number of people I’ve just referenced, we wouldn’t sit on our hands and wait for the problem to get better. We would take immediate action and do something to get our citizens into temporary shelter or permanent housing.”

Her proposal seeks an emergency declaration that would make it easier to site new shelters by requiring cities and counties to waive zoning and land-use requirements unless there is a public health or safety concern with the structure. That provision would expire July 1, 2021.

The $40 million would go toward adding shelters throughout Oregon and putting navigation centers in Salem and Eugene, which offer shelter and social services to help people find permanent housing.

The idea is to move quickly. Kotek said the goal of the legislation is to get more shelter space added by this fall, before the next winter hits homeless people.

Rep. Mark Meek, D-Clackamas County, said the move to ease zoning and land-use restrictions will help, adding that he’s heard from nonprofits and churches that “want to do more but are limited because of land-use laws.”

The rest of the $120 million in Kotek’s request would go toward efforts to add and preserve existing affordable housing.

Lawmakers are working on a variety of other bills to address housing and homelessness.  Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland and the committee chair, is sponsoring House Bill 4039, which would put $2.5 million toward helping unaccompanied homeless youth.

Separately, Keny-Guyer also has House Bill 4002, which directs the state to study the potential costs and benefits of a long-term rental assistance program that would help people who are struggling to pay rent stay in their homes. That study would be finished by October, with possible legislation from its findings coming in the 2021 session.

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.


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