Oregon Legislature advances $200 million housing package

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon House lawmakers advanced housing legislation Wednesday to build housing that is more affordable, spend money to support unsheltered children and help people on the verge of losing residences.

The bills head next to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where they are likely to pass, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Made up of House Bills 2001 and 5019, the package would dedicate about $200 million to the construction of more affordable housing in the state, rehouse about 1,200 people without homes, prevent homelessness for more than 8,000 and expand shelter capacity by 600 beds within one year.

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Rep. Emerson Levy, a Democrat who represents central Oregon, before the vote told colleagues about a former Bend mayor who died earlier this year.

“When I read recently that our former Mayor Craig Coyner … former mayor of Bend had recently died homeless, his feet frozen, my heart broke at the reminder that we are all human subject to the difficulties that may find us,” Levy said. “We are at a crisis point and must move quickly to address our housing needs.”

Under the measures, cities with populations over 10,000 for the first time 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 strives to streamline the often litigious and lengthy process of bringing more land inside urban growth boundaries for housing construction.

The passage of major housing policy early in the 2023 legislative session, which started in January and runs through June, is a boon for Gov. Tina Kotek, who campaigned last year on fast action to address the housing crisis.

Some Republicans raised concerns that the measures take away local contro, but many of them voiced support for the effort.

“There are some things in the bill that I’m not crazy about,” said Rep. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem. “But there are many good things, and this is our opportunity to move forward.”

The legislation requires agencies or groups that receive the state money to give legislators quarterly updates on the number of people finding new housing or staying in their current home because of the dollars being spent.

The package devotes $25 million to address youth homelessness, $20 million to help build modular housing, $3 million to help developers trying to build affordable homes, $5 million toward helping farmers improve living conditions for employees; and $27 million to help rural counties address homelessness.

Rep. Annessa Hartman, D-Gladstone, said her life was turned upside down when she lost her job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Too many families are just one paycheck away from being evicted and too many of our unhoused neighbors and youth are struggling to find a way out … This is just the first step of many,” she said.

State lawmakers are expected to release their two-year budget proposal in the coming weeks, which is expected to include additional money for housing and homelessness.

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