Pamplin Media Group – Lawmakers willing to spend millions on housing

Even with federal help on the way, the Speaker of the House said there was always more to do.

Oregon lawmakers are set to invest $ 500 million in state money – and an even larger amount in federal aid – to keep people housed, find them temporary shelters, and expand prospects for ‘future home ownership.

House Speaker Tina Kotek and leaders of the Legislative Assembly’s housing committees discussed their plans on Monday, March 8, even as Congress prepared to approve at least an additional $ 400 million for the Oregon is helping tenants and landlords with President Joe Biden’s pandemic stimulus package.

Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, referred to the legislative approval two years ago of bills banning unjustified evictions of tenants and requiring that cities of 10,000 or more (plus all cities within the within the limits of the metro) authorize duplexes on land zoned for single-family homes. houses.

“We are still in the midst of a housing crisis that has only been made worse by the pandemic and the recession,” she said, adding the impact of the Labor Day wildfires that have destroyed thousands of homes, mostly in western Oregon.

“There is a lot going on on the housing side – and there is always more to do.”

Kotek said the plans rule out what could be proposed for the replacement of homes lost in the wildfires, which are the subject of a special committee in the House and another committee in the Senate. Lawmakers last year approved funds to purchase motels offered for sale as temporary shelters.

“We are also committed to ensuring that communities and people displaced by the forest fires last fall are also helped,” she said.

She, Rep. Julie Fahey of Eugene and Senator Kayse Jama of Portland, the Democratic leaders of the housing committees in their chambers, raised the legislation and proposed spending of $ 535 million, largely from the general fund funded. by tax.

Federal aid on the way

Fahey and Jama discussed an estimated $ 600 million from the federal government, most for rent assistance and part for homeowner assistance with mortgages.

They also discussed Senate Bill 282, which the Senate Housing and Development Committee heard last week and is scheduled for a second hearing on Tuesday, March 9.

capital officeThe bill would not extend the current moratorium on evictions due to end on June 30, nor would it write off outstanding rents. Lawmakers passed the initial moratorium in June 2020 after Governor Kate Brown imposed one by executive order at the start of the pandemic. But the bill would extend the grace period for overdue rent payments until February 28, 2022.

“We knew that tens of thousands of homes would be at risk of eviction if we did not uphold this moratorium,” Fahey said. “Moratoriums keep people in stable housing, but they do not solve the problem of overdue rents that continue to be owed.

Attached to this bill was $ 150 million for a landlord compensation fund, plus $ 50 million for tenant assistance, both from public funds.

But Fahey said federal legislation, which became law a week after state lawmakers passed the extension last December, provided Oregon with $ 200 million more to help tenants. (The actual amount is $ 82 million more, but that money is going to Portland.) Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan includes about $ 300 million more for aid to rent.

“It makes no sense to lift the restrictions on evicted tenants when we are about to pull out these financial resources,” Fahey said. “We know the help is coming. We just need the time to get it to the people who need it.”

Jama said his committee would likely work more on the bill to try to minimize conflict between tenants and landlords, with many of the latter opposed to the bill as drafted.

“There is some work that needs to be done,” he said. “My goal is for us to work with my colleagues as we move forward.”

Biden’s plan also provides $ 10 billion nationwide – at least $ 100 million for Oregon – in homeowner assistance with mortgages. This would be in addition to the $ 30 million proposed from public funds.

Beyond the pandemic

Although they discussed federal aid, Kotek and leaders of the housing committee said they wanted to build on the work of the 2019 session to continue expanding the housing supply and helping racial minorities. and ethnic. According to a December 2019 report, homeownership rates for blacks in Oregon were 32.2%, compared to 65.1% for white households.

“We have to focus on each session to make sure we move forward in these areas,” said Jama, who is black.

His committee also heard and reported on Senate Bill 79, which allows the National Housing Agency to offer specific grants and loans to community organizations, many of which work with low-income people who have individual development accounts, the money of which can be used to buy a home.

The state plan they announced proposes spending for:

• Homelessness: Support for shelters and navigation centers to match people with housing, $ 47 million; state grants for local mobile crisis response teams, which would replace the police in responding to people with mental health crises, $ 10 million; construction of permanent supportive housing, in which tenants have access to services, $ 50 million; rent assistance for permanent supportive housing, $ 15 million.

• Support for tenants: in addition to the $ 700 million in state and federal aid mentioned above, $ 5 million for a pilot project for young people who are no longer in foster care.

• Homeownership: In addition to the $ 100 million in federal assistance mentioned above, state assistance for down payments, $ 30 million; money for the support and acquisition of loans for tenants willing to join together to buy fleets of manufactured homes, $ 15 million; Grants to Address Racial Disparities, $ 2 million; grants to make homes more energy efficient, $ 20 million; housing construction under the Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) program, $ 20 million.

• General housing: Construction of rental housing under the LIFT program, $ 230 million; preservation of housing, $ 50 million; increase in the housing tax credit for farm workers, $ 10 million; loan fund for the acquisition of land for housing, $ 20 million.

• Other: Enforcement of Fair Housing Laws, $ 4 million; program changes in individual development accounts, $ 7 million.

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