PORTLAND — Oregon lawmakers are poised to pass a sweeping $200 million housing and homelessness package in an expected display of bipartisanship aimed at tackling the state’s most pressing crises.
The Senate will vote late Tuesday on the package, which includes two bills. The legislation passed the House last week with support from both parties.
“Addressing homelessness and the affordable housing shortage are among our most urgent priorities in the legislature this year,” Democratic state Sen. Kayse Jama, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said in an emailed statement ahead of the vote.
Like much of the U.S. West, Oregon has struggled with a surge in homelessness driven in part by high costs and a lack of affordable housing options.
Much of the funds — about $157 million — would boost homelessness and eviction prevention services. The money would go toward increasing shelter capacity, addressing youth homelessness, rapid rehousing efforts and rental assistance. It would also include nearly $27 million specifically for rural areas to combat homelessness.
Oregon has grappled for years with interconnected affordable housing and homelessness crises. It’s short 140,000 housing units, analysts and agencies have estimated, and federal data shows its homeless population has increased by 22% since 2020.
About 4,000 of the nearly 18,000 homeless people in Oregon live in rural areas, according to the latest 2022 federal point-in-time count.
Republican state Rep. Jeff Helfrich, whose largely rural district stretches east of Portland along the Columbia River and includes Mount Hood, said the package’s investments in rural areas — and its $5 million for farmworker housing — were the fruits of cross-aisle negotiation. Helfrich is one of the GOP lawmakers serving on Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek’s housing production council.
“It was a bipartisan effort,” he said. “The Legislature can get divided, but this was some common ground that we could actually work together on.”
The package would also direct $20 million to ramping up factory-produced modular housing, in a bid to meet Kotek’s housing construction target of 36,000 units per year — an 80% increase over current production.
Some members of the public submitted written testimony opposing the high spending. But most nonprofits have expressed support for the package, saying it would help communities that are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and the affordable housing shortage.
“Promoting stability in the state’s housing laws will increase the wellbeing of communities of color in Oregon,” Jenny Lee, deputy director of the Coalition of Communities of Color, said in written testimony.