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Even with federal aid on the way, House speaker says 'there is always more to do.'

Oregon lawmakers are poised to put in $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 homeownership.

HOUSE SPEAKER TINA KOTEKHouse Speaker Tina Kotek and the leaders of the Legislature's housing committees discussed their plans Monday, March 8, even as Congress prepared to approve at least $400 million more for Oregon in renter and homeowner aid as part of President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan.

Kotek, a Portland Democrat, referred to legislative approval two years ago of bills to ban no-cause evictions of renters and require cities of 10,000 or more (plus all cities within the Metro boundary) to allow for duplexes on land zoned for single-family homes.

"We are still in the middle of a housing crisis that has only been worsened by the pandemic and recession," she said, adding the impact from the Labor Day wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes, largely in western Oregon.

"There is a lot underway on the housing side — and there is always more to do."

Kotek said the plans exclude what may be proposed for replacement of housing lost in the wildfires, which are the focus of a special committee in the House and a different committee in the Senate. Lawmakers last year approved money for the purchase of motels offered for sale as temporary shelters.

"We are also committed to ensure that communities and individuals displaced by the wildfires from last fall will also be helped," she said.

She, Rep. Julie Fahey of Eugene and Sen. Kayse Jama of Portland, the Democratic leaders of the housing committees in their chambers, touched on legislation and proposed spending of $535 million, largely from the tax-supported general fund.

Federal aid on way

Fahey and Jama discussed an estimated $600 million on the way from the federal government, most of it for rental assistance and some for homeowner assistance for mortgages.

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

capital bureauThe bill would not extend the current moratorium on evictions that is scheduled to end June 30, or forgive past-due rent. Lawmakers passed the original moratorium in June 2020 after Gov. Kate Brown imposed one by executive order at the start of the pandemic. But the bill would extend the grace period for payments of past-due rent to Feb. 28, 2022.

"We knew that tens of thousands of households would be at risk of eviction if we did not continue that moratorium," Fahey said. "The moratoriums keep people in stable housing, but they do not address the issue of back rents that continued to be owed."

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

But Fahey said that federal legislation, which became law a week after state lawmakers passed the extension last December, provided $200 million more for Oregon to help tenants. (The actual amount is $82 million higher, but that money is earmarked for Portland.) Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan includes an estimated $300 million more for rental assistance.

"It makes no sense to lift the restrictions on tenants being evicted when we are on the cusp of getting those financial resources out the door," Fahey said. "We know that help is coming. We just need time to get it in the hands of the folks who need it."

Jama said his committee is likely to do more work on the bill to try to minimize conflicts between tenants and landlords, many of the latter opposed to the bill as written.

"Some work needs to be done," he said. "My goal is that we work together with my colleagues as we move forward."

Also part of Biden's plan is $10 billion nationally — at least $100 million for Oregon — for homeowner assistance for mortgages. That would be on top of $30 million proposed from state funds.

Beyond the pandemic

Though they discussed federal aid, Kotek and the housing committee leaders said they want to build on the work in the 2019 session to continue to expand the housing supply and help racial and ethnic minorities. According to a December 2019 report, Black homeownership rates in Oregon were 32.2%, compared with 65.1% for white households.

"We have to focus each session to make sure we make progress in those areas," Jama, who is Black, said.

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

The state plan they announced proposes spending for:

• Homelessness: Support of shelters and navigation centers to match people with housing, $47 million; state grants for local mobile crisis intervention teams, which would substitute for 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; rental assistance for permanent supportive housing, $15 million.

• Tenant support: In addition to $700 million in state and federal aid mentioned above, $5 million for a pilot project for youths who age out of foster care.

• Homeownership: In addition to $100 million in federal aid mentioned above, state assistance for down payments, $30 million; money for support of and acquisition of loans for tenants willing to join together to buy manufactured home parks, $15 million; grants to deal with racial disparities, $2 million; grants to make homes more energy-efficient, $20 million; construction of housing 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 tax credit for farmworkers housing, $10 million; loan fund for land acquisition for housing, $20 million.

• Other: Enforcement of fair housing laws, $4 million; program changes in individual development accounts, $7 million.

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