Andrea Bell has been elevated by Gov. Kate Brown to be acting director of the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department.
Bell will succeed Margaret Salazar, who was named by President Joe Biden as regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Salazar had worked at the federal agency for 10 years until Brown named her director of the state housing agency in November 2016.
Bell (who pronounces her first name on-DRAY-uh) starts in February.
Bell is director of housing stabilization, a position she has held since 2020. She oversees programs dealing with homeless services, energy and weatherization assistance, and rental assistance, and initiatives for racial and social justice. Before then, in April 2019, she was the assistant director for homeless services.
Her position put her on the front line of the agency's efforts to pay out emergency rental assistance from state and federal funds that stem from the coronavirus pandemic. The Oregon Legislature in a 2020 special session set aside $200 million, which has been spent, and replenished the fund in a Dec. 13 special session with another $100 million. Oregon also received $289 million in federal funds, almost all of which have been spent or obligated. But the state agency and community action agencies, particularly in the Portland metro area, still have thousands of applications pending.
As of Jan. 19, $243 million of the $289 million has been paid out for assistance to 34,900 households.
The state has asked the U.S. Treasury for $198 million more, reallocated from funds not spent in other states and communities. Oregon is ranked sixth by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition in how it has disbursed its money.
The Legislature also approved $100 million for transition services to avert evictions once emergency rental assistance ends.
An excerpt from Bell's statement:
"OHCS is in a pivotal moment in continuing to help thousands of Oregon families access stable and affordable housing. … During a global health pandemic this assistance provided a lifeline, ensuring thousands of Oregon's most vulnerable residents could remain stably housed, keeping kids in school, and avoiding slipping into homelessness. In these unfathomable times, it's an honor to be in the position of guiding the agency work outlined in the statewide housing plan. I am humbled and grateful to continue to advance this work across the housing continuum with talented and dedicated staff to increase housing stability across Oregon."
"Andrea Bell has the extensive leadership and on-the-ground expertise to ensure a seamless transition for Oregon Housing and Community Services at this critical moment, as we continue to work to help keep Oregonians in their homes," Brown said in a statement. "And she has the vision to lead the agency as we begin to move from federal- and state-funded emergency response to supporting and developing long-term eviction prevention services at the local level. I am confident in her leadership as we work to continue to expand affordable housing in Oregon, strengthen tenant protections, help people experiencing homelessness find homes, and address the deep racial disparities in housing stability and homeownership caused by decades of racism in housing policy in this country."
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