July 26, 2017

2017 Oregon legislative session housing agenda recap

The handle of a doorknob at the Capitol building in Salem reads, "State of Oregon – 1859."

The 2017 Oregon legislative session started with big promises. The business community, advocates and legislators had hoped to develop a revenue package that would avoid massive cuts to safety net programs.

Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed due to party politics and the lack of political will in Salem to address Oregon’s ongoing housing crisis.

Saying that, there was good work to addressing housing issues that we all collectively accomplished this legislative session.

“The Oregon Legislature said addressing our housing crisis was one of their top priorities heading into the 2017 session,” said Alison McIntosh with the Oregon Housing Alliance. “We made progress in some areas, including investments in emergency rent assistance, development, and preservation.”

“However, the Legislature failed to pass legislation that would have provided basic protections for people who rent their homes,” McIntosh goes on to say. “While we are grateful for the leadership and investments, we know the Legislature has more work to do so that all Oregonians have safe, stable, and affordable housing. We know that together, we can solve our housing crisis. People in our communities don’t need to sleep or die on our streets.”

This Session’s victories

The Oregon legislature delivered on some important revenue options to support affordable housing and homeless services.

The following investments were made in Salem.

  • $80 million in general obligation bonds to build more affordable housing for the biennium

  • $25 million in lottery bonds to preserve existing affordable housing for the biennium

  • $40 million in emergency rent assistance and shelter for the biennium

  • $25 million a year in tax credits to help build or preserve affordable housing

These investments were absolutely critical to go to support our most vulnerable residents in Oregon.

Other important victories on the housing front include small investments for a land acquisition program for affordable housing, legislation that allows churches to build affordable housing on their land and tools to help local jurisdictions understand what housing is being lost and what housing is needed for future planning.

Giving churches the opportunity to build affordable housing on their own property is huge. With a coordinated faith and affordable housing strategy, Oregon could be looking at some amazing projects on the horizon.

Saying that, in order to begin to address the housing crisis statewide the governor and state legislature are going to have to start prioritize housing in a more intentional way.

This Session’s misses  

Street Roots estimates that Oregon should be investing an additional $250 million annually in affordable housing projects and tens of millions more for emergency homeless services.

Of course, the biggest loss for Oregonians was the lack of action on tenant protections and the ability to move legislation to avoid subsidizing wealthy homeowners through the mortgage interest deduction program.

By not creating any restrictions on landlords for rent increases or no cause evictions the Oregon legislature is more or less helping contribute to homelessness and gentrification.

People on social security, elders, single parents and others will continue to be faced with hard choices, displacement and homelessness.

Let’s not forget that many elders and people with disabilities have monthly incomes of less than $750.

It doesn’t take a mathematician or an economist to understand that that’s not going to pay for a safe place to call home on the private market.

The reality is without government intervention Oregonians will continue to be evicted from their homes without having any housing alternatives.

The legislature also walked away from more than $300 million of ongoing money that could be going to support people in poverty and affordable housing by not reforming the mortgage interest deduction program. Oregonians making more than $200,000 or who own two or three homes in Oregon are currently being subsidized for housing while thousands of Oregonians are sleeping on our streets or in emergency shelters. That’s not even close to be equitable.

We have work to do

The Oregon legislature for too long has gotten away with managing the issue of affordable housing, instead of making it a priority. Housing should be every bit as much of a priority for Oregon Democrats and Republicans as jobs, transportation and schools.

The housing crisis in Oregon is not going away. In fact, given the current political climate in Washington D.C., growth speculation around the state and the loss of living wage jobs — we fully expect the problem to continue to get worse before it gets better.

It’s up to all of us to work together to help create political will to help end people’s homelessness and to invest in affordable housing. We know that without housing, it’s impossible to have a healthy society. Let’s do better together. Let’s find a way to continue to support an affordable housing movement in Oregon.

— This article ran in Street Roots on July 7, 2017, http://news.streetroots.org/2017/07/07/director-s-desk-legislative-session-leaves-little-poor-celebrate