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Lawmakers set to spend $400 million on housing projects – Oregon Capital Chronicle

Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people could be helped off the streets under plans being developed by the state legislature.

Democratic lawmakers, who have made homelessness a priority, are set to approve hundreds of millions of dollars for housing and homelessness programs.

They plan to fund a range of programs, including transitional shelters and affordable housing. The package will be announced Thursday, but Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said it will be around $400 million.

This is the sum requested by Governor Kate Brown earlier this month in her State Address State. Charles Boyle, one of his spokespersons, said Brown was working with lawmakers on the package “with a focus on evidence-based solutions to address housing and homelessness issues that we know work. “. He said they include shelters, housing placement and crisis stabilization services.

“These are strategies that work and are being implemented on the ground right now in our communities,” Boyle said.

The programs are benefiting from an unexpected windfall of nearly $1 billion that state economists expect in tax revenue.

Homelessness is often cited by voters as their top concern. The latest estimate by Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state’s housing agency, said there were 15,800 homeless people in Oregon in 2019, including nearly 2,600 children. Nearly 5,000 were chronically homeless.

One of the programs expected to receive funding is the Turnkey Project, which was launched last year and has helped various organizations purchase buildings to use as shelters and transitional accommodation.

The program, initially overseen by the Oregon Community Foundation in Portland, received nearly $75 million. Most of that money was donated to nonprofits to buy 19 buildings to convert into shelters and transitional housing. It was up to them to finance the operations and raise funds for the renovations. Part of the deal was that they would keep the buildings for housing for three decades and provide residents with case managers to help them get back on their feet.

“When we provide a stable base for people and surround them with case management and all the support they need during this transition period to really make changes in their lives, then we really turn the corner” , Marsh said.

Marsh expects lawmakers to approve about $50 million to buy more buildings.

“We’re aiming for 10,” Marsh said. “We have to be a bit flexible on acquisition costs.”

The first Project Turnkey-funded project was a three-story Super 8 hotel that was purchased by a Jackson County nonprofit, Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, or OHRA. He was awarded $4.2 million for the building, which opened last April with 36 rooms that can accommodate 44 people. It is currently undergoing renovations, with OHRA adding an elevator, fire suppression system, and other amenities.

“When we’re done, we’ll have 52 rooms that can accommodate 72 people,” said OHRA executive director Cass Sinclair.

Residents have access to a range of services, including addiction treatment and mental and physical health care. Case managers also refer them to employment opportunities.

Sinclair said 162 people stayed at the OHRA center. Of them, 44 are still at the shelter, 32 have found permanent housing and 50 are homeless, Sinclair said.

No one monitors the projects

Although the Oregon Community Foundation has been tasked with verifying buildings and awarding money for purchases, and maintains contact with sponsors, no state agency has tracked the projects.

Marsh said the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services will distribute grants to fund operations. She said it would give the state fiscal control.

Marsh said it was premature to review project data.

“Some of these (projects) have only been in the field for six months,” Marsh said. “They have helped hundreds of people.”

Casa Amparo, which is run by Centro Cultural de Washington, a Forest Grove nonprofit that helps people find jobs and housing, received $2.2 million through Project Turnkey to buy a motel of 20 rooms that had been used by Washington County as a shelter. . Centro is trying to raise $2.5 million to renovate the building and turn the rooms into apartments.

There are now 54 people on the site, including 27 children, said Juan Carlos González, director of development and communications at Centro. “We are trying to build a transitional housing program,” González said.

The association focuses on helping families.

“The goal of this project is to help families get back on their feet,” González said.

He said the average stay was about three to four months. Since the project opened, it has helped six people find permanent housing,

“No one left without permanent housing,” González said. “We are proud of that.”

Plan to coordinate local response

Another proposal from the housing package is House Bill 4123. Sponsored by Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, it aims to promote a coordinated response to homelessness in eight counties: Benton, Coos, Deschutes, Hood River, Lincoln, Polk, Tillamook and Umatilla.

They will need to work together to develop a coordinated homelessness response system, with a central office and an advisory board. Each county will receive $1 million and must develop a five-year plan that addresses ways to increase or streamline services, incorporate national best practices while eliminating racial disparities and creating pathways to permanent housing.

“Amazing work is already underway,” Kropf said. “It’s a chance to build on that momentum moving forward.”

The bill was approved by all seven Democrats and four Republicans on the House Housing Committee last week and is expected to be voted on Thursday at the Ways and Means of Transportation and Economic Development subcommittee.

The proposal would give each community the opportunity to work with local nonprofits and support services while coordinating with others to learn from their experiences, share successes and challenges.

“It’s an opportunity to help build some capacity in those communities and to have this joint homelessness response system to make sure that all of those efforts are streamlined…so we have a strategic vision and a strategic plan. community-wide,” Kropf said.

The plan grew out of discussions in Bend last year, Kropf said. The Association of Counties and the League of Oregon Cities were enthusiastic about the idea, as were counties, city councils and various nonprofit organizations.

“We are facing a humanitarian crisis with the increasing number of homeless neighbors in our community,” wrote Kristen Sabo, an attorney for Central Oregon LandWatch, a Bend-based nonprofit that calls itself a watchdog. environmental and land use advocate. “Allocating resources across the county and across different sets of needs is essential.”

Managers of the pilot programs will be required to report to the Oregon Legislature and Housing and Community Services by November 2023.

Not all programs funded by the Legislative Assembly will solve Oregon’s homeless problems overnight. Lawmakers and experts say it will take years to fix the problem. People end up on the streets for different reasons, and they often struggle with addictions and mental health issues. But transitional housing marks an important first step, said Marsh, the Ashland representative.

“Once you have some basic dignity, you can be much more open to looking at other challenges that come up in your life,” Marsh said.