PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As new problems emerged in Oregon during 2020, another remained and was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires – housing.

Options being considered by state lawmakers include building more shelters, extending the grace period by which tenants must pay back their rent, increasing homeownership access to low-income individuals and an effort to reduce housing disparities for communities of color.

The housing bills being considere in Salem were outlined by House Speaker Tina Kotek alongside housing committee chairs Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, and Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene.

“Oregon had a housing crisis before the pandemic dramatically worsened income inequality and wildfires devastated the housing supply in vulnerable communities,” Kotek said Monday. “The Legislature has worked hard in recent sessions to turn the tide, and this moment demands that we keep pushing forward.”

The 17 bills lawmakers presented includes $535 million in new state investments for increasing affordable housing, addressing homelessness, and supporting homeownership. Lawmakers say they are also “expecting significant federal support” from the federal government.

Among the proposed measures are those surrounding homelessness – including emergency shelter expedited siting that will help local governments to quickly create emergency shelters, $45 million to build shelter capacity and create navigation centers, increasing mobile crisis intervention teams and a bill that would require local governments to be “objectively reasonable” when regulating sitting lying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry on public property.

Advertising

Oregon has long struggled with it’s homeless population rate. Based on data by the Urban Institute report, in 2019 Oregon’s rate of unsheltered homelessness was more than 3.5 times the national average.

Another group that has struggled during the pandemic is renters. In December, about one-third of U.S. households reported being behind on rent or mortgage payments and were likely to face eviction or foreclosure within two months, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau at the time.

During a third special session in December, Oregon lawmakers voted to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. Under the current moratorium language, on July 1 tenants would be required to pay all their back rent.

“We have seen that the readvised moratorium has been in place now for a couple of months, and I think that it is working to keep people housed in what is the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes,” Fahey said.

During the current session, lawmakers are discussing a bill that could extend the grace period, by which tenants must pay back their rent, from July 2021 until Feb. 2022. Lawmakers are also discussing extending a moratorium on foreclosures until Sept. 1. The bill would be retroactive back to Dec. 31.

Lastly lawmakers are discussing bills surrounding Oregon’s housing supply. These bills include money for grants and loans for down payment assistance and low-income households and landlords to repair residential dwelling units. Lawmakers say the goal is to increase homeownership access to low-income individuals and to begin to address racial disparities.

“This is the most unequal recession we have ever faced,” said Senator Jama, the chair of the Senate Committee on Housing and Development. “We must stay focused on helping tenants who have lost their income through no fault of their own and help keep people housed.”

Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.