Gov. Tina Kotek signed a $200 million homelessness package on Wednesday that aims to tackle a crisis that affects thousands of Oregonians. (Photo provided by Governor Tina Kotek’s office)

In a room full of advocates, legislators and housing agency staff, Gov. Tina Kotek signed two legislative bills into law on Wednesday to address Oregon’s homelessness crisis.

She called the bills a beginning toward getting thousands of Oregonians housed.

“The resources in this package will help prevent homelessness for more Oregonians, supply more transitional shelter capacity, rehouse individuals experiencing homelessness, innovate in housing construction so we can support more production, and better serve specific populations with their shelter needs,” Kotek said.

House Bill 2001 and House Bill 5019 passed both chambers of the Legislature with full Democratic and some Republican support. They make up a $200 million package, including more than $112 million to expand the state’s shelter capacity by 700 beds and help about 1,650 homeless Oregonians move into permanent homes within the next year. The package also includes $25 million for homeless youth and more than $33 million for rent assistance to help nearly 9,000 families stay in their homes. 

Within 24 hours of taking office, Kotek declared a homeless state of emergency and created a state council to spur the building of thousands of extra homes a year. She asked the Legislature to take quick action rather than wait until the end of the session to approve funding for homelessness.

Kotek acknowledged that the package fulfills her request, thanking the Democratic leaders of the Legislature, Senate President Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego House who wasn’t there and Speaker Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis, who attended the ceremony. She also noted the role of other lawmakers, including the Democratic chairs of the legislative housing committees, Rep. Maxine Dexter of Portland and Sen. Kayse Jama of Portland and two Republican vice chairs of the committees, Rep. Jeff Helfrich of The Dalles and Sen. Dick Anderson of Lincoln City.

“This response package includes the work of many other legislators who brought forward ideas, including efforts to make health and safety improvements to farmworker housing, encourage modular housing production, serve youth experiencing homelessness and more,” Kotek said. “This is the kind of bold leadership we need to fix this crisis, and communities across the state will benefit in the coming months because of your decisive action.” 

Reporters were invited to the event, but Kotek did not take questions.

The crisis has touched every corner of the state, from the Portland area to the coast and from southern Oregon to eastern counties. At least 18,000 people in Oregon are homeless, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and many struggle with mental health problems and addiction. In 2021, the Legislature approved an historic $1.3 billion to address that crisis but the money has been slow to roll out, with Kotek calling for millions more for behavioral health this session.

Besides people on the streets, thousands more struggle to pay rent or keep up with mortgage payments. The state needs to build 550,000 new homes over the next two decades after years of building fewer homes than needed for the state’s growing population, according to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Kotek acknowledged that the package won’t solve the crisis.

“This crisis didn’t appear overnight, nor will it be solved overnight,” Kotek said.

Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.