Thousands of Oregon’s students — an estimated 23,000 — are homeless or on the verge of living without shelter.
There’s a dearth of affordable housing in the state.
And a record number of people are spending so much of their income covering rent and utilities they are struggling to pay for other basic needs.
The housing crisis in Oregon stretches from small coastal towns, where rental vacancy rates hover around zero, to the state’s biggest city, where makeshift tents dot the landscape.
For years, it was local cities and counties that tackled housing issues. But now, the situation is so severe that for the first time in recent memory, one of the central debates in the gubernatorial race is how to fix the growing housing and homelessness emergency.
The two leading candidates, Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown and Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler, unveiled their plans to tackle the housing and homelessness crises early in their election campaigns. OPB reached out to Patrick Starnes, the Independent Party candidate for his plan.
Both Brown and Buehler are focused on creating more affordable housing and boosting the state’s inventory. Brown’s proposal relies on using state money to help construct housing for low-income residents, while Buehler’s emphasizes curbing regulatory fees and ensuring state land is available for building. Both plans shift more of the burden to the state, a radical shift from what previous state leaders have suggested.
Here’s a look at what the candidates are promising:
Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
Kate Brown (Democrat):
Not long ago in the midst of the recession, Oregon Housing and Community Services, the agency now tasked with overseeing affordable housing, was scaled back, and there was the talk of disbanding it completely. Instead, there was a massive reorganization and under Brown, the agency has grown. The agency is now charged with addressing the scarcity of housing statewide.
In 2016, Brown appointed a new director and the agency’s budget has gone from $1.8 billion to $3 billion. Next year, in 2019, the agency is expected to unveil a comprehensive statewide housing plan. During the recession, the bulk of the building came to a halt. Brown’s administration believes the market will not naturally build the necessary number of affordable houses the state needs. More recently, the federal government has scaled back the amount of money it gives states to address the crisis, shifting more of the burden to the state.
In the more immediate future, and at the heart of the governor’s proposal, Brown said her priority is to end child homelessness. Brown has called for spending $20 million from the state’s general fund to quickly provide housing and connect children to additional services through the state’s human services agency.
In addition, she wants to borrow money to build and preserve around 4,000 units of affordable housing. Much of the new housing the governor is calling for would be paired with additional supportive services, such as connecting tenants to health care providers.
By 2023, Brown said her administration would have 25,000 new affordable homes under development. There are currently 7,800 homes in the pipeline, according to her plan.
Brown is also proposing funneling more money, about $15 million from the general fund, toward a pilot program started earlier in her tenure to help rural employers house their employees in market-rate housing. There are currently five pilot programs underway that partner private developers and the state with the aim of building housing for rural workers.
For example, on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, there are eight homes owned by the local school district. Under this project, the state is helping to rehabilitate the homes and make them available for local teachers.
The price tag of her entire proposal is $370 million and it includes a combination of borrowing money and using existing state revenue in the upcoming two-year budget cycle.
When it comes to some of the more controversial housing measures that are likely to resurface in the upcoming legislative session, Brown supports ending no-cause evictions and is in favor of lifting the statewide preemption on rent control. That would allow local jurisdictions to decide if rent control is the right solution for them.
Brown also supports the $652 million Metro housing bond, which would create 2,400 units of affordable housing in the Portland metro region.
Knute Buehler (Republican):
Buehler has the ambitious goal of ensuring no one has to sleep on the streets in five years.
There are 13,953 homeless people living in the state, according to a federal 2017 Point-In-Time homeless count.
The centerpiece of his plan is to create a chief homeless solutions officer. This person would report directly to the governor and be charged with coordinating federal, state, nonprofit and community resources to tackle homelessness.
His proposal includes easing restrictions placed on how Medicaid money is used to allow for more of the federal dollars to be spent on community-based mental health care clinics. Buehler said he would leverage $10 million in state resources to create 4,000 new shelter beds and another 4,000 permanent supportive-housing beds by 2023.
The GOP gubernatorial candidate’s plan also includes creating a $50 million rental assistance fund from the state’s general fund that would give direct rental help to low-income families. He would fast-track 20,000 housing units, in part by turning what he’s described as low-yield forest and coastal lands or vacant state property into transitional and entry-level housing.
Buehler has also called for curbing fees that are charged to developers to help boost affordable housing construction in transit corridors. Buehler’s plan emphasizes incentivizing private developers to generate more development. And he would bolster state programs that help provide job skills training for those who were recently homeless.
Buehler is also a proponent of allowing cities to enforce ordinances allowing local law enforcement to remove people on sidewalks, the controversial “sit-lie” policy.
Buehler does not support ending the process of no-cause evictions, he is opposed to lifting the statewide ban on rent control, and he is also against the $652.8 million Metro bond to help the Portland-metro area’s housing crisis.
Buehler has also engaged in conversations with Portland developer Jordan Schnitzer and asked him to hold off on demolishing the unused Wapato Jail until after the election to see if there is a way to use the jail to offer social services.
Patrick Starnes (Independent):
Starnes’ proposal is to create what he’s dubbed the Oregon Shelter Fund.
Starnes said he has spent time restoring old homes across the state and has seen a trend of empty homes in commercial and residential neighborhoods. His idea is to create a vacancy fee on abandoned homes or on homeowners who own more than one home. The fee would be based on square footage, he said, and go directly into the shelter fund and only apply if the home is a vacation home or not otherwise fully occupied.
The money would be a dedicated revenue source and could only be spent on easing the housing crisis. The Legislature would determine the amount homeowners are charged.
Starnes is in favor of lifting the statewide ban on rent control and allowing local elected authorities determine whether rent control is a good idea. He also supports the Metro bond and ending the practice of no-cause evictions.
Starnes’ primary campaign platform is campaign finance reform, and he said that needs to be tackled before any other issues, including housing.