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Oregon House Approves $9.7 Million For Emergency Shelter Units

OHRA Director of Administration Pam Lott rolls up a banner covering the former Super 8 hotel in Ashland. Became a shelter for fire victims and other homeless people through Project Turnkey, a state-funded program to turn motels into shelter.
Erik Neumann
JPR News
OHRA Director of Administration Pam Lott rolls up a banner covering the former Super 8 hotel in Ashland. Became a shelter for fire victims and other homeless people through Project Turnkey, a state-funded program to turn motels into shelter.

The Oregon House approved HB 2004 Thursday, allocating $9.7 million to provide an additional 132 units for unhoused people and wildfire survivors through Project Turnkey.

Oregon could soon see the development of an additional 132 units of emergency shelter under the banner of Project Turnkey with the approval of a $9.7 million allocation by House members Thursday in a 48-10 vote on House Bill 2004.

HB 2004 now heads to the Senate where it could be voted on as early as next week.

The program administered by the Oregon Community Foundation was established last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on unhoused Oregonians, a problem exacerbated in areas struck hardest by the 2020 wildfires. Project Turnkey provided approximately $65 million in funding for counties to purchase motel properties to develop into emergency shelters and has so far produced seven projects totaling 388 units, with approximately another 400 on the way.

But remaining dollars of the initial funding provided to the program by a legislative emergency board last year has been stretched thin and an additional $9.7 million is required by HB 2004 to close the gap and allow counties like Deschutes, Multnomah, Malheur and Yamhill to pursue the development of another 132 units of emergency shelter through Project Turnkey with the help of the Oregon Community Foundation.

Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said that the need for these units created by last year’s wildfires only highlighted the requirement Oregonians already had for these services. In her home district, more than 2,500 homes were lost to fire in 2020, displacing around 6,000 people.

“The traditional modes of providing shelter, which is basically, if you’re lucky, throwing a mat on a church floor for eight hours overnight, was never a best practice, not useful during a pandemic and certainly didn’t come anywhere close to meeting public health standards,” Marsh said. “As we had hoped, local governments embraced the Project Turnkey opportunity, and applications for qualified projects have exceeded available funding for non-wildfire affected areas of the state.”

According to Marsh, two Project Turnkey shelters in Jackson County have been critical in providing housing for wildfire survivors in Medford and Ashland, both for those who lost homes and those who were camping greenway areas that are no longer accessible.

“I just can’t say enough about what they’ve meant to our community,” she said.

While Project Turnkey has generally been seen as a success, some House members were vocal over their concerns that the rollout hasn’t been as smooth as it could have been, and even suggested that if the program is to continue long term, that the Oregon Community Foundation might not be best suited to administer it.

“My hope is that over the next year, to look at either providing a bank-like organization at the Oregon Housing Community Services, or an actual Oregon state bank that can do these kinds of projects,” said Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth. “My concern is if we start having the Oregon Community Foundation do so many things that aren’t in their lanes, they might actually lose out on some capacity issues that might help them with the other good things they do.”

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, concurred, saying that while Project Turnkey is a “heavy lift,” the Oregon Community Foundation effort has been satisfactory to date, considering the monumental task the group has faced as it administers the program.

“I would suggest that we continue to support them and acknowledge the good work of the Oregon Community Foundation and their support for this effort,” Smith said.

Some House members — including Republican Minority Leader Rep. Christine Drazan — felt that the lack of engagement and community support where a few of these projects were being targeted “soured” their appetite on Project Turnkey.

Drazan represents parts of Clackamas County where the local housing authority has struggled to gain consensus among county leaders on the purchase of a property to utilize Project Turnkey dollars in developing new shelter units. Clackamas County is one of several counties across the state where the 2020 wildfires had the gravest impact.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.