(The Center Square) – Oregon’s Governor Tina Kotek unveiled an aggressive new plan to tackle homelessness by signing three executive orders and proposing a $130 million package on her first day in office.
Perhaps taking a page out of California Governor Garvin Newsom’s playbook, Kotek is setting ambitious goals to address homelessness in Oregon.
“Governing is about serving Oregonians. All Oregonians. And I have heard from people loud and clear, the status quo is not working,” she said. “Imagine an Oregon where no one has to live in a tent on a sidewalk.”
Kotek announced her plan to address the state’s rising homelessness, and tackle the shortfall in housing in Oregon at her inauguration.
“For the future of our economy and our state, we must take on our housing crisis at a scale needed to solve it. So on my first full day in office tomorrow, I’m moving forward on two promises on this front. First, I’m signing an executive order that will address the underlying challenge facing our state. We need more housing. My executive order will establish an ambitious statewide housing production target of more than 36,000 new homes per year. And people, that’s an 80% increase over recent construction trends,’” Kotek stated.
Executive Order 23-04 identified that there is a shortage of approximately 140,000 homes and that the greatest shortage of housing is housing affordable to Oregonians making less than 80% of the Area Median Income. The order requires the state to construct 36,000 homes, almost double the state’s annual average, over the next ten years to be able to provide affordable housing and keep pace with the state’s needs.
The order also establishes a 25-member Governor’s Housing Production Council to recommend executive actions, policies, and investments to meet the production target.
Kotek stated, “I set this target to reflect the level of need that exists, knowing that we will not get there overnight or even in one year, But we will ramp up over time and keep pushing for partnerships that will increase housing construction as much as possible to start meeting the needs of more Oregonians.”
The next step in her plan aims to solve the rate of unsheltered homelessness. The unsheltered are regarded as anyone living in a car, park, sidewalk, abandoned building, or any place not intended as a residence. Oregon ranks as the fourth among states with 62% of the homeless being unsheltered. The state has the highest rate of unsheltered homelessness for families with children.
“Second, I’m declaring a homelessness state of emergency. Our state’s response must meet the urgency of the humanitarian crisis we are facing. A lot of good work is already underway in communities across our state, and thank you for that.”
Executive order 23-02 declares a state of emergency until Jan. 10, 2024, in specific areas of Oregon that have seen a 50% or greater increase in homelessness since 2017 when a noticeable increase in unsheltered homelessness began to occur.
The areas that would most benefit from this executive order, listed from the greatest increase in homeless rate to least, are Salem/Marion, Polk Counties; Medford, Ashland/Jackson County; Eugene, Springfield/Lane County; Central Oregon and the Metro Region.
The order directs the Oregon Department of Emergency Management to activate the State’s Emergency Operations Plan allowing all the state’s agencies to respond and bring to bear the state’s resources to mitigate homelessness. The Oregon Housing and Community Services will redirect $40 million to respond to the declared emergency.
The third executive order signed by Kotek is designed to work alongside the declaration of the state of emergency.
“People are currently becoming homeless faster than we have been able to rehouse people living outside. We must do all we can to address and prevent homelessness so we can make progress toward not just ending homelessness for individual families, but for communities across the state,” said Kotek
Executive order 23-03 is directed at all regions of the state outside the state of emergency areas and instructs state agencies to use their existing statutory authorities to prioritize reducing all forms of homelessness. Areas in Eastern Oregon, parts of the Columbia River Gorge, portions of Southern Oregon, and the Southern Coast will have the highest positive impact from this order.
Kotek announced, “Still we need everyone to keep bringing forward solutions, and to that end, I am proposing an urgent $130 million investment. That would help another 1,200 Oregonians who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness move off the streets within a year.”
This large investment would need the approval of Oregon’s legislature. It is aimed at the current 1,200 living on the streets and hopes to prevent an additional 8,000 residents from becoming homeless as well as expand shelter capacity by 600 beds.
Kotek would like to see this be a priority at the start of the 2023 legislative session.