Oregon Senators Allocate $2 Billion for Housing and Homelessness

  On December 19, Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced that the fiscal year 2020 spending bill includes $2.173 billion to battle unaffordable rents and homelessness. The bill, which has passed both houses of Congress and now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law, funds several federal departments, includes Oregon priorities for transportation, housing, and other programs that local communities rely on to fund services, build parks, and more.  

“Infrastructure and housing are pressing issues for communities across Oregon—urban and rural,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “As our cities and towns in every corner of the state face their biggest housing affordability crises in decades—with rents dramatically outpacing incomes—we must do everything we can to make sure families have the decent homes they deserve. This bill includes needed investments in to address the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis.”  

“No one should have to choose between paying rent or feeding their family. Yet, working families in Oregon are struggling to pay rent, and many others have been forced to leave their communities or to live on the streets,” Wyden said. “We must persist in the fight for affordable housing, and thankfully, this package secures much-needed support for those most vulnerable in communities across our state.”  

Key housing funding that will benefit Oregon include:  

Community Development Block Grants: Rejecting the Trump Administration’s request to eliminate the program, the bipartisan bill includes $3.4 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Program. This program funds vital housing rehabilitation, supportive services, public improvements and economic development projects in communities across Oregon and the nation while encouraging local investment.  

Affordable Housing: As rural and urban communities across Oregon continue to experience housing crises, the bill includes an increase for affordable housing programs for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable people. Merkley led 27 of his colleagues, including Wyden, in a successful effort to provide $12.5 billion for housing unit specific rental assistance, an increase of over $800 million serving 1.2 million low-income households. The bill also protects funding for housing programs that benefit seniors, and people with disabilities.   

Fair Market Rents: Building on significant positive fair market rent changes due to Merkley’s language in the fiscal year 2018 bill, the bill includes $500,000 for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to find better ways to measure the fair and accurate cost of a rental unit. This is a significant step forward in the battle to address the affordable housing crisis, by ensuring that vouchers keep pace with the real cost of rent in competitive rental markets.  

Rural Housing: The Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) and Rural Capacity Building Program received $10 million and $5 million, respectively. SHOP provides funds for non-profit sweat-equity homebuilders, such as Habitat for Humanity, to cover land purchases and infrastructure costs. The Rural Capacity funds are intended to build the capacity of rural low income housing non-profits by providing training, information, technical assistance, and financing.  

Key elements of the bill that seek to address homelessness in Oregon include:  

Homeless Assistance Grants: The bill includes $2.8 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, a $141 million increase that will benefit organizations across Oregon. Within that appropriation, rapid rehousing programs for victims of domestic violence received $50 million; homeless youth programs received $80 million; also Emergency Solutions Grants—particularly important to the Portland metro area—received $290 million to support street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, and rapid re-housing assistance.  

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: The bill includes $3.8 million for the program to continue its coordination of federal agencies working to combat homelessness.  

HOME Investment Partnerships Program: The bill includes $1.4 billion for the program to provide states and localities with flexible resources to respond to their affordable housing challenges, including rental housing and paths to homeownership for low-income families.  

Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation: The program, also known as NeighborWorks America, received $157.5 million. The national nonprofit offers support for affordable housing and community development through public-private partnerships. President Trump’s proposal would have eliminated this program, crippling its six locations across Oregon.  

HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing: The program received $40 million to provide rental assistance vouchers for homeless veterans, along with case management and clinical services. These vouchers have been critical to reducing veterans’ homelessness by 49 percent since 2010.