Oregon House Speaker Calls for Homelessness State of Emergency

Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek has introduced a sweeping bill to address the state’s homelessness crisis.  

The bill’s key feature is the declaration of a statewide “homelessness state of emergency,” similar to the one currently in place in Portland, which would remove zoning restrictions for the purposes of constructing homeless shelters.  

Kotek also wants the state to provide more funding for these projects — while the state of Oregon has already spent a significant amount on addressing the housing crisis, very little money has actually been spent on the unhoused themselves. Kotek seeks to rectify this.   

“This is an ongoing crisis,” she told OPB. “We know it’s there, and the state’s got to step up and help our local communities deal with it.”  

The Speaker’s bill calls for an investment of $40 million, the bulk of which would go to creating year-round shelters for communities in dire need. The remainder would be allocated towards rapid rehousing programs. Kotek seeks to secure an additional $80 million from bonds and state revenues to support affordable housing.   

Notably, the state of emergency is only intended to last through July 2021. Kotek hopes this will spur rapid action on the matter.  

“That is aggressive but we can’t go through another winter without more shelter beds,” she said in an interview with The Oregonian.  

Kotek’s plan has met a positive reception on the local level. Mayor Chuck Bennet of Salem said “We think this public declaration will be a tremendously positive move especially in local governments’ cooperation.”  

On the state level, Gov. Brown has not yet endorsed Kotek’s plan, but has expressed concern over the issue of homelessness. “I’m talking to mayors, I’m seeing the tents. This is a huge problem in every single community around Oregon,” she said.  

By Brandon Urey