From the Field: Oregon Advocates Win Unprecedented $60 Million in New Affordable Housing Funding

Oregon advocates are celebrating an unprecedented $60 million for housing programs in the budget passed by the State Legislative Assembly on June 6. The Oregon Housing Alliance (the Housing Alliance) and the Oregon Opportunity Network (Oregon ON) coordinated the effort to generate support for the new bond funding. The Housing Alliance is a coalition of more than 60 advocacy groups, service providers, and local governments convened by Neighborhood Partnerships. Oregon ON is a statewide association of organizations working to provide housing and economic opportunity. Both are NLIHC State Coalition Partners. 

Although advocates are celebrating the new funding, it is only a portion of the $100 million bond proposal put forth by Governor Kate Brown (D). Governor Brown’s original $100 million proposal intended to provide funding through General Obligation Bonds (GOB)  to the state housing finance agency, Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS), to produce an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 new homes for low income households.

Of the $60 million, $40 million will establish the new Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) Development Program, which will provide GOB financing for land acquisition and the construction of housing targeted to families earning less than 60% of the area median income. The State of Oregon will have an ownership stake in all properties developed through the program, and will enter into agreements with housing providers who will develop and manage the properties. Because LIFT will have fewer regulations, it is expected to generate more innovation.

In the past, Oregon has only used this bond financing model for the construction of public buildings such as schools and hospitals. The $40 million in the 2016-2017 biennial budget will be the first use of GOBs for affordable housing development. Advocates want the first wave of housing developments using LIFT funds to demonstrate strong results in order to support expanded funding in future years.

Of the $60 million, $20 million is for the new $20 million Lottery Backed Bonds program for the construction of homes for people living with mental illnesses. The Oregon chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Oregon Residential Providers Association proposed the program, which will provide partial funding to develop facilities including residential properties that have treatment services, respite centers, and treatment homes for individuals with co-occurring addiction and mental health diagnoses.   

The advocacy campaign for this increased state commitment to affordable housing began last year when former Governor John Kitzhaber (D) indicated his support. Since that time, organizers and advocates steadily engaged state legislators with the message that housing is crucial to a thriving Oregon. Among other organizing efforts, the Housing Alliance conducted a social media campaign using the twitter hashtag #Home4Oregon, and collected and placed 20,000 pairs of socks in front of the Capitol to provide a visual reminder of the number of kids who experienced homelessness last school year. The Housing Alliance also organized Housing Opportunity Days on March 11 and May 13, at which more than 200 Oregonians held face-to-face housing discussions with their legislators.

Beyond the $60 million in bond funding for new development, the state legislature allocated $12.25 million in increased funding for existing housing programs. Of this amount, $9.75 million is for the Emergency Housing Account (EHA) and the State Homeless Assistance Program (SHAP). EHA provides funds for existing local programs or for the creation of new programs to assist homeless people or people at-risk of becoming homeless. SHAP provides operating support to emergency shelters and their associated supportive services for homeless people. The remaining $2.5 million is devoted to preserving existing affordable homes, ensuring that extremely low income households can continue living in homes with federal rent subsidies or in manufactured home parks.

Finally, the budget continued funding for the Oregon Foreclosure Avoidance (OFA) Program, which uses a third party mediator or facilitator to negotiate between a homeowner and a lender in order to avoid foreclosure (see Memo, 10/14/2014). Currently, the rate of foreclosure remains four times higher than it was in Oregon before the recession began in 2008.

"It was exciting to see legislators and community members raise the profile of affordable homes as a key to Oregon's success,” Janet Byrd, Executive Director of Neighborhood Partnerships, said. "This is a historic first step in what we expect will be a legacy of innovative state policy and funding tools for housing."

“We are excited that this budget recognizes the extraordinary need for affordable housing in Oregon,” said John Miller, Executive Director at Oregon ON. “There is still more to be done. With a shortage of 127,000 affordable and available homes for extremely low income households, we will need further commitment from the State of Oregon moving forward.”

For more information contact Omar Carrillo Tinajero, Housing Policy Manager at Neighborhood Partnerships, at [email protected] or John Miller, Executive Director at Oregon ON, at [email protected]