From the Field: Oregon Governor Kotek Signs Executive Orders to Address Housing and Homelessness Crisis

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed three executive orders to address the state’s housing and homelessness crisis on January 10. Kotek previewed the executive orders in her inaugural address and held a signing ceremony on her first full day in office. The executive orders (1) establish a statewide housing production goal of 36,000 new units per year and create a Housing Production Advisory Council, (2) declare a homelessness state of emergency in regions that have seen an increase in unsheltered homelessness of at least 50% in the past five years, and (3) order state agencies to prioritize reducing homelessness in all areas of the state.

“The Oregon Housing Alliance and its nearly 100 member organizations strongly support Governor Kotek’s strong emphasis and immediate action to address housing insecurity and homelessness in our state,” said Cameron Herrington, director of policy and advocacy at Neighborhood Partnerships, which convenes the Oregon Housing Alliance. “We look forward to working with the Governor and the legislature to develop new affordable homes, preserve the state’s existing affordable housing, and protect tenants from evictions and unreasonable rent increases.”

“Governor Kotek’s executive orders are a bold step and challenge to all to bring new urgency and a spirit of cooperation to tackle Oregon’s affordable housing crisis,” said Brian Hoop, executive director of Housing Oregon. “Housing Oregon and its 80 member organizations urge the Governor and Legislators to make funding decisions guided by a Housing First and data-driven lens. A one-size-fits-all approach to addressing the homelessness crisis, as advocated by some officials, will cause long-term damage to those struggling with mental illness or trauma.”

The 2022 Oregon Housing Needs Analysis estimates that the state has a deficit of more than 110,000 homes and must build more than 550,000 new units in the next two decades to meet demand. The shortage is most concentrated, and its impact most deeply felt, among the state’s lowest-income renters. According to NLIHC’s Gap data, there are only 26 affordable and available homes per 100 extremely low-income renter households in Oregon, which amounts to a deficit of 97,993 affordable homes. More than three-quarters of extremely low-income Oregon renters are severely cost-burdened. To address this shortage, Governor Kotek’s housing production executive order sets a statewide goal of building 36,000 new housing units per year – an 80% increase over the current pace of construction. The executive order does not prescribe how this target will be achieved but rather establishes a Housing Production Advisory Council that will develop comprehensive budget and policy recommendations. The Advisory Council will consider strategies to streamline housing approvals and develop the pipeline of construction workers, among other approaches. The order directs the Housing Production Advisory Council to submit a final recommended action plan by the end of 2023.

The homelessness state of emergency gives the state government greater flexibility on how to spend taxpayer money and enforce land use laws. The order directs the Oregon Department of Emergency Management to active the state’s Emergency Operations Plan and coordinate interagency efforts to respond to homelessness. The creation of an incident command structure emulates the emergency management infrastructure used to coordinate interagency responses to disasters. The executive order also authorizes Oregon Housing and Community Services to repurpose up to $40 million to respond to the emergency.

The emergency declaration only applies to areas of the state that have seen an increase in unsheltered homelessness of more than 50% between 2017 and 2022. Some coastal communities that do not meet the 50% threshold expressed frustration at their exclusion from the state of emergency and emphasized their need for greater access to resources.

The third executive order directs state agencies to prioritize reducing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness in all areas of the state, regardless of whether they are covered under the homelessness state of emergency. The order instructs agencies to expand services and expedite agency processes, as consistent with existing statutory authority, to increase access to low-barrier shelter, rehouse people experiencing homelessness, and prevent homelessness. The order also directs agencies to prioritize reduction and prevention of homelessness in their planning, budgeting, investments, and policymaking decisions.

Kotek’s inaugural address also called for an investment of $130 million to enable at least 1,200 Oregonians experiencing unsheltered homelessness to move off the streets within a year. A statement from the Governor’s office on Thursday, January 26, gave additional details on the $130 million request. The package proposes:

  • $33.6 million for rental assistance and other eviction prevention services to prevent 8,750 households from experiencing homelessness,
  • $23.8 million to add 600 low-barrier shelter beds statewide and hire more housing navigators,
  • $54.4 million to rehouse at least 1,200 unsheltered households through strategies that include providing prepaid rental assistance, block leasing at least 600 vacant homes, and offering landlord guarantees and incentives,
  • $5 million to support Oregon’s nine sovereign tribes in their emergency response to homelessness,
  • $5 million to increase capacity for culturally responsive organizations to support equitable outcomes of the state of emergency,
  • $2 million to support local sanitation services, and
  • $1.8 million to support state agencies that are coordinating the emergency response.

Following Governor Kotek’s actions to address the state’s homelessness and affordable housing crises, the Oregon Housing Alliance released its 2023 policy agenda and will be considering budget advocacy positions after reviewing the Governor’s full recommended budget in February. The Oregon Housing Alliance 2023 legislative agenda can be found here.