By State Representative Rob Nosse
As State Representative, not a week goes by where someone does not contact me with concerns about homelessness in inner SE and NE Portland.
Discussing housing and homelessness is tough at times. There is a lot of compassion in our area for this problem, but there is a lot of frustration too. I personally experience the challenges of this problem just about every day where I live near Hawthorne Blvd. I see people camping, suffering and many times struggling with their addiction or mental illness. I know what it’s like to wonder why can’t we do any better any faster.
This problem has been coming to a head for a long time. I became an activist as a young person in the 1990s because I saw the state systematically underfund public education. The same thing occurred around the same time for our social services.
Cities and states closed institutional services for the mentally ill in favor of community-based care based and treatment on the promise of funding, but the funding never came. Then the “Great Recession” caused a slow-down in construction at all levels, and the construction that did happen often didn’t include options for working families.
Meanwhile this city is still a popular destination. People are moving to Portland, making our challenges that much harder.
State, regional, county and local government are taking steps to address these problems.
This year, the State Legislature passed HB 2001. The measure will help get more affordable duplexes, multifamily and cottage clusters built. We passed Senate Bill 608, which prohibits evictions without cause after the first year of occupancy. If a landlord uses certain reasons to evict a tenant, they must provide ninety days’ notice and one month’s rent to assist the tenant with relocation. Senate Bill 608 also limits rent increases – statewide to no more than seven percent plus the average change in the consumer price index, no more than once in any twelve-month period.
The County is a year away from opening a mid-level mental health clinic and resource center in the Bushong Building downtown. It will be peer driven and have a drop-in center and shelter for those who need longer term care and treatment. This means there will be accessible services and a place to go for people that are ready to come off the street and get treatment.
In our area, a shelter for homeless women and couples was opened on Foster Blvd. The shelter has one hundred and twenty beds with shower and laundry facilities and an industrial kitchen. This is also supported by the county and the city.
In 2016, voters passed a $256.4 million bond for housing here. Those funds are earmarked to build and preserve thirteen hundred units for our city’s most vulnerable residents. One of those projects will be here in SE alongside Powell Blvd.
In 2018, voters approved a regional $652.8 million housing bond measure to create permanently affordable homes across greater Portland for seniors, working families, veterans and others who need them. The plan is to create nearly four thousand permanently affordable homes, reserving sixteen hundred homes for people who earn very low incomes ($26,000 per year for a family of four), and build half of the homes with two, three and four-bedroom apartments – big enough to accommodate families.
All of this is progress, but it is not enough. Housing policy makers and advocates estimate that we need 29,000 more units of housing, and we need to spend 1 billion a year in rent assistance in order to make real, faster progress.
To do that, we need a better Federal partner if we are really going to fix this problem. Congressman Earl Blumenauer has authored a detailed policy paper entitled Locked Out: Reversing Federal Housing Failures and Unlocking Opportunity. The paper details the history, warts and all, of our Federal Government’s housing policies, and offers many bold proposals that, if implemented, would make a profound difference and get us to better and faster. I encourage you to read it. Please contact me or the Congressman if you want a copy.
This issue remains at the top of my legislative agenda to address. If you would like to meet up with me to discuss this topic or any other for that matter, please contact my office by phone at 503.986.1442 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, as it makes it easier to arrange a time and place.
We know what we need to do, we just have to have the political will statewide and at the federal level to enact it.