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Oregon lawmakers close to striking deal on major housing, homelessness bill

FILE -- People experiencing homelessness in Portland's Old Town. (KATU, File)
FILE -- People experiencing homelessness in Portland's Old Town. (KATU, File)
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Lawmakers are working quickly to pass a massive housing and homelessness bill.

House Bill 2001, a combination of five housing bills, adds on to Gov. Tina Kotek’s emergency order she signed on her first full day in office last month. It includes a number of different initiatives that both parties and various stakeholders have reached compromises on.

Lawmakers say they want it to be on the governor’s desk for signature by the end of March.

Kotek’s homelessness state of emergency left out 26 rural counties in Oregon. Her order was based on point-in-time counts. Those counts are one-time physical counts of homeless individuals that every region does each year. It determines how most federal funding is distributed.

The governor’s order included only the regions that saw a 50% or more increase in unsheltered homelessness over six years.

HB 2001 looks to set aside extra money for the rest of Oregon.

“This really allows the rest of Oregon that felt that the PIT counts are hard to do in really large areas where you don’t necessarily see people who are houseless from the road,” said Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-Portland. "It allows for them to get investments."

How much money that will include has not yet been determined, but Dexter said it will be separate from the $130 million Kotek has asked for.

At the beginning of her term in office last month, Kotek urged lawmakers to spend $130 million to add 600 low-barrier shelter beds, keep nearly 9,000 at-risk families from becoming homeless and to help get 1,200 unsheltered Oregonians off the street by the end of this year.

The package of bills also increase eviction protections, adds more resources for homeless youth, and funnels money toward housing development.

Eviction protections sparked a lot of public interest from the start of this year's legislative session. A few weeks ago, a public hearing on Senate Bill 799 was packed with landlords and tenants testifying for and against the bill. Lawmakers and stakeholders on both sides had to compromise, and a watered down version on that bill is now part of this larger package.

"The bill retains six of the critical issues that were in Senate Bill 799, and it removed two of the issues that were in Senate Bill 799," said Sybil Hebb, an attorney with the Oregon Law Center.

For example, it removes a 60-day safe harbor period that would give tenants more time to seek rent assistance, but it increases the notice for nonpayment eviction from the current 72-hour notice to a 10-day notice.

Dexter, who is sponsoring the package, said it took a lot of work behind the scenes to reach an agreement.

"There were conversations that followed up on that hearing to get to a place where both tenants and landlords felt like they were moving a bill with the package that everyone could either be supportive of or neutral," she said.

She said the best way the public can have influence in the conversation around these bills is to engage with the different advocacy groups that represent the different constituencies or the different stakeholders.

The five bills that fall under the umbrella of House Bill 2001 are:

Have your voice heard. A public hearing in the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness is scheduled for House Bill 2001 Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 8 a.m. in HR F at the Capitol. Read more about the bill, register to testify and submit testimony here. Read the -1 amendment, which contains the details that will be discussed Tuesday.

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