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Editorial: Leaving working folks behind – again…

Oregon Capitol Building

Oregon Capitol Building

The final days of the state legislature racked up a lot of progress for the state, more money for K-12 education, new ethics rules for elected public officials, over the counter birth control, paid time off for workers and more. But it also left many unmet challenges. Certainly an inadequate transportation program so that state roads and highways will continue to deteriorate faster than they would otherwise. Also, there are many reforms required to settle long running disputes over what constitutes proper forestry practices – not the least of which is the use of herbicides.

But for many, one of the major disappointments was the legislature’s tepid approach to Oregon’s attempts to provide much needed affordable housing for those who cannot afford to pay retail for even basic apartment life because apartments are not being built causing rents to skyrocket.

To their credit, state lawmakers did pass legislation to enable a major state agency to enlist the help of State Lands to provide either free or low cost land on which to build homes or apartment buildings for those who qualify as low income. Our own Rep. David Gomberg voted for it.

But the money set aside in House Bill 2198 was tragically inadequate. Of the hundred thousand low rent housing units that the private sector has not been building over the past 20 years to accommodate all Oregonians, HB 2198 is proposing the construction of only 1,600 units – which won’t even begin to meet the affordable housing needs of a small part of Bend, much less the rest of the state. In Newport or Lincoln City, they’re not likely to land more than just a token number of new apartments.

House Bill 2564, which would have allowed Oregon to join the rest of the United States in mandating that affordable housing be a part of any developer’s plan for housing, was left stranded in the Senate Rules Committee. So obviously there are forces that side with the wealthy developers and turn a blind eye toward people that need a roof over their head.

The upshot is that the voice of the people has not yet been heard – or if it has it’s being ignored. Housing matters as much as anything in life. But the legislature has kicked the can down the road again leaving it to someone else to deal with it.

What good is all that extra revenue for education if kids don’t have a real home to return to after school – living in crowded and less than mentally healthy surroundings – whose parents (two if they’re lucky) barely put enough food on the table while landlords take half the family wages.

Ask your legislator that question. Ask him or her why SB 2564 couldn’t get out of the Senate Rules Committee – a bill that would have given local governments the power to force developers to dedicate a portion of their big projects to affordable housing, just as it is in 48 other states. No more than 30% dedicated to families who desperately need a roof over their heads. Yet developers still make money because state and local governments, in return, will subsidize those affordable housing units with density credits, building fee reductions or eliminations, forgiving system development charges and other “give-backs” that can make it all happen and developers not lose money. Even make money.

Again, the bill got bottled up in the Senate Rules Committee. Rep. Gomberg and Senator Roblan were never given the opportunity to vote on it. Obviously top politicians in Salem feel that the only other state that doesn’t require developers to help, TEXAS, has a lock on a solution.

So the can got kicked down the road again this session. Dare to dream for something better in the next session coming up in February. How bad does it have to get for hundreds of thousands of struggling Oregon families? How bad does it have to get?

 

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