State agency won’t have key data for housing policy this session

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, addresses a recent housing forum in Portland. Kotek backs a $250 million plan to address affordable housing.

SALEM — The state housing agency won’t finish a statewide affordable housing inventory before the end of the 160-day legislative session during which lawmakers could consider millions of dollars in funding for affordable housing.

The inventory is intended to give agencies, lawmakers and nonprofit housing investors an accurate picture of what affordable housing exists and what federally backed projects are at risk of losing affordability because of expiring contracts with property owners.

Oregon Housing and Community Services was called out in an audit by the Secretary of State’s Office in early December for failing to provide a statewide affordable housing inventory and statewide housing plan. Both are critical to adequately and strategically addressing the state’s affordable housing shortage, the audit found.

“I think it is really important for the housing agency to have the information,” said Alison McIntosh, a member of the nonprofit Oregon Housing Alliance and former OHCS spokesperson.

In the meantime, housing advocates have worked to fill the void left by OHCS. During the past two years, the Oregon Housing Alliance has compiled a list of federal affordable housing with 30-year contracts on the verge of expiration.

When such contracts expire, property owners have the option of renewing the contract, which maintains requirements to keep units affordable, or going to the open market for higher rents or selling the property.

“Some of the people have lived there for 20 or 30 years. They build a community. They rent at a subsidized rate so a lot of people stay until they can’t walk anymore,” said Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, chairwoman of the House Committee on Housing and Human Services.

“If the property is sold on the open market and became a nice new condo those people would be totally out (of a home). That is why preservation for me is a very high priority.”

The housing alliance’s list provided the basis for a proposal that House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Housing and Human Services, would like to advance.

Legislators previously wanted “to see a clear need” if they were going to put money into affordable housing, Keny-Guyer said.

If the Legislature can come together to raise additional revenue, Kotek would support $250 million in additional state support to help local communities deal with the housing crisis, said Lindsey O’Brien, Kotek’s spokeswoman. That includes $100 million for financing construction of affordable housing, $100 million for preserving existing state- and federal-funded affordable housing and $50 million for emergency housing and shelter assistance.

“That will be a major challenge because the state budget has a $1.8 billion gap between current services and forecasted revenue,” Kotek said.

Completing the statewide affordable housing inventory and housing plan are an “overarching priority” for OHCS Director Margaret Salazar, said Ariel Nelson, an agency spokeswoman. Gov. Kate Brown hired Salazar in September — while the audit was still underway — to direct OHCS and steer improvements at the agency.

The housing inventory is being completed in-house at the agency. OHCS is scheduled to select a contractor Friday, Feb. 10, to conduct a strategic plan and statewide housing plan, Nelson said.

The agency has made some progress toward creating an inventory. The agency now has a list of federal and state-backed affordable housing units with locations but has not yet added expiration dates. Policymakers and investors need to know an expiration date for affordable housing contracts in order to target the right properties for preservation.

Rep. Keny-Guyer said she would like the agency to take its data collection a step farther.

“I want to make sure we are collecting the inventory and to see how far behind we are for different income groups and different parts of the population, like the elderly and people with disabilities,” Keny-Guyer said. “The more we can disaggregate and understand who needs the housing, the better the OHCS and (the Legislature can respond).”

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