A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Oregon bill on housing and homeless falls short

Written March 11th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

A homeless camp on Albany city property off the north end of Columbus Street on Feb. 20.

Leaders in the Oregon legislature say they want to encourage more housing to be built and to reduce the number of homeless people. That’s what they say, but their legislation does nothing to achieve that goal.

Democrats in the House are pushing HB 2001. The bill would set up a huge framework of new building and land use requirements for cities with more than 10,000 people.

It would direct the state bureaucracy to set targets for how many dwellings have to be built in each city by certain dates, including targets for so-called “affordable” units. It would also tighten the laws on when tenants can be evicted for nonpayment of rent.

It’s as though the sponsors and supporters of HB 2001 live in some kind if dream world, a world in which Oregon cities are in charge of building houses and apartments.

The bill contains a long list of programs and rules that various state agencies are supposed to develop and then foist on local government. The staff summary of the measure alone runs to six pages of dense type.

Even if  the policies were sensible and had any chance of doing some good, other than providing job security to an army of rule writers and land use consultants, it would take decades for the effects to be felt.

As for homelessness in the here and now, the legislation would do nothing.

For years now, people have taken to living in improvised camps in the woods or public places, or wandering the streets pushing carts with their meager belongings. Is there anything the legislature could do to help them lead a more settled life?

First, state agencies could be charged to determine the cause of each homeless person’s situation, and the legislature could pass laws to provide ways to deal with the various causes.

From behavior the public can see, like vagrants screaming at no one in particular, some of these people cannot help themselves. The state must find a way to house them — in institutions if necessary — and treat them until they regain control over their own lives.

For others, other kinds of help could be authorized by law, such as stipends to go live with a relative, or tickets to parts of the country where housing is cheap and jobs can be found, or state-run compounds in every major town where people can stay in decent conditions until they get back on their feet.

Measures such as these could be paired with legislative direction to strictly enforce laws against setting up improvised camps on public property. People encountered at such camps would be given a choice: Accept help and treatment for whatever addiction or illness has put you in this spot, or go to jail.

According to the summary of HB 2001, Oregon last year had about 18,000 homeless people. That’s not a number so large that it overwhelms any reasonable set of solutions. But the legislature’s response must be aimed at today, not five or 10 years from now. (hh)

32 responses to “Oregon bill on housing and homeless falls short”

  1. Anony Mouse says:

    When it comes to unpleasant homeless people squatting in the way of a state’s beautification program, every citizen is expected to blindly submit to the government solution.

    It’s called naked authoritarianism. And unquestioned obedience is demanded.

    I’m not staying silent. Baa! I have reported you to Gov. Tina

    Take that, you infidel.

  2. Cap B. says:

    Ronald Reagan, the Republican’s poster boy, closed most all the mental health facilities in the U.S., or started the ball rolling to do just that. There are no mental institutions to speak of where people with mental health problems can live. Those days are gone thanks to “trickle-down-economy-guy” Ronnie.

    • Al Nyman says:

      I think the courts closed mental hospitals, not Ronnie. Why don’t you put in a sensible comment rather than a comment about a President who has been out of office 25 years. How many people were homeless in 1988?

      • hj.anony1 says:

        Nope! That is true. It was on Saint Ronny’s watch.

        But who really cares anymore. Saint Ronny would not be welcomed in the current state of GQP politics. Just sayin….

        • Hasso Hering says:

          For an accurate account of the history of deinstitutionalization (what a word!) of the mentally ill, look up the 2013 article on this topic in the AMA Journal of Ethics. The article also points to a solution, which Oregon and the country have yet to embrace.

          • Anony Mouse says:

            Thanks for the reference to Dr. Yohanna’s article.

            It won’t persuade the hacks who take pleasure in grinding political axes.

            And deinstitutionalization & transinstitutionalization are distracting words, but they accurately describe why the current system is broken.

            I’m doubtful that a better system is in our future. There are far too many politicians, lawyers, and social justice warriors controlling the narrative. Sad.

          • Hartman says:

            What Hering’s coy reply ignores the reality at the time that Oregon’s institutions which used to house and care for these folks was a broken, under financed system. What Hering quietly ignores (he doesn’t want you to think about ALL the facts) , the folks on the Political Right were all up in arms when the Legislature wanted to increase funding for the Oregon Hospital and others.

            Because conditions inside these facilities were horrid, and because the GOP refused to govern in order to fund the system sufficiently, the option left was shut down large public treatment facilities. The inevitable followed-on quickly with on-the-street homelessness growing exploding.

            So, when conservatives tell you that the Libs are the cause of this crisis, be certain that you realize that the Political Right, a gaggle of intensely cruel creatures who care not a whit for their fellow man….well – these Conservatives didn’t want to fund institutions then and they don’t want to fund them now. It is time for the Conservatives to put up or shut up. You cannot have it both ways. Govern or get out of the way.

          • hj.anony1 says:

            Governing is messing even when GOP used to do it. GQP now. Insurrectionists!

            While not directly, Reagan did repeal institutions by way of repeal of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. So there you go.

  3. Deli says:

    How about opening up all the vacant building the city owns and house the homeless people there. On 122nd and Glisan is a huge vacant police station sitting empty open it. There are many other vacant buildings. The money saved can be used to police our streets.

  4. Sharon Konopa says:

    Hasso, you are right on! Thank you!

  5. Joanna S says:

    Excellent commentary – I could not have said it any better!

  6. khx says:

    Unfortunately a large part of the homeless people will just get back to the streets as they are dealing with mental issues.

    As an example, in Finland the homeless people are picked up and provided both temporary housing *as well as* mental counseling, supposedly this took down the amount to just 5% recurring homeless people. It was also a cheaper solution long term. Not sure if this could be applied here in Oregon, but it’s just an example of creative problem solving.

  7. Hartman says:

    It seems obvious, even to a casual observer, that Hering’s proposals will accomplish less than those put forth by Democrats he criticizes. If what Hering suggests was more effective, then Oregonians, a practical bunch if ever any existed, would long ago have supported Hering’s thinking. This support would come in the form of election of GOP candidates who espoused the same ideas as Hering offers in his screed today.

    Zoom out to a wider view. Hering’s proposals, “accept help or go to jail,” have never been been written up as proposed legislation by any members of the MAGA-Infotainment wing of Oregon’s GOP. We have seen zero interest by Republicans in actually legislating on these matters. All we ever see from Oregon GOP is whining about Democrats and complaining about the way things are. No legislative proposals. No thought as to how to sell their ideas to a broader coalition. Instead, complaining, whining and bemoaning…all pointing to a political movement with NO interest in actual governance…only in capturing a larger Twitter following.

    You can make the arguments Hering makes all day, but if the GOP Political leadership is like the national GOP leadership, all we are likely to see in the future is more of the same. Again, the question must be asked: if Hering’s regimen for solving homelessness is such a good scheme, then why can’t the GOP sell it to the citizens of this state? The answer is simple. What Hering proposes, “take the help or go to jail,” is performance art and his plan will do nothing…even less than the Democrat solutions he despises.

    • Al Nyman says:

      What have Democrats done to solve the homeless problem? They have been in control for around 50 years and the state is a disaster area. How is Kotek coming on her 36,000 housing units? Democrats are all hat and no cattle. You are a prime example of a Democrat as you have never put forth a proposal that makes any sense. Your goal in life appears to blame Oregon’s failures on everybody but a Democrat.

    • hj.anony1 says:

      Spot on once again Hartman.

      The GQP has no interest in governing.

      Worse yet, they like this issue (like so many others) to continue campaigning and grifting on. Why try to make efforts to improve or solve a problem when it is a straight up $$ maker.

      Fill those coffers!

      • Steven Reynolds says:

        You do realize this is virtually a one party rule state? The opposition political party doesn’t have much of anything in terms of political power. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe the party in charge as having different factions and ideologies? Oregon seems to have shifted and operates more in a parliamentary type system which became evident after the last election.

        • Hartman says:

          The reason the opposition (GOP Right Wing MAGA fools) has no power in Oregon is because they have nothing to offer the majority of the folks in this state. If the GOP had a plan (they don’t) perhaps they could find a suitable politician who can sell their ideas. Since 1987, when Vic Atiyeh left office, the GOP has largely been UNABLE to elect folks to the state’s highest offices. When you’re ideas are bankrupt, people tend not to vote for them. Sorry!

          • Birdieken says:

            Democrats have the numbers not because they have better ideas. Which brings in more tax revenue higher or lower taxes? Yellow dogs vote their own selfish interests to keep their gravy train rolling.

          • anon says:

            Redistricting and ballot harvesting. Now they want to let inmates vote.

    • jerry berndt says:

      Will the “truth” prevail?

      Red truth or blue truth-so many good minds wasted for politics……!

  8. Richard Vannice says:

    You mention those wandering the streets that “cannot help themselves” and “the State must find ways to house them – in institutions if necessary”.
    If memory serves me this, in the not too distant past, was what the State did. Then, 1970’s I believe, our legislators in all their wisdom did away with those programs and placed these people on the street.
    From personal knowledge I know how this didn’t work and still isn’t working for those who cannot care for themselves.

  9. Bessie Johnson says:

    Thank you Hasso. You’re spot on. I have been thinking about this for years but no one listens to down to earth solutions. All the money (millions) that is thrown at the homeless could be redirected to funding more reasonable and realistic solutions. Beds in shelters (short term), jails and institutions. Putting homeless with mental disabilities in an institution would be for their safety. To allow them structure to get a routine to keep on their meds. I would suggest to find a way for a homeless person who wants to find a job, to get cleaned up so they have a better chance for opportunity.
    When given a choice as you stated, it will be on them to decide their fate.
    What is happening now is NOT working. And building “affordable homes” is a pipe dream. It’s subsidized housing no matter how you choose to describe it. And cities don’t build houses, contractors do.
    The unfunded mandates the State puts on local jurisdictions hurts cities and their citizens.

    • Steve Reynolds says:

      Whatever long term stability in housing you build, it has to be managed under ORS 90, building isn’t the difficult part of the equation, it’s navigating the continued changes being sent down from Salem, the arbitrary changing of private contracts by a public legislature.

      Ok Bessie, let’s start breaking the issue down, our staff in Albany has done a great job protecting public property and outdoor spaces under what amounts to an almost no-win situation. One looks at other communities in comparison and this one is relatively unscathed which is rather amazing considering what’s going on around us. Albany needs to worry about Albany, not some bigger picture, we’re a small town basically on our own trying to navigate is some of the most difficult times in our country’s modern history. Our current de facto policy seems to be “move along” or we jail you for a minimal amount of time in a facility with virtually no capacity and throw your belongings away. Salem is not going to help; you’re kidding yourself if you believe they prioritize the wellbeing of some small town when they’re looking at the big picture of relocating individuals to anywhere they can find in order to keep these large municipalities from collapsing on themselves. Read about the camps being built up in Portland this summer under Wheeler, is that just a quasi prison like the sheriff in Arizona use to build? Perhaps if barbed wire is used in any way that will be an indicator, either to keep out or keep in. Reality is… it’s become prohibitively expensive to live in Benton and Linn County, one must perform at a very high level to even have what was once considered an average middle class lifestyle. Community resources are diverted away from the private sector many election cycles which causes even more to fall off the bottom of the economic ladder, it’s a viscous circle. It really comes down to a point of stop your community from digging itself into an economic hole which has some exponential increasing factor attached to it, our entire property tax system is a time bomb attached to a fuse lit in 1998. We must attempt to get resources back into the hands of those trying to “make it”, those starting out and putting in effort. On a positive note, very encouraged with the new economic development initiative, council leadership needs to focus a lot more on the private sector, change the narrative, without private industry this whole thing collapses on itself.

      As far as unfunded mandates just do what other communities are doing, ask for an extension, lots of extensions during development of HB 2001. Let Salem know we’re a small town with limited resources, when you send us the money to do it, we’ll do it.

      • Dala Rouse says:

        Sorry Steve but the city hasn’t protected city property down along the river. Take a walk to Eads Park and look around. Take a walk along the river and go to all the trails that branch off from the main trail. How about Simpsons Ponds too. There are a lot of people living on city owned property even though we have an ord. against it. But where else are they going to live if they can’t afford housing? You don’t see them on our sidewalks like Portland but they are around much more than you realize. Out of sight out of mind.

        • Steve Reynolds says:

          I understand Dala, my point is that we’re better off than areas around us.

  10. SAS says:

    The homeless issue is growing and instead of all the Dem or GOP haters we need to put politics aside. This is not about politics but about the issue of helping the homeless. Do I think the new proposal of $1000 a month will help – no. It will signal acceptance to the homeless issue – practical solutions could be found if we stopped politicizing and started working together. I read an article about Coronado California who did much of the same and has helped their homeless like Hasso has suggested. Creative solutions would be better than throwing money at the homeless or damning others political party.

  11. Dala Rouse says:

    All HB 2001 did was take away a cities right to develop the way they wanted in some cases. If you live in a single family zone you have no guarantee it will stay that way. It encourages more multifamily anywhere they want to build it, like renting is what is going to prevent homelessness. More expensive multifamily housing isn’t going to help. I have talked to people looking for housing living in apartments now that are being asked to leave so the owner can remodel and get more rent.
    With the cost of building fees, lumber costs, property taxes, utility costs going up, and the cost of land, builders can’t build affordable housing and low income people can’t afford to live there..
    The only way you are going help people living on the street is to help them with rent etc. Many people that are homeless is because they can’t get employment because of previous problems with the law, mental health issues because they can only be committed for a period of time. Once they are stabilized with medication they are turned out. Maybe if they were only released if they have housing less would be on the street living in the cold. with no way to get their meds. People with mental health issues shouldn’t have to live on the street. Higher wages haven’t helped except to increase more cost of living. Taxing business higher just makes them pass the costs on to consumers.
    Getting rid of fossil fuels isn’t going to happen as some people don’t seem to realize oil is not just for fuel but makes 1000’s of other things like polyester, nylon and most plastics.

  12. Carol Gascoigne says:

    Hasso, you are absolutely correct. There is so much that can and should be done right now. Build a safe homeless campground with services to ensure folks get the help they need while banning substance abuse
    Support those with mental illness in an environment that can actually stabilize them. How about using a struggling motel or other empty building??
    Forcing cities to adopt State policies (it will take years to implement due to bureaucracy and legal challenge, not to mention the cost incurred) with funding to be provided by cities who already are strapped for cash is ludicrous
    When did common sense become obsolete ??

    • Hartman says:

      The people in the GOP will NOT support the government spending any amount of money on anything the Right doesn’t like. When the GOP starts to govern like they actually care about Oregon’s citizenry (ALL of them) then the Right might have an opportunity to finally do right by those on the street. Don’t hold your breath. The Right is a hateful, grievance-filled gaggle of indecency.

      • Rich Kellum says:

        “Don’t hold your breath. The Right is a hateful, grievance-filled gaggle of indecency.”

        Look in the Mirror Hartman, you are the very definition of hate..

      • Bill Kapaun says:

        “The people in the GOP will NOT support the government spending any amount of money on anything the Right doesn’t like. …”
        Like you Leftist’s support government spending on things you don’t like? Your usual hypocrisy rises to the top like a turd.

  13. Sequoia says:

    “or tickets to parts of the country where housing is cheap and jobs can be found”

    Wow – NIMBY’ism at it’s finest! It’s a comment like that that pretty much reveals the true intent of the writer; get these people out of the way of my entitled life. Another testament to the ignorance of recognizing the base of the issues – that investment properties, strict zoning regs, and the run on 3500sq ft Mcbrickmansions and/or high priced gentrified condos were pushed by local reps, and courted with much salivation over the property tax revenues. Fixing the issue is easy enough – mandate for every 2000sq ft plus home built another one that is 1000 MUST be built NEXT DOOR. Tax Airbnb property owners so heavily they MUST rent to make profit. Every gentrified condo built over a coffee shop/Thai restaurant MUST set aside half of the units for low income. Excess application fees, exorbitant deposits, income requirements that demand 3 times NET income…etc, etc, etc.


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