A move to make it easier to convert hotels and motels into emergency shelters and long-term affordable housing for people who have lost their homes to wildfires or who are not otherwise housed has passed through the Senate Monday.
Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, urged his colleagues to vote for the bill, noting that Oregon continues to have one of the highest homeless rates in the country.
“We may or may not agree that we share a humanitarian and moral obligation to do all we can to reduce this crisis… but I think all of us are aware that this crisis will be a continuous drain on our state budget.” Golden said on the floor.
The bill would pave the way for converting motels or hotels into emergency shelters or long-term affordable housing, even if current zoning laws prohibited doing so. However, the building must be located within the city’s urban growth limits.
The vote in the Senate was 19 for, 8 against. The bill has already passed the House and is now heading to Governor Kate Brown’s office.
Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, said she was concerned about the bill’s lack of flexibility and whether it was “in concert with local governments” or rather “very prescriptive” where local governments are now required to convert hotels and motels.
Senator Lynn Findley, R-Vale, echoed those concerns, saying making the drafts mandatory is not what lawmakers initially agreed to be the best course of action.
He pointed out that a family with young children could end up on a busy shopping street, which is not ideal for long-term affordable housing.
There are other similar housing efforts underway in the state, including what has come to be dubbed Project Turnkey, where the state has spent $ 65 million to buy and convert motels into temporary shelters. House Speaker Tina Kotek also has a bill, House Bill 2006, that would allow local governments to override design, planning and zoning regulations to approve the location of emergency shelters.