City News

Legislature earmarks $1 million for Salem housing and homeless services, distribution plans unclear

The Oregon State Capitol. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Salem is one of 14 Oregon cities slated to receive $1 million for housing and homeless services following the state Legislature’s Monday special session, but city officials say it could take months for money to get out the door.

Funding would first go through the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, which will initiate grant agreements for each city. 

The funding comes as part of SB 5561 passed by the Oregon Legislature Monday. The bill says funds are intended to address housing insecurity, lack of affordable housing or homelessness.

Kristen Retherford, Salem’s urban development director, said the legislation at this point is broad and flexible, and “no rules or guidelines have been written for it yet.”

Retherford said the money could be used to operate micro shelter sites, help build or operate a planned navigation center or for a Salem Housing Authority project.

She said the city could either spend the money or grant it to service providers like the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency or Church at the Park.

“It could be divided up, it could just go as one chunk. It could go external, we could keep it internal. We have no idea right now until we have those policy discussions,” she said.

Retherford said the $1 million isn’t enough to create a new housing project, which can run upwards of $30 million. Instead that money could help pay for running shelter or housing operations.

She said the same would go for a navigation center, which is eventually intended to serve as short-term shelter for 35 to 40 people, where they can stabilize for two to four months before they get into housing. 

The state Legislature allocated $5 million in May to fund two years of the center’s operations, but according to a city staff report, millions more are needed to cover additional costs that have increased due to fire and safety standards for sheltering, rising construction costs and supply chain issues. 

Gretchen Bennett, Salem’s homelessness liaison, told the city’s legislative committee on Dec. 10 that it could be upwards of $5.2 million to cover additional costs needed to convert the building.

Salem City Councilor Chris Hoy, who was selected Dec. 8 to fill the House District 21 seat in the state Legislature, said the approved $1 million is “going to have huge impact in Salem” and will help defray rising costs for the navigation center.

“The navigation center is, like the number one pressing issue in front of us right now, so the likelihood that we would use it for there is very high,” Hoy said. “But I don’t know for sure because I’m just one person.”

He said he thinks the money would go to good use if it helped pay construction costs for the center. 

“That navigation center is going to be a game changer for Salem,” he said. “It’s going to save lives, and anything we can do to help get that thing going, the sooner we can do it, the more lives that are going to be saved, because it’s going to be it’s going to be a ticket off the street for people and hopefully a permanent ticket off the street where people are going to get hooked up with services, they’re going to get job training, they’re going to get mental health or whatever it is that they individually need to break that cycle, to get off the street and to get on the road to a permanent place to live.”

Hoy said he is hopeful Salem will get its share of the $14 million “in the next very few months.”

The other cities that had funding approved in Monday’s session were Albany, Ashland, Beaverton, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Grants Pass, Gresham, Hillsboro, Medford, Portland, Redmond and Springfield.

Ariel Nelson, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, said each of those cities have full-time, dedicated housing staff and are already working with affordable housing developers and providers. 

She said the $14 million package was a “really amazing surprise from the Legislature.”

“I think it really speaks to the fact that both parties and I think any legislator you talk to understands that affordable housing and homelessness are really pressing needs in their communities and all legislative districts,” she said.

Nelson said she would be contacting the Department of Administrative Services and the office of Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend –  who worked closely to get the funds approved – to clarify how they can help move the grant process along. 

“I think cities are working now to identify which projects and which partners they’re contributing to, so I would hope by end of January we can have a really solid picture,” she said.

 Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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