Mayor Chris Hoy said he’s more hopeful about Salem’s ability to continue funding homeless services and make transportation improvements following a trip to Washington D.C. last week with other newly elected mayors.
Hoy visited the White House on Dec. 16 as part of a group of 14 U.S. mayors to meet with cabinet leaders in the Biden administration. They included Pete Buttigieg, transportation secretary; Marty Walsh, labor secretary and Marcia Fudge, secretary of housing and urban development.
“Every secretary that we met with was a former mayor, which was really cool because they understand the issues from that city level perspective,” Hoy said.
Other mayors and mayors-elect participating included Pamela Goynes-Brown of North Las Vegas, Nevada; Becky Daggett of Flagstaff, Arizona and Craig Greenberg of Louisville, Kentucky.
Meetings covered federal programs that can aid cities and local governments, and Hoy said he was able to discuss specific challenges facing Salem with both cabinet officials and fellow mayors.
Hoy talked with Buttigieg about city plans to redevelop State Street, one of the larger street projects included in the infrastructure package city voters approved in November. The plan calls for reducing several blocks of the street to one travel lane in each direction with a center turn lane and bike lanes.
Hoy said the city has run into some challenges because of rules surrounding the railroad crossing included in that stretch of road which he talked through with the transportation secretary. They also discussed transportation planning and electrification.
Federal money for homelessness was a major topic.
Salem faces a budget challenge in the coming year as much of the federal Covid relief money city leaders have used to fund an expansion of micro shelters and other homeless services is due to expire in 2024.
“It’s been a game-changer, we’ve changed people’s lives with it,” Hoy said.
He said following discussions with Fudge, he’s more confident Salem will be able to successfully secure other sources of federal money to continue some programs.
“It was so amazing talking with her because she really gets the problems that we’re dealing with,” he said of Fudge. “I got a whole guide to their programs for state and local officials.”
He and other mayors also brought up how flexibility during the pandemic in awarding community development block grants, a major source of federal funds for cities and local government entities, has helped their cities address homelessness.
Salem’s grant funds for this year include allocations to run warming shelters; provide rental, mortgage and utility assistance; and affordable housing development.
The mayors got a preview of a federal Department of Health and Human Services effort announced Monday to reduce homelessness by 25% in 2025.
Hoy said he’s optimistic about what such plans could bring to Salem, and the federal government’s commitment to helping cities address challenges like a need for more mental health treatment and affordable housing.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll come up with a path forward together,” he said.
The trip was also personally fulfilling, he said, and included a surprise appearance by President Joe Biden, who welcomed mayors to the Oval Office and spoke with the group for about 45 minutes.
“There is no place on earth I’d rather visit. That was the place I’d always wanted to go,” Hoy said.
Hoy told Biden he was holding back tears as they posed for a photo in the Oval Office.
“He goes ‘You’re all right, man’ and slaps me on the back,” Hoy said.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.