Oregon Legislature. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem will get millions of dollars to fund micro shelter villages, affordable housing and airport improvements after the 2022 Legislative session ended last week.  

Most of the money Salem is getting is through HB 5202. The largest amount of funding, $2.5 million, will go to shelter services and infrastructure, hygiene and outreach.  

In a legislative ask dated Feb. 14, mayors from Beaverton, Bend, Eugene, Gresham, Hillsboro, Medford, Portland and Salem requested $50 million from the legislature “to develop and operate safe temporary shelters, provide needed services to the unhoused community, and keep our communities clean.” 

The city plans to use its portion of that money to fund micro shelter villages and its Safe Park program, the letter said. It stated that each micro shelter village costs $1.5 million per year to operate and funding for those villages will run out by 2024. Salem has two micro shelter villages. 

The request for funds is unusual for Oregon, as competing needs across the state for different social services have historically diluted funding away from homeless services, said Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. 

“This is an ask outside of the normal funding mechanisms. This is an ask by the cities themselves to flesh out their sheltering capacity,” he said. 

Jones said he believes homeless service provider Church at the Park will get most of Salem’s $2.5 million to cover operational costs for new micro shelter sites. He said he hopes some of those dollars will also go to his community action agency to help pay for supportive housing projects. 

The city is spending millions of its one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act funding on the micro shelters and some of it’s $10 million grant from the legislature in 2021.  

“The micro-shelter communities and our navigation center will be forced to close barring any new revenue or other financial support for these emergency sheltering services,” the letter said.  

The main priority for the Salem City Council during the short session was getting funding to help cover shortfalls in the construction of Salem’s navigation center, which is costing millions of dollars more than initially anticipated.  

The legislature allocated an additional $1.9 million to help pay for the navigation center, intended to serve as short-term shelter for 35 to 40 people where they can stabilize for two to four months until they get into housing. 

Last May, the legislature allocated $5 million to fund two years of the center’s operations. The center is located at 1185 22nd St. S.E. and has been used as a warming shelter this winter. Construction is budgeted at $4.9 million. 

In the legislative request, the city also asked for $1.17 million to staff a six-person rapid response team to clean up homeless camps. The legislature allocated $750,000 for that purpose. 

The city also recommended spending $205,000 each year to fund a nonprofit grant program that would hire people “with lived homeless experience” to clean up homeless camps, according to the letter. 

Courtney Knox-Busch, Salem spokesperson, said the Salem City Council would consider the grants on March 28.   

Salem is also getting $1.5 million for the Salem Housing Authority to help offset costs after an affordable housing project at the Oregon State Hospital north campus was delayed for years.  

Nicole Utz, housing administrator, said the funding will pay for costs to complete Yaquina Hall. That $18.9 million project broke ground last month, with plans for 52 affordable apartments.

Upgrades to Salem’s municipal airport weren’t on the list of legislative asks from the city, but the airport will get around $540,400 from the state Department of Aviation.  

John Paskell, airport manager, said the funding will be geared toward improvements in the airport terminal and parking lot “that would assist the airport in making sure the facility is ready and capable of accommodating commercial air service.” 

He said city officials will spend the next several weeks working out the details to determine what the money can be spent on. 

Paskell said the funding was “a bit unexpected.” 

A contingent of local business owners have been working to restore commercial airline service to the Salem airport for years.  

Marion County also got funding through the short session, with $3 million for road work on the McKay-Yergen-Ehlen Roads corridor, a 9-and-a-half-mile road that stretches from St. Paul to Aurora. The area’s five-year rate for crashes with fatal or serious injury was about 12 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, which is double the state average, according to a Feb. 1 management update request form provided by the county.   

The county public works department has made low-cost improvements in the area including signs, pavement markings and double fines for speed violations. But the remaining safety measures are larger and more expensive construction projects.  

“Roundabouts are part of that conversation,” said county spokesman John Heynen.   

The bill also directs over $2.4 million to Marion Polk Food Share to rebuild the AWARE Food Bank in downtown Woodburn, which was “severely damaged” in a fire in August, said spokesman Sam Tenney.  

The pantry’s building at 152 Arthur St. has since been closed. AWARE has continued serving the Woodburn area, first out of an adjacent city-owned parking lot before moving to a temporary pantry at 154 Harrison St in September. 

AWARE distributed enough food in 2021 for 833,000 meals and is the primary source of food relief in the Woodburn area, Tenney said in an email. They also make trips to provide food to migrant agricultural workers and senior citizens. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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