Gov. Tina Kotek talks $500M housing bill, Measure 110, drug problem

Laural Porter, Alex Jensen (KGW)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s 2024 legislative session got underway last Monday, tackling big state challenges like housing, homelessness and the drug crisis. On this week’s episode of Straight Talk, Gov. Tina Kotek stopped by to discuss her own bill that she hopes will make big gains on Oregon’s critical housing shortage, plus what she would like to see come out of talks to amend Measure 110, a voter-approved bill that decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs.

Oregon’s housing emergency

Within her first few days in office, Kotek declared a housing and homelessness emergency and set a statewide goal of building 36,000 new units of housing per year. This is to make up for Oregon’s current housing deficit of 140,000 units and the need to produce 440,000 units over the next 20 years to meet future needs.

The sole bill Kotek introduced in this year’s legislative session, Senate Bill 1537, is a $500 million housing package. One of the biggest components of it would fund a series of programs to help local governments overcome various roadblocks that can derail low-income housing projects, such as a lack of available land or difficulties building infrastructure, like water and sewer service, to support new housing.

“The goal is not to build more shelters,” Kotek said. “We need to get people housed. They need shelters to get stable. We are building a stronger system of shelter services across the state, but people have to get housed. And that’s why the only bill for session is about housing.”

As governor, Kotek had the option to introduce up to three bills in the legislative short session.

Kotek said housing supply is the number one challenge in Oregon. According to a recent Portland State University report, the state has the second-highest rate of unsheltered homelessness nationwide. From 2022 to 2023, the number of people living on the streets in the state increased by 8.5%, but according to the report, Oregon only has enough shelter beds for 42% of unhoused people.

At $500 million, Senate Bill 1537 has one of the largest requests for funding in this year’s legislative session. Some legislator’s have warned that the ask might be too high, however Kotek said she believes the state has the funds right now to make the investment.

“I would argue, they should, because it affects education if a kid is homeless, it affects our ability to attract employers; it is an issue that affects the entire state,” Kotek said.

Measure 110 changes

At the center of Oregon lawmakers’ proposal to tackle the state’s drug policy are changes to Measure 110, a landmark voter-approved initiative that decriminalized drugs in 2021. But now, there’s a consensus among most lawmakers that drugs need to be re-criminalized to a certain extent — but to what extent is up for debate.

“Measure 110 is designed to say, throwing people in jail is not the answer, and we need to make sure people can get into recovery and into services,” Kotek said. “And that’s what I’m focused on.”

Kotek added that whether she signs a bill that re-criminalizes drug possession under Measure 110 will depend on what treatment options it also outlines.

Oregon’s drug treatment plan

To meet the growing need for mental health and substance use treatment, a new report commissioned by Kotek finds that Oregon needs to add roughly 3,000 residential beds — or about 70% of its current capacity in the next few years.

In her first year, Kotek said that they didn’t know how many beds were needed — and now with the report, that number is more known.

“So, the expectation for people is, things will be better because we know what we need to build,” Kotek said.

Fentanyl emergency

Last month, Kotek, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson each declared a 90-day fentanyl emergency. Each orders directs the city, county and state governments to commit resources.

Kotek said after the 90 days, she wants to see a clear, sustainable structure in place where all three governments can work together. Plus, have a set of metrics to keep each government accountable and progressing.

“Right now, it’s not as organized as it could be, but with the fentanyl crisis emergency declaration, we’ll have that organization I think we need to make progress,” she said.

Watch the full interview to listen to Gov. Tina Kotek discuss the state’s declining population, Measure 113, education funding challenges and more. Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m.. Straight Talk is also available as a podcast.

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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