Senator Merkley addresses housing, Palestine conflict in Corvallis town hall

The Daily Barometer

United States Sen. Jeff Merkley ended his town hall tour with a stop in Corvallis, where he stressed affordable housing efforts and actions regarding the Palestine and Israel conflict.

The Corvallis community raised key concerns on a number of issues, touching on methane emissions, the potential expansion of the Coffin Butte landfill and affordable healthcare, but two topics were repeatedly brought up by constituents for Merkley to address. 

Vivienda asequible

Merkley celebrated the passage of a package of bills he and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden worked to pass, securing $75 million in funding for community initiated projects across the state in the 2024 fiscal year. 

Within the $75 million is $1.565 million dedicated to building affordable homes in Corvallis, 54 two-to-three bedrooms sold to low and moderate income families. The funding is provided to DevNW to build Community Land Trust homes which essentially sell just the house not the land the house is built on, lowering the price the house can be sold on. 

In future work, Merkley said he is still trying to reduce the cost of housing overall through pushing hedge fund-owned homes out. According to Merkley and his proposed bill, housing owned by hedge funds would be forced to sell to families who are not currently homeowners. 

“We’ve got to get the hedge funds out of the single family house business,” Merkley said. “They got very involved in it following the 2008 housing collapse … They found out ‘This is a pretty good business’. They have helped drive up the cost of rent and cost of homes.”

While the proportion of homes this would free up for potential buyers in Corvallis is unknown, Merkley said this is in part because of a lack of transparency in reporting and tracking who homes are sold to. According to Merkley, there was a bill put forward, but not considered or accepted in the most recent long session, addressing this issue but he is hopeful that a similar bill will be given more attention in the next legislative session. 

Merkley took time to explain his frustrations with the structure of the United States Senate including influence of pharmaceutical industry and the filibuster as mechanisms that prevent changes on the issues constituents were asking for.  

 Israel-Palestine conflict

Merkley began his address of the conflict by saying, “Here at home in Oregon can we agree that there is no room for anti-Semitism, no room for Islamophobia.” 

On Oct. 7 Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni Islamist group, attacked Israel prompting Israel in the Gaza Strip to respond with a declaration of war and more than 31,000 Palestinians killed since the attack according to a congressional research summary from March 13. 

A member of the Willamette Jewish Alliance challenged Merkley to defend a joint letter he wrote to President Joe Biden asking to cut off all military sales to Israel. 

Merkley said he supported Israel in defending the nation from Hamas, but not in the way that they have done so. 

“My argument with the administration was, we should use our leverage to ensure a much more focused approach towards Hamas and to make sure there is substantial humanitarian aid given,” Merkley said. “I support defensive aid but I call for ending offensive aid and transferring bombs to Israel.”

Merkley went on to share his hopes of a ceasefire and safe return of hostages in Gaza in order to start addressing the dire humanitarian issues.