Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley hosts Gorge town halls

HOOD RIVER – On Jan. 6, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley announced
his schedule for the first in-person town halls in 2023. His first destinations
include communities throughout the Mid-Columbia including Sherman, Wasco and
Hood River counties.

Sen. Merkley’s town hall commitments came after he and Sen.
Ron Wyden announced they secured funding for hundreds of projects around the
state as part of 2023 omnibus appropriations package signed by President Joe
Biden on Dec. 29. Sen. Merkley noted that his position on the Appropriations
Committee was a reason that many projects around the state received priority.

“I joined the committee in 2013 to ensure Oregon has a
strong voice in decisions about our nation’s investments,” he said.

On Jan. 13, Sen. Merkley traveled to Sherman, Wasco and Hood
River counties to talk about his End Hedge Fund Control of American Homes
(EHFCA) Act he introduced to try and stop hedgefund and private equity
investors excessive ownership of homes across America. His bill would limit the
number of homes private investors could own, up to 100, and impose federal tax
penalties of $20,000 for every household over the limit. Any penalties
collected would be used to provide down payment assistance to homebuyers.

Among other topics Sen. Merkley discussed at the Hood River
town hall were impacts of renewable energy, water quality of the Columbia
River, infrastructure and funding for private and public education. About two
dozen residents attended and had the opportunity to ask questions and listen to
him speak about his time in Congress. Hood River Mayor Paul Blackburn, Oregon
Sen. Daniel Bonham and Rep. Jeff Helfrich were also in attendance.

Sen. Merkley opened by welcoming representatives from the
Crag Rats and the Historic Cloud Cap Inn – which received $115,000 to replace
the deteriorating roof on the old search and rescue inn. Sen. Merkley gave an
American flag to the project and in return they gifted Merkley a couple Cloud
Cap t-shirts, a token of gratitude to the senator. Cloud Cap Inn received the
smallest amount awarded to projects in the Mid-Columbia region while the 780
Rand Road affordable housing project was granted the most at $3 million.

780 Rand Road

As part of the appropriations bill, Merkley awarded $3
million to the Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation (CCHC) for the 780 Rand
Road affordable housing project. In 2021, CCHC and Community Development
Partners (CDP) were selected as the preferred development team to build
affordable housing. Together they applied to the State of Oregon’s Local
Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) program, which helps leverage federal
resources to build affordable housing.

The city was not chosen for the funds from the program, and
CCHS and CDP requested a one year extension of their purchase option agreement
for the development site.

The project will be delayed a year and Hood River City
Manager Abigail Elder said they will apply again in 2023. Project staffers are
working with the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS) on how
they can improve their application.

“If we secure LIFT funding in 2023, we would expect
housing to be ready for its first residents in 2026,” said Elder.

Mid-Columbia Housing Authority and Columbia Cascade Housing
Corporation Executive Director Joel Madsen chimed in, adding, “We are
pleased to see this community initiated affordable housing development receive
unwavering support from Sen. Merkley and Sen. Wyden in the federal appropriations
process. An investment of this magnitude will be instrumental in creating an
affordable place to call home for over 120 lower income households in Hood

More Projects Funded

Another project receiving a significant amount of funding
were the East Fork Irrigation District (EFID) who was awarded $2.5 million for
its authorized watershed plan. District Manager Steve Pappas detailed their

 “East Fork Irrigation District, with the support
of the Hood River Watershed Group, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs,
Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies, is working to
increase instream flows in the East Fork Hood River and mainstream Hood River
while at the same time improving water reliability for EFID farmers and rural
residents,” said Pappas. “The hard work and time that Sen. Merkley
and his team have put in to make these pipeline projects a possibility will
help us achieve our Irrigation Modernization Plan to improve the quality of our
rivers, protect habitat for threatened salmon and steelhead, and provide
reliable irrigation water for crop production.”

The Mosier Community Center and Fire Station project also
received funding. The project was awarded $975,000 to build a new community
center, city offices and fire station. The Gorge has been threatened by
wildfires in recent summers and former Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns said this
funding will help their work materialize.

“Thanks to Sens. Merkley and Wyden, this crucial
funding will enable our vision to become a reality, providing critical
infrastructure for fire safety and community resilience for generations to
come. This will us get over the finish line!” said Burns.

To see the full list of 145 projects that will receive
funding, visit merkley.senate.gov.