Oregon senators outline housing, transportation funding in bill

WASHI – Sens.Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden said Thursday the Senate has passed the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill, which includes $2.173 billion to battle unaffordable rents and homelessness.

The bill funds several federal departments, and includes Oregon priorities for transportation, housing, and other programs that local communities rely on to fund services, build parks, and more. 

“Infrastructure and housing are pressing issues for communities across Oregon—urban and rural,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “As our cities and towns in every corner of the state face their biggest housing affordability crises in decades—with rents dramatically outpacing incomes—we must do everything we can to make sure families have the decent homes they deserve. This bill includes needed investments in to address the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis.”

“Whether it’s homelessness and housing affordability challenges affecting Oregonians in every nook and cranny of our state or transportation needs in our communities, these investments will help improve quality of life statewide,” Wyden said. “Simply put, improving Oregonians’ ability to have a roof over their heads and to get from that safe home to work, school and more is a must.”

“Every Oregonian deserves a safe, affordable, stable place to call home,” said Constance S. Wilkerson, Continuum of Care Manager at Jackson County Continuum of Care. “Senator Merkley’s and the whole delegation’s efforts on behalf of Jackson County’s most vulnerable residents will ensure that many of those experiencing homelessness in Southern Oregon will have a home.”

“The Port of Morrow is grateful for the efforts of Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden to secure full funding of America’s Marine Highway Grant Program,” said Ryan Neal, Executive Director of the Port of Morrow. “The Port’s proposal for expanded barge service on the Columbia and Snake River was recently designated by MARAD as one of just thirty-four projects nationwide and only one of three on the West Coast. The barge expansion would create family wage jobs in the region, reduce transportation costs, and alleviate highway and rail congestion. With MARAD’s designation and full funding for the program supported by our Senators, we can pursue grants to make infrastructure improvements needed to make this project a reality.”

“The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport is thankful for the effort and support of Sen. Merkley and Sen. Wyden in obtaining increased funding for FAA Contract Towers,” said Klamath Falls Airport Director John T. Barsalou, A.A.E. “The contract tower at our airport is critical to the mission of our largest tenant, the Oregon Air National Guard 173rd Fighter Wing. The Senators’ understanding of the role of the contract tower in ensuring the safe and efficient utilization of the Crater Lake- Klamath Regional Airport for both military and civilian pilots is very much appreciated.”

“The City of Sherwood applauds Senator Merkley’s efforts to secure funding for critical transportation and infrastructure programs,” said Mayor Keith Mays of Sherwood. “Whether extending the Sherwood Broadband fiber network, working to provide more people with access to safe and affordable housing, or investing in important transportation projects, federal funding streams can directly benefit Sherwood residents. I am grateful for Senator Merkley’s steadfast leadership, and Senator Wyden’s support, and am eager to continue to pursue federal grants supporting economic development and infrastructure improvements in and around Sherwood.”

“Transit is pivotal in fighting climate change, not only in reducing auto emissions every time a person chooses transit over driving alone but through buses powered by cleaner, renewable energy sources,” said TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey. “TriMet has been very successful at winning Low-No grants with the support of the Oregon congressional delegation, and that’s allowed us to jump start our conversion away from diesel to battery-electric buses and other greener alternatives. We appreciate the leadership of Senators Merkley and Wyden to increase funding for transit districts.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill.

Key housing appropriations that will benefit Oregon include:

Community Development Block Grants: Rejecting the Trump Administration’s request to eliminate the program, the bill includes $3.325 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Program. This program funds vital housing rehabilitation, supportive services, public improvements and economic development projects in communities across Oregon and the nation while encouraging local investment.

Affordable Housing: As rural and urban communities across Oregon continue to experience housing crises, the bill increases affordable housing programs for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable people—low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. Merkley, who serves on the appropriations committee, led 27 of his colleagues—including Wyden—in a successful effort to provide an additional $813 million for rental assistance for 1.2 million low-income households. Merkley and Wyden also protected funding for housing programs that benefit the elderly and people with disabilities. The legislation also includes $20 million for family unification vouchers to help low-income families stay together by keeping a roof over their heads and preventing children from entering into the foster care system due to lack of housing.

Fair Market Rents: Building on significant positive fair market rent changes due to Merkley’s language in the fiscal year 2018 bill, the bill includes a provision to encourage the Department of Housing and Urban Development to allow grantees to utilize local rent surveys to determine fair market rents. This is a significant step forward in the battle to address the affordable housing crisis, by ensuring that vouchers keep pace with the real cost of rent in competitive rental markets.

Rural Housing: The Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) and Rural Capacity Building Program received $10 million and $5 million, respectively. SHOP provides funds for non-profit sweat-equity homebuilders, such as Habitat for Humanity, to cover land purchases and infrastructure costs. The Rural Capacity funds are intended to build the capacity of rural low income housing non-profits by providing training, information, technical assistance, and financing.

Key elements of the bill that seek to address homelessness in Oregon include:

Homeless Assistance Grants: The bill includes $2.8 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, a $125 million increase that will benefit organizations across Oregon. Within that appropriation, rapid rehousing programs for victims of domestic violence received $50 million; homeless youth programs received $80 million; and Emergency Solutions Grants—particularly important to the Portland metro area—received $280 million to support street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing assistance.

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: The bill includes $3.7 million for the program to continue its coordination of federal agencies working to combat homelessness.

HOME Investment Partnerships Program: The bill includes $1.25 billion for the program to provide states and localities with flexible resources to respond to their affordable housing challenges, including rental housing and paths to homeownership for low-income families.

Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation: The program, also known as NeighborWorks America, received $152 million. The national nonprofit offers support for affordable housing and community development through public-private partnerships. President Trump’s proposal would have eliminated this program, crippling its six locations across Oregon.

HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing: The program received $40 million to provide rental assistance vouchers for homeless veterans, along with case management and clinical services. These vouchers have been critical to reducing veterans’ homelessness by 49 percent since 2010.

Key transportation appropriations wins for Oregon include:

Capital Investment Grant Program: The bill includes nearly $2 billion for the program, which provides funding for major transit investments that support sustainable transportation and reduced congestion in Oregon’s growing cities.

TIGER Grants: The program received a $1 billion investment for 2019. This critical transportation grants program, which the Trump Administration’s budget zeroed out for the second year, has helped fund projects across Oregon.

Marine Highways Program: The bill includes $7 million for the Marine Highways Program, including Oregon’s Port of Morrow. The program works to incorporate waterways into the nation’s transportation system.

Transportation Formula Grants: The program received $10.1 billion, including $808 million for Bus and Bus Facilities Grants to help transit agencies purchase new buses and replace aging fleets, in particular transitioning to new low- or no-emission vehicles.

FAST Act: The bill protects funding for rail programs authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, including $255 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants and $300 million for Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, which support capital investment and maintenance projects for Amtrak routes and rail assets.

Essential Air Service and Contract Towers: The bill includes $312 million for the Essential Air Service. The Essential Air Service program supports flights between the City of Pendleton and Portland International Airport, a vital connection to support economic development across Eastern Oregon. Additionally, the bill increases funding for FAA Contract Towers by $2 million to $170 million. There are six contract towers across Oregon, and this funding ensures their continued operation.

The next step for the bill is merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.