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Salem Business & Political Roundtable: Rethinking State Housing Strategies with a Focus on Human Dignity

Written by Promise King on Mar. 20th, 2024
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The recent legislative endeavors to address Oregon’s housing crisis are marked by an influx of financial investment and nods to cultural initiatives but lack meaningful substance. Many of these proposals overlook innovative approaches to housing affordability and miss crucial opportunities for investments in construction workforce training—a pivotal factor in reducing housing construction costs through supply and demand dynamics.

It’s essential to recognize that, despite any agreement reached between the governor and the legislature this session, efforts will fall short without a significant focus on increasing opportunities for a skilled housing construction workforce. This gap directly impacts the cost and development of housing, underscoring a crucial supply and demand issue.

I commend the governor’s proposal, particularly Senate Bill 1537, aimed at combating the housing and homelessness crisis through traditional remedies. The bill promises more townhomes, condos, and single-family homes for Oregonians, backed by a hefty $500 million investment in land, infrastructure, and utilities expansion. However, a more transformative approach would involve dissolving the current state housing agency in favor of realigning its functions to meet 21st-century housing integration goals. This restructuring could enhance support for developers and local governments in navigating state housing laws, ensuring governance and implementation align with contemporary needs.

The governor’s proposal to offer cities a one-time opportunity to bypass state land use laws for affordable housing development could significantly lower land costs and increase housing stock. Yet, the legislative response has been less than favorable, with a pared-down version of the bill indicating a reluctance to fully address past policy failures that have contributed to housing crises in certain communities.

While I support the governor’s push for increased home construction, I find some bill provisions overly restrictive. A balanced approach that considers environmental impacts alongside pragmatic housing construction strategies could reduce forest fire risks and address housing shortages effectively.

Despite divergences from the governor’s plan, there’s hope that lawmakers are striving to enhance housing affordability and availability in Oregon. However, the strategy lacks a crucial component: investment in apprenticeship and skilled workforce development. Without this, Oregon faces a cycle of labor shortages and increased construction costs, undermining efforts to address the housing crisis effectively.

The state’s workforce systems are outdated, and the “Future Ready Oregon” program, though well-intentioned, is underfunded. A significant investment in construction apprenticeship programs, utilizing the state’s general fund and federal pandemic relief, could bolster housing affordability initiatives and match legislative ambitions.

Comparatively, states like Georgia invest significantly more in construction workforce training, resulting in a robust pool of skilled laborers. This disparity highlights the need for Oregon to reevaluate its investment priorities to address the root causes of its housing crisis effectively.

Oregon’s strict regulations and labor costs exacerbate home building expenses, contrasting with states like Texas, where lower construction costs and a vibrant labor market support housing development efforts.

Oregon must innovate and invest in human capital, particularly in construction, to confront our housing crisis head-on. This approach not only addresses immediate needs but also lays the groundwork for a sustainable, inclusive vision of housing development.

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