Oregon Funds Sewerage Projects As Foundation For New Housing Projects

Oregon lawmakers have allocated around $100 million to go directly to cities to improve sewer systems or upgrade aging infrastructure, both of which can stymie new housing projects.

Gov. Tina Kotek, in her first days in office, indicated that she wanted to see Oregon take a far more aggressive role in creating housing, establishing a fierce housing production goal of 36,000 new housing units a year statewide, increasing the approximately 22,000 houses being built at the time.

However, new houses need to be connected to a sewerage system and infrastructure such as sewerage systems are necessary to service the additional housing. A house without a flushing toilet would soon become inhabitable, defeating the object of housing more people.

Read: Governor Wins Battle To Provide Oregon With More Housing


Infrastructure Funding Necessary To Support Additional Housing

Lawmakers mostly took a bipartisan approach, agreeing that more houses are needed. Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, co-chair of Oregon’s budget-writing committee, said lawmakers vetted the projects fully before making statewide investments. She said the criteria for vetting was robust and grounded in doing what they must to build more houses in the state.

A fund allowing cities to make interest-free loans to local governments to finance affordable housing was created and it has also been made easier for some cities to expand their urban growth boundary and sidestep onerous land-use laws. This appears to have been well received by local authorities.

Mayor of Springfield, Sean VanGordon, said their $3 million from the state will go towards sewerage infrastructure improvements for the Glenwood Riverfront area project, along the Willamette River. He said, “This is tangible progress for my community.”

Housing projects statewide will receive money for storm and wastewater projects, but this has also raised questions about transparency and oversight.


Fair Allocation Of Federal Funds

In her initial housing package, Gov Kotek suggested creating a fund that cities could apply to for infrastructure funding. To save money, lawmakers removed bureaucracy by giving directly to cities as part of the overall $376 million housing package approved in the last legislative session.

Read: Kotek’s $500 Million Housing Bill Addresses Oregon’s Land Use Expansion And Housing Crisis

Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, said each project was vetted and pared down from a much longer list, identifying projects that were ready to start, where local investment had been made, and would deliver the best rate of return. Lawmakers didn’t want projects delayed for 9 months while application was made to a state agency.


State Oversight On Private Projects For Public Benefit

Gov. Kotek recently shared her concern that there could be a fairness and equity issue with direct allocations. She was concerned that communities could be left out if their officials didn’t know about the funding, or how to access it. In a recent email to 44 different cities, Kotek asked for more details about their projects. Looking at what direct allocation means, Kotek asked, “How much oversight can we have?”

Gomberg agreed that there should be transparency in the process of choosing which cities got funding. However, some thought the direct allocation route lacked transparency. The senior policy analyst of the nonprofit, WaterWatch of Oregon, Kimberley Priestley, said that they asked for details during the session but the answers were vague. She said when public dollars are used for private infrastructure projects, there must be public benefit.

Kotek will set clear expectations that as a direct result of the stormwater and sewerage funding, there will be houses down the line within the next five years.

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