The two primary homelessness bills advanced out of the Oregon House this week. At $200 million, they spend a nontrivial amount, yet it’s just a drop in the bucket.
Let’s do the math. The official forecast claims that passage of these two bills will prevent 8,750 households from becoming homeless. “Households” mean more than 8,750 bedrooms. That’s less than $23 thousand per household if all of it were spent directly on housing, but little of it goes to paying someone’s rent or building houses.
HB 2001 funds housing planning and makes it harder for landlords to evict deadbeat tenants. If housing planning could be reasonably expected to lead to land use deregulation, maybe there could be some hope, but getting progressives to plan often just means planning new words for homeless people while handing “people experiencing houselessness” free tents. Making evictions more difficult increases costs for landlords. If you want less investment in housing, increase its cost.
HB 5019 is more of a direct appropriation, but the funding mostly goes to a hodgepodge of social services. Is the primary cause of homelessness in Oregon an insufficient number of people employed as social workers?
No, there are even fewer social workers in Idaho. So where are the tent cities in Boise?
The problem is not funding for social services. It’s not even substance abuse and mental health. If the inability to hold down a job were the only problem, our homeless count would be much lower.
The homeless problem in Oregon, indeed the west coast, is not about what we have failed to fund. It’s driven by actively chosen policies. It’s land use laws. It’s zoning. It’s tolerance for people camping on the sidewalk, letting people impose a negative externality on the public commons. No matter how large an army of housing bureaucrats Oregon hires, if the root causes of our tarped shantytowns are not dealt with, we’re not putting more people in homes. We’re just setting more people up with PERS accounts in jobs that send more union dues to SEIU.
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.