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Updates Affordable Housing, Gas Tax, Portland Street Response, Houseless Services, Covid-19, NUNM.

Happy Friday! Now that the craziness of session is behind us, these updates are likely to be a little shorter. I’ll still do these weekly, with maybe a break here and there if I’m out of the office but we’ll probably have less to cover. That said, this week I want to focus on some local news that I think is interesting/important. I’ll be providing updates on affordable housing, the gas tax, Portland Street Response, Covid-19 and featuring the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM).

Affordable Housing
As per usual, I like to lift up some of the work being done around our affordable housing crisis in this city. This work can often not make headlines and thus it can feel like nothing is happening. There are many levels at which we need change: We need more shelter space, more affordable housing, more outreach and services to those on the street to bring them to shelters, more housing with wraparound services for those who cannot support themselves, and more. Work in all those areas in being done. Here is one example. This week I heard about a new affordable housing project in SE Portland on 38th and Holgate.

It is just in its very early phases and will provide affordable housing for young Black professionals pursuing architectural, engineering, and construction management careers. The five-story building will consist of at least 72 small apartments, and is expected to open in 2024. Private funding will pay for the construction, and rent will be capped at 60% of Area Median Income. To keep costs down and create a replicable model of affordable housing construction, a contractor will fabricate each of the building's apartments in Idaho, then truck those here as nearly-complete units.

A large construction crane will then assemble them, one atop the other, on the Holgate property. This work is expected to happen in the summer of 2023. This project arose out of own of the funding organization’s (Self Improvement Inc) plans for an apprenticeship program for young black professionals and expanded rapidly.
 
I think it’s really great to see this privately funded project go ahead and while I know 72 units may not sound like a ton, this is just one example of the kind of affordable housing that is being built around this city. I will be excited to see the finished product. A little later on this newsletter I’ll talk about some more short term work being done in the affordable housing space and last week I also talked about the funding package for services and shelter for Houseless folks that we passed this session but I did want to spotlight another great development going on.
Gas Tax
I learned this week that ODOT is planning for a future without a gas tax. This comes from ODOT’s focus on shifting Oregon away from fossil fuels, that work includes building electric bike and vehicle infrastructure, funding transit agencies across the state, operating intercity transit lines, and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure to help people walk and bike safely — and leave the car at home.
 
That work is essential and important (and I obviously completely support it) but it does leave us with a funding problem. Road funding — including bridges, bike paths, and sidewalks — depends on the purchase of fuel. The fuels tax provided 42% of our state road and bridge funding in 2019. Other funding sources, from other taxes or from the federal government, largely cannot legally be spent on the maintenance of our existing transportation system.
 
As fewer people choose to drive gas powered vehicles, funding will decline, and our transport system would fall into disrepair. Avoiding this problem is one of ODOT’s top priorities. Two alternative funding mechanisms are being considered, neither of which relies on burning fossil fuels and both will charge road users based on their actual use of the road. The first option is road usage charging. People pay for how much they use the system. ODOT has been considering this change for 20 some years and has developed a fully operation system called OReGO for some time. OReGO is seeing a spike in enrollment as electric vehicle owners opt in to this voluntary system. You can even do DEQ testing remotely through OReGO as it can scan your system while you are driving.
 
The second funding option they are considering is tolling. ODOT claims to be looking at a comprehensive tolling initiative which would improve safety for people walking, biking, and driving, repair and upgrade bridges, and address bottlenecks in the Portland metro area.
The strategy includes variable rate tolling (also known as congestion pricing) as a funding mechanism and as a way to manage congestion. 
I am a little more concerned by the second option and if it the one they go forward with I want to make sure community input is heard so that we can make this shift away from fossil fuels quickly and without harming or overcharging our community.  Stay tuned as I am sure there is a lot more coming on this topic.
Portland Street Response
If you read these updates regularly you may have heard me talk about Portland Street Response before. This program has been operating in a limited capacity for about a year and is now preparing to expand. Portland Street Response pairs EMT/Paramedics with mental health professionals to respond to non-emergency calls for service that have a behavioral health component. The goal is to take some stress off of first responders for calls that don’t require that level of response where an EMT or Paramedic with mental health support professionals can handle the situation. The program has only been operating in some neighborhoods in East Portland but since the program launched in February, 2021, its two teams have responded to more than 900 calls, and most recently averaged more than 100 calls per month.  69% of the people they encounter are experiencing houselessness. The program is really hitting its stride and accomplishing its twin goals of reducing call volumes for other first responders and steering people toward services.
 
Starting on March 28, Portland Street Response will begin responding to calls city-wide.  Initially, responders will be active between 8am and 10pm, seven days a week, with the goal of expanding to 24-hour coverage by October.
 
One of the major benefits of this new program is that those suffering from houselessness will have a new set of first responders who regularly check on them when called, bring mental health professionals to the scene and can help direct those living on the street to services. There is a lack of trust between houseless people and the police and many houseless people don’t call 911 as they fear an encounter with police. It also just doesn’t make sense to send an armed officer to a call where there is no criminal activity and a mental health check in is what is really needed. Portland’s emergency call lines have been overwhelmed and new teams who can take some of that strain is also incredibly important.
 
This is a really important new program and one that I hope we will see really flourish and become an integral part of our cities response to anyone suffering from a mental health crisis or addiction on our streets.
 
I’ll keep you updated as this city wide rollout happens. Stay tuned.

Homelessness Services
A little while ago I shared with you a very confusing chart of how our current services geared towards those living on our streets are set up. This is a widely acknowledged problem and last week Mayor Wheeler invoked his emergency powers again to create a central command designed to buck bureaucratic snags and enhance the delivery of services to those living outside.
 
Right now, different agencies under different city commissioners control different parts of the process of delivering services to those houseless people which ends up creating overlapping services, lots of wasted time and energy keeping everything organized and confusion for those receiving the services. This is part of our unique commission style of city government where services are siloed under different commissioners. This is an attempt to streamline services and as new services come online and new affordable housing is built, ensure all this work is done in a coordinated fashion. The chart I showed last week and the chart below may not look that different in terms of the number of boxes involved but the centralizing under the joint office means there will be one central hub for all of these services to pass through and under which will hopefully allow the city to keep them organized, efficient and helping those who need them.
COVID-19 Updates
At the end of this week, it was reported by Oregon Health Authority that there have been over 700,660* cases of COVID-19 in Oregon, with 28,159* Oregonians with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization since the beginning of the pandemic.
OHA also reported that 3,169,224* Oregonians have been vaccinated and in the graphic below you can see how many Oregonians have received the Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, or the Moderna vaccine.

* These #s are of course constantly changing and updating depending on when we write this and when you read it.
 
We are seeing cases plummet as we leave the Omicron wave behind and Oregon’s indoor mask mandate was lifted last weekend. Masks are still required in healthcare settings and on public transport. I will keep providing updates on Covid-19 for the time being although I am hoping to be able to stop in the near-ish future.
 

HD-42 Business Spotlight – NUNM (well actually it is a school the National University for Natural Medicine)
 
This week is a little different for our business spotlight. This week I am featuring a university and (unfortunately) not one in HD-42. If you have been following my legislative priorities, you might know that I work quite a bit with Naturopaths and have been trying to make sure they get paid better by health insurance companies. I’ve gotten to know quite a few naturopaths in this work and recently NUNM -- National University for Natural Medicine invited me to visit for a tour.
 
They are the oldest programmatically accredited naturopathic medical school in North America. They started in the 1950’s and since 1995 have been located at their really lovely campus near the south waterfront. They have around 600 students and a very impressive teaching clinic on campus. I stopped by this week and got the chance to meet their President, Director of Development, and tour their campus and clinic. They even let me into the rare book room and let me look around.
 
Here are some more photos from my visit including with the president and outside the main building.

If you know of a business you think I should feature in the Business Spotlight in coming weeks please let me know by reaching out to Rep.RobNosse@oregonlegislature.gov.
 
As always, feel free to reach out to me at Rep.RobNosse@oregonlegislature.gov if you have any questions or concerns you would like to share or if you need help in accessing government services at the state level.
 
Please also be watching for my columns in the SE Examiner if you are one of my SE Portland constituents as they have graciously agreed to run my column monthly.  The March Column is already out there. If you cannot find a copy of the SE Examiner you can read it online at https://www.southeastexaminer.com/

Warm wishes to you all,
Friends of Rob Nosse PO BOX 42307 | Portland, OR 97242 US
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