Bonamici: Bill to convert unused buildings into emergency shelters

Legislation builds on success of Oregon’s Project Turnkey Program
BY U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici,

WASHINGTON, DC [05/09/2024] – Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) introduced legislation that models Oregon’s successful Project Turnkey Program to provide flexible housing assistance that can quickly convert unused buildings into affordable housing and emergency shelters, enhance services for people experiencing homelessness, and address the nationwide housing crisis.

The Project Turnkey Act would create a federal Project Turnkey Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and provide $1 billion annually for communities to meet their housing needs, including transforming vacant buildings like hotels, offices, and hospitals. It would also provide direct support to people at risk of experiencing homelessness through rental, security deposit, and utility bill assistance.

The Congresswoman’s legislation would also allow communities to expand homeownership opportunities through downpayment assistance and housing counseling for underserved homebuyers. Funding from the federal Project Turnkey Program could meet the unique demands for people experiencing homelessness with additional services, including child care, transportation access, employment assistance, mental health counseling, and supportive housing.

“In Oregon, Project Turnkey has already transformed lives by providing safe, affordable housing for families and individuals,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “This program is a smart way to quickly and economically increase access to housing that provides the stability people need, along with support programs to put them on the path to long-term success. I’m grateful for the many Oregonians who have shared stories about how Project Turnkey has helped them, and I introduced this legislation to expand the program so it can benefit even more people in Oregon and across the country.”

The legislation is endorsed by National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), National Leased Housing Association, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National NeighborWorks Association, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, National Coalition for the Homeless, LeadingAge, SchoolHouse Connection, Housing Assistance Council, National Network for Youth, Justice in Aging, Community Change Action, First Focus Campaign for Children, National Rural Housing Coalition, Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, National Women’s Law Center, Community Opportunity Alliance (formerly NACEDA), National Homelessness Law Center, and Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

“Oregon Housing and Community Services is committed to building on our shared housing progress that establishes concrete pathways to lasting economic and social opportunity. Project Turnkey models have served as one effective strategy to provide people with keys to permanent homes—a desired reality under pursuit across the country,” said Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) Executive Director Andrea Bell. “Investing in effective housing strategies such as this centers human dignity and contributes to the health of our nation’s economy. The legislation that Congresswoman Bonamici has introduced is crucial to keeping Project Turnkey doors open in our state and expanding this type of shelter around the country.”

“While the Supreme Court debates whether communities can punish unhoused people with tickets and arrests just for sleeping outside, Rep. Bonamici knows that housing, not handcuffs, is what actually ends homelessness,” said Eric Tars, Senior Policy Director, National Homelessness Law Center. “That’s why her Project Turnkey Act gives communities the resources to start getting people off the streets and the flexibility to turn unused vacant properties into desperately needed affordable housing and non-congregate shelter. Let’s pass Project Turnkey quickly and then use that momentum to make the even bigger investments we need to end encampments and ensure that every American can enjoy their basic human right to housing.”

“During the pandemic, Congress acted with urgency to provide historic and unprecedented resources to address the health and housing needs of America’s lowest-income and most marginalized households, including people experiencing homelessness. With these investments, Congress saved lives and prevented a wave of evictions and an increase in homelessness,” stated Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Congress must build on the tremendous successes and lessons learned from the pandemic to build a stronger housing safety net by enacting Rep. Bonamici’s Project Turnkey Act and other critical legislation.”

“We appreciate Representative Bonamici’s leadership in translating into sensible legislation the lessons learned during COVID from the conversion of hotels to non-congregate housing and shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Her Project Turnkey Act would help communities convert not just hotels, but also motels, schools, hospitals, and office buildings into affordable housing or shelter as well as repair and expand existing shelters. If we are to achieve deep and meaningful reductions in homelessness, we must build significant new affordable housing. But that takes time, years. Representative Bonamici’s bill would help communities to provide shelter and housing to people experiencing homelessness while that permanent housing is being built.” – National Alliance to End Homelessness

The full text of the Project Turnkey Act can be found here and a fact sheet is available here.

In addition to Bonamici, the legislation is cosponsored by Representatives André Carson (D-IN), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Jonathan Jackson (D-IL), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-C), Delia Ramirez (D-IL), Andrea Salinas (D-OR), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

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