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Oregon governor praises potential solution to Oregon housing crisis

Mass timber modular homes offer promising solutions to Oregon's housing shortage.

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Oregon Governor Tina Kotek and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley met with community leaders Friday to tour six prototype modular homes made of mass timber that would potentially ease Oregon’s housing shortage.

Located at the Port of Portland’s northwest Terminal 2 location, the celebratory occasion showcased the pilot program known as “Mass Casitas” — meaning “mass timber” and “small homes” — which aims to demonstrate that modular housing built with mass timber can provide more efficient, faster and less expensive homes across the state.

Mass timber is renewable, fire-resistant material considered environmentally friendly because it requires less energy to produce than concrete and steel and is said to naturally sequester carbon.

Mass Casitas is led by Hacienda Community Development Corporation, a Latino-led community development organization that provides affordable housing throughout Portland. The pilot program received $5 million in funding from the Oregon Legislature in December 2021 and with plenty of support from then-House Speaker Kotek.

“We need to do more of this type of construction because at the end of the day, let’s go back to the people,” Kotek said. “Families in Oregon need homes. I can’t wait to see their faces the first time they see those homes because those homes are going to change their lives, give them the security and help they need, and we are all a part of this.”

One of the homes on display was built for a family who lost their home to a recent wildfire. The pilot program expects to deliver its homes to Oregon communities in Madras, Otis, Portland and Talent by June 2023.

Housing and homelessness are the top issues in Oregon and have dominated this year's legislative session. Shortly after Kotek was sworn in as governor on Jan. 9, 2023, she declared a state of emergency and signed an executive order to increase housing construction in the state.

Since then, a plethora of House and state Senate bills have been introduced this legislative session regarding housing and homelessness in Oregon, a complex issue affecting 14,655 people in-state as of December 2022 according to federal data.

Key project team partners of Mass Casitas also include the Port of Portland, Salazar Architect Inc., Walsh Construction Co., VALAR Consulting Engineering and Freres Engineered Wood, whose representatives were also in attendance on Friday.

"Mass Casitas is helping transform Terminal 2 into a site for innovation, mass timber industry transformation, and opportunity for Oregon families," said Keith Leavitt, chief trade & equitable development officer at the Port of Portland, in a statement. "This project is even more evidence that mass timber can be transformative for Oregon, and it's full of opportunity for those who have been left behind, from new housing options to the creation of good-paying jobs along the timber and housing construction supply chain."

The six modular prototypes, each varying in size, will be delivered to Oregon communities in June through nonprofit partners in each location, who decide on recipients. Nonprofit partners of Mass Casitas include CASA of Oregon, Cascade Relief Team and Community Vision. (Alanna Madden/Courthouse News)

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