Salem mayor talks homelessness, housing, crime, downtown in State of the City address
In his first State of the City address since taking office late last year, Mayor Chris Hoy highlighted key issues facing Salem, laying out big plans for combating homelessness and crime while encouraging housing and downtown development.
Voters elected Hoy, who previously served as a city councilor representing Ward 6, in the 2022 May primary election. He took office early after the previous mayor, Chuck Bennett, resigned to move to Ohio.
More:Chris Hoy appointed Salem's new mayor
He campaigned on increasing services for homeless residents, encouraging housing development and revitalizing downtown.
His first State of the City address reflected those issues and included several updates on big-ticket projects, like bringing back commercial service to the Salem Airport and transforming the industrial area north of downtown.
"It’s a time of fresh ideas and for an earnest look at what we have achieved, and where we have more to do," Hoy said. "I am proud to report that Salem is a strong, diverse and evolving community."
But, he added, there is more work to be done.
Homelessness crisis in Salem
Like much of Oregon and the United States, the homelessness crisis hit Salem hard in recent years.
Hoy said a lack of housing options and access to mental health care led to this crisis, and the city is doing more than ever to provide emergency shelter, house people and connect them to services.
He pointed to new projects like multiple microshelter locations, the soon-to-be-opened 75-bed navigation center, and investments in domestic violence, women's and warming shelters.
The city also recently added a Homeless Services Team that responds to illegal encampments and connects people to housing and services. Since it started last year, the team, which focuses on relationships instead of enforcement, has connected with 1,675 people and 974 encampments.
The future of these promising programs is precarious, Hoy said.
The city council allocated $23.33 million in state and American Rescue Plan funds to expand sheltering options and address livability concerns. These one-time funds will be exhausted next year. Unless more state and federal funds materialize, the microshelters and navigation center could be forced to close, he said.
Hoy asked for support from leaders and residents as the city lobbies for more funds to continue these programs.
Housing construction booms
While the city is not a housing developer, its policies can encourage or hinder housing developments, Hoy said.
A 2015 housing needs and planning analysis found the city was expected to grow by 60,000 people by 2035.
More housing, especially multifamily units, is needed to accommodate this growth.
"Housing construction in Salem remains strong," Hoy said. "Subdivisions and large multifamily complexes have been robust. There was an increase in formal inquiries about multi-family developments last year compared to 2021."
About one-third of the 1,700 unit permits received last year were for affordable housing.
The city needs to be a key partner for encouraging affordable housing and smart growth, Hoy said.
Crime, public safety is top concern
City leadership acknowledged that public safety is a top concern among city residents.
In Salem's annual community satisfaction survey, the proportion of residents citing crime as a top issueincreased 13% over the past year.
Hoy said to reduce crime, keep response times low and manage increased call volume, more officers and funding are needed. An independent firm analyzing the police department's staffing found they needed to add at least 70 new officers.
Even a small increase in staffing could be a challenge as the city faces a budget deficit.
"If we want to increase the safety of our city and see a reduction in crime, if we want relation-based policing, ifwe want safer neighborhoods and safer streets, we need additional revenue for public safety," Hoy said.
And despite getting an entirely new fleet of fire apparatuses thanks to funding from the $300 million infrastructure bond last year, the Salem Fire Department cannot use bond funding to hire more staff. Another analysis recommended hiring 111 more firefighters to keep response time low.
Downtown, airport developments
Hoy said the city is well on its way to reaching his goal of having a vibrant and re-energized downtown.
He hopes to address the lack of available parking and deficits in the parking fund by bringing back paid on-street parking. He was behind a recent motion before the city council to explore eliminating free on-street parking.
"As more and more people move downtown and as the evening scene grows, as Salem comes of age, paid parking is inevitable," Hoy said.
More housing, a recently opened hotel and new occupants of long-vacant spots like the old JC Penney building and former Wells Fargo site signal a vibrant future for downtown, he added.
More:Peek inside Salem's newest downtown hotel with 7 stories, 127 rooms
Hoy said the work to bring commercial air service back to Salem will soon come to fruition.
The city is in the process of signing a contract with the first airline, with the hopes of people being able to book flights by July 4.
Commercial service will bring increased tourism, hotel and visitor spending to the region, he said.
More:Could McNary Field Airport in Salem have commercial air service by May 2023?
Hoy finished his address by stating the city has challenges ahead and is rapidly transforming.
"Salem has a small-town feel that is integral to our culture, but we must also face the reality that we cannot stay a small town forever," he said. "As the state’s capital and its second-largest city, it is inevitable that we evolve."
If the city harnesses this momentum, it can shape its own future, Hoy said.
"It is a great time to be the mayor of the City of Salem," he said, finishing the address. "The state of our city is strong and together we can make Salem even stronger than it is today. I hope that you'll join me in this new beginning for the city we love."
For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Salem mayor Chris Hoy gives first State of the City address