December 13, 2018

Funding statewide stability: Housing Opportunities portfolio awards $5.86 million in grants

Through our Annual Funding Opportunity, this year the Housing Opportunities portfolio saw many of our partners propose innovative solutions to address some of the most complex housing challenges in Oregon. In surveying the awards, grit and creativity rise to the top as two of the most prominent themes of the efforts of this year's 33 grant recipients — taken from 78 applicants — receiving awards totaling $5.86 million.

And, yes, like previous years, projects funded in 2018 span the entirety of our state, from urban to rural regions and include large and small organizations focusing on single efforts and group collaborations. And a few organizations were funded by Meyer for the first time.

Each year, we seek grant proposals that will move us closer to our vision of safe, affordable, long-term housing for all Oregonians. Knowing that our funds are limited, we look for strategic investments that reflect an understanding of racist and discriminatory housing practices that have created disparities and work to eliminate those imbalances through collaboration, systems-level change and resource alignment. That's the joy and challenge of working within this portfolio. Needs make themselves known and we respond. It's our job to find them.

Thankfully, our partners make that easy.

We'll take a closer look at two topics that gained traction in this year's batch: replacement of substandard manufactured housing and providing housing for formerly incarcerated people.

When Meyer established its initial housing goals five years ago, preservation of rural manufactured housing was one of our key strategies. We knew that manufactured housing is a primary source of affordable housing in many rural Oregon communities. A significant percentage of those homes were built before 1980, and many are in significant disrepair, forcing families to live in unstable and unhealthy environments and pay a significant portion of their limited incomes on utility costs. Our partners labored for years to piece together the puzzle of resources needed to replace these substandard homes at a price families could afford.

Four proposals funded in this batch focus on replacing dilapidated mobile homes. Each proposal comes at it from a unique angle, bringing expertise and connections to address part of the issue. For example, we've been working with Community and Shelter Assistance of Oregon on housing issues for a number of years. This year, CASA of Oregon received a two-year grant to fund a replacement strategy manager position that will both manage and document the ambitious collaboration happening at a resident-owned cooperative park in southern Oregon.

There, ten organizations have been working together to replace aging, substandard manufactured housing units, including CASA of Oregon, Energy Trust of Oregon, Craft3, USDA Rural Development, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Network for Oregon Affordable Housing, NeighborWorks Umpqua, United Community Action Network, Small Business Legal Clinic and Umpqua Ranch Cooperative. Their collaborative effort is the breakthrough culmination of past ideas and efforts — dating back at least five years — to produce a successful program model that will allow home replacement with new, energy-efficient manufactured housing at little increase in monthly cost.

That means fewer repairs, lower energy bills and healthier homes. Better homes allow families to focus more energy on career, education and family goals. Families will also feel empowered because they'll be living in new homes that can be preserved for the next generation.

We at Meyer are even more buoyed by the long-term ripple effect this model may one day achieve.

A critical component of the newly funded position at CASA of Oregon is to memorialize every phase of the process so that other organizations throughout the state can reproduce and adapt its processes to fit their needs and unique circumstances. It's thrilling to imagine the number of new homes for low-income individuals and families, immigrants and elderly people that may emerge from this project.

Three other proposals in this batch are also immersed in manufactured housing. When viewed together, the collective work is poised to make big strides that can address the thorny issues around manufactured housing replacement.

  • Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation has engaged in a range of homeownership counseling services, such as financial capacity building, matched savings accounts, reverse mortgages and foreclosure counseling. Increasingly, it was seeing owners of manufactured housing coming in with requests but found it was ill-equipped to serve them because of distinct differences inherent in manufactured housing. Meyer's grant will support NEDCO staff focused on manufactured housing education and counseling services over two years.
  • Craft3 received a two-year grant to pilot a funding model with the Energy Trust of Oregon to replace aging and unsafe manufactured homes in southern Oregon with healthy, energy-efficient models, helping low- and moderate-income homeowners with long-term housing stability.
  • Meyer supported St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County to preserve needed affordable housing at Saginaw Mobile Home Park. With many park homes deemed unlivable, the grant will help to replace existing single-wide manufactured homes with new, energy-efficient models and improve the health, safety and long-term viability of the park.

We also saw breakthrough work this year from Sponsors, which provides transitional and long-term housing services to previously incarcerated individuals, for whom firm grounding in the housing market has always proven elusive. The Sponsors grant will staff and support a multi-sector collaborative integrating comprehensive case management and parole and probation supervision support with permanent supportive housing for the prison re-entry population in the Lane county area.

This level of assistance is essential. Individuals released from prison often can't compete for housing in the marketplace for numerous reasons: a prison record, inadequate rental history, lack of funds, the absence of a job and so on. Yet housing is the most stabilizing factor in a person's life and provides a crucial platform for employment, education and health.

Sponsors works directly with Homes for Good, which is familiar with supporting high needs populations, to ensure a holistic approach to property management and solving housing disputes in an equitable way before resorting to evictions. The pilot was extremely successful, achieving a one-year housing stability rate of 87 percent and a one-year incarceration recidivism rate of only 2.4 percent. Recent analysis conducted by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission found that the one-year felony re-conviction rate among residents at one of the Homes for Good sites with Sponsors was 60 percent lower than the Oregon state baseline.

Sponsors has been working for years to make housing less daunting to this vulnerable population. The rest of us are just catching up to their good work.

We applaud our partners in the field — including Sponsors, CASA of Oregon and dozens of others — that remain committed to solving some of the hardest issues in affordable housing and breaking down barriers to equity that have likely been in place for decades, possibly generations. It is only through our partners' work that Meyer will see strides toward our mission of an equitable and flourishing Oregon.

A full list of the grants in this year's Annual Funding Opportunity batch can be found here.

— Theresa