A healthy Oregon depends on affordable housing

So it stands to reason that to meet Oregon’s education, environmental and health goals, to truly flourish as a state, we’ve got to make inroads in Oregon’s housing crisis. For more than a decade, a combination of high housing costs, rising energy prices and stagnant household income have challenged residents to find and hold onto housing.

Oregon’s housing crisis affects people across multiple income levels: Tens of thousands of Oregonians experienced homelessness last year — 20,000 school children in Oregon schools were homeless last year. Another 5,140 Oregonians lost their homes to foreclosure, a 25-percent increase from 2013. Families of modest means are struggling to keep up with housing costs. Gentrification has pushed entire communities out of their historic neighborhoods. A shortage of affordable housing is not merely an urban phenomenon: rural communities across the state also struggle with low vacancies and climbing rents. And our neighbors in small town Oregon have a difficult time filling service jobs because newcomers can’t find housing.

At Meyer Memorial Trust, we believe Oregonians deserve to have a safe place to wake up each morning and fall asleep at night, that housing is key to opportunity, success and breaking cycles of poverty. Hardworking families should be able to afford a home and still have enough money for groceries and other basic necessities. Seniors on fixed incomes, veterans and people with disabilities should be able to live independently with dignity. Young people should have a place to become established and grow into their dreams. Children deserve an opportunity to succeed in school and life, beginning with a safe, decent place to call home. More affordable homes in Oregon give us all a foundation on which to build better lives.

In 2007, Meyer launched its Affordable Housing Initiative to address the need for more affordable housing across the state, dedicating more than $9 million to the effort. Last year, we recommitted to the Initiative, pledging another $11 million over the next five years to support affordable housing solutions from Oregon’s wild, windy coastline to its austere eastern landscape of deserts and mountains.

This January, Meyer's Trustees authorized an additional $3.75 million to the Affordable Housing Initiative, demonstrating an increased commitment to meeting the housing needs of Oregonians. These added Sustaining Portfolio Strategy funds are dedicated to strengthening the long-term health and sustainability of Oregon’s existing affordable housing stock.

Rent-restricted affordable housing portfolios provide homes for more than 30,000 low-income households across Oregon. These portfolios represent a significant public investment by local, state and national funders. If Oregon hopes to increase its stock of affordable housing, it can not afford to lose the housing we already have.

Nonprofits and public agencies throughout Oregon have been engaged in building their capacity to oversee their affordable housing portfolios, ensuring accessible, affordable and high quality housing for low income Oregonians. The Initiative’s Sustaining Portfolios Strategy advances this work with a focus on long-term planning and increasing the sustainability of these crucial housing assets. Meyer awarded 13 AHI grants in February, totaling $2.19 million. Learn more about these recent grants on our website.

The Trust’s housing investments and commitment are critical, but not enough to address the state’s housing needs. Moving the needle requires a significant collective push. We need investments in homes, strategies to acquire land for future development to prevent displacement down the road, local flexibility to achieve housing goals, low-cost debt to help finance development and policy tools that will help us create the communities we want to see.

More than 50 Oregon groups are working on a broad Housing Opportunity Agenda to remove barriers that Oregonians with low incomes face when looking for a home. It’s a good thing. Housing experts, impacted communities and nonprofit leaders have identified solutions that can meaningfully address Oregon’s housing crisis. What is needed is a statewide commitment to prioritizing housing through a meaningful infusion of resources, policy flexibility to reduce development barriers and the exploration of innovation.

We can do more than hold the line. We can ensure Oregonians across the state have a place to call home. Oregon’s very future depends on getting affordable housing right.

— Doug