Six projects help extremely low-income people access private market housing

Affordable Housing Initiative program officer Elisa Harrigan chatting with a potential applicant during a 2018 funding information session.

If you are apartment hunting, an already daunting task can feel impossible if you are low-income and have a spotty rental history, especially in a neighborhood of your choice.

When low-income tenants find housing that they can afford, they are often subjected to stringent screening criteria and considered "high risk" tenants, in addition they are rejected for reasons such as relatively minor nonviolent criminal records, prior evictions, poor credit histories, limited or no rental histories and outstanding debt. Families with children, people of color, non-English speakers, people who have experienced homelessness and people who were formerly incarcerated also face increased challenges to finding affordable housing. These renters are at increased risk of homelessness, unstable or unsafe housing situations, extreme rent burden and being asked to pay exorbitantly high security deposits.

Five years ago, case managers tasked with helping clients find housing had a group of landlords they could call regularly and access to tools for renters who were considered "higher risk." Today, that is no longer the case. In a nutshell: The housing market has changed dramatically over this time and the cost of housing has drastically increased, and incomes have not kept up. Market rate housing on the lower end of the pricing spectrum is limited and very competitive. Housing placement agencies and case managers are finding that strategies that used to work just a few years ago are no longer as effective. Even if a renter has a rental assistance voucher, if they can't pay for multiple applications or the security deposit, it may be several months before they can secure housing. This all contributes to lost individual savings, longer shelter stays, housing instability, increased trauma and lower utilization of public support systems like rental vouchers if families can't find a home.

Last summer, Meyer released a Request for Proposals for pilot and demonstration projects with potential for future scaling or replication that would increase low-income people's access to rental homes with private market landlords. Projects that proposed replicating an existing strategy to a new population or geographical community or significantly scaling an existing project were also encouraged. Meyer received 18 proposals from across the state requesting a total of $2,060,754. With a strong field of proposals, six projects were funded totaling $809,600 over two years.

These six grants wrap around Oregon, from the coast and southern regions to the central most parts of the state. Most of the proposals recommended for funding are aimed at supporting households exiting homelessness or families that are at high risk of homelessness. Each project actively leverages other resources, especially public funds like rental assistance vouchers. These projects are designed as proof of concepts of a missing element in current available housing support that is needed to effectively utilize public resources. We are confident that the selected proposals will complement efforts to address the housing crisis across Oregon.

Meyer's hope is that with more flexible and risk-tolerant funding, organizations can develop new or modified housing placement strategies to support low-income people to overcome housing barriers, enabling a family to lease a long-term rental home faster and reducing time spent in shelters or homeless.

Meyer awarded the following organizations through the 2018 Private Market Request for Proposals. These grantees will document the impact of their work and hope to demonstrate the effectiveness of these strategies for broader learning:

Hacienda CDC (For work in Multnomah County) $125,000 - To plan an equitable and inclusive community-based accessory dwelling unit (ADU) development and rental program structured to serve tenants at or below 60 percent Median Family Income (MFI) in the displacement-risk neighborhoods of Cully, Lents and Inner North/Northeast Portland.

Homes for Good (For work in Lane County) $150,000 - To expand the Move Up Initiative, Homes for Goods permanent supportive housing program, by adding a housing navigator and piloting a leasing bonus strategy for landlords housing 50 high-risk and high-barrier households.

NeighborImpact (For work in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties) $150,000 - For piloting a debt-relief strategy for 60 high-barrier tenant households exiting homelessness.

Northwest Credit Union Foundation (For work in Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties) $149,600 - To develop a demonstration project of a low-cost security deposit loan program led by credit unions that can rapidly be scaled to meet the needs of 120-150 low-income households a year, in Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties.

Oregon Coast Community Action (For work in Coos, Curry and Douglas counties) $115,000 - For replication of Yamhill Community Action Partnership's (YCAP) landlord engagement and retention program to support 30 families receiving case management services who are exiting homelessness or unstably housed.

Yamhill Community Action Partnership (For work in Yamhill County) $120,000 - To scale YCAP's landlord engagement and retention program and add a debt relief strategy for households exiting homelessness, serving 123 high-barrier and extremely low-income tenant households.

We know that these grants will only address a fraction of the statewide need, if proven successful, but have potential to create game changing strategies for the entire housing industry.

— Elisa