Sparked by a much-mocked video that went viral, attention in the last few months has been focused on the Portland-area’s skyrocketing rents. As Portland’s population has boomed over the past several years the supply of housing has been slow to respond, resulting in increasing rents and sometimes pushing residents out of their homes and into less expensive areas of the city.
Although Portland, as the state’s largest urban area, gets much of the attention when it comes to the media coverage of increasing rents, the problem of housing affordability is not isolated to one area of the state. In fact, more than half of Oregon’s renters are “rent burdened” and spend 30% or more of their incomes on housing, putting Oregon in the bottom third of states nationally.
Moreover, despite the disproportionate amount of attention paid to Portland’s housing problem, the problem is widespread — more than half of renting households in every area of the state were rent burdened between 2009 and 2013.
In many ways, this data actually understates the magnitude of the problem. The amount of rent a family pays factors in that families shop for housing they can afford — even if it means moving to areas with limited opportunities for economic advancement. At the same time that rents have increased and put pressure on families’ budgets, more and more children are growing up in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. In Oregon, the number of children living in these neighborhoods more than tripled between 2000 and 2013, severely limiting the opportunities for economic success they’ll have later in life.
No family should be forced to settle for housing that they can afford at the expense of their child’s opportunities for future economic success. During the previous legislative session the Oregon legislature gave authority to issue bonds totaling $60 million during the upcoming biennium to construct new affordable homes for Oregon families. Although this legislation was a significant step in the right direction, its scope falls far short of what is needed to guarantee quality, affordable housing for all Oregon families. First, the legislature approved only a portion of the $100 million that was originally requested by Governor Kate Brown. Moreover, even that original request would have only benefitted a maximum of 4,000 families, which represents fewer than 3% of Oregon households that are rent burdened throughout the state.
If Oregon intends to take the issue of housing affordability seriously, legislators need to put forth a much more concerted effort. Although this year’s legislative session has concluded, next February there is another opportunity for legislators to give more Oregon families greater access to quality and affordable housing — but only if legislators give the issue as much attention as voters and the media have been.