By Justin Buri, Contributing Columnist
We know that when Oregon residents have access to safe,
stable and affordable housing, we are not only able to better provide for the
health and wellbeing of our families, but the entire community benefits as
well. When hard-working Oregonians have the opportunity to live in healthy,
stable and integrated communities, we can access job opportunities, keep our
kids in well-performing schools and work to break the cycle of poverty that
affects us all. We all have the knowledge, resources and creativity to build
more inclusive, healthy, prosperous communities. Now is the time to show we
have the will as well.
At the Community Alliance of Tenants, we know first-hand
that there is great need for more affordable housing and resources, and where
people can find housing is just as important as how much they pay. We are
tenants who may have low incomes or a disability, or other barriers that limit
our access to the kinds of neighborhoods and communities that Oregon is famous
for. We too want safe, quiet streets for our children to learn how to ride a
bike or be able to walk to the local school and get a decent education.
We know that if there is a grocery store nearby with fresh
produce or a park with good shade and a playground, we can lead healthier, more
productive lives. We might need a little help to get there, like education
about our rights as renters, stronger protections so that we can keep our
housing once we find it or a little help with a deposit, or to help us make
rent each month. We aren’t asking for a handout, just a little stability so we
can turn around and give back to the community.
Tenants with a Section 8 voucher often have trouble finding
a landlord who will accept it. We are given 60 days to find a landlord who is
wiling to accept the voucher, otherwise we lose it. Sounds like plenty of time,
but many tenants who have waited three, five or more years to finally receive a
voucher have lost it. We have the deposit, first months rent, solid credit,
good rental history and even a reference from a previous landlord.
We search in the neighborhoods where we know the bus lines
and neighbors, where we can live close to work, friends and family, and where we
go to church. We are not looking for luxury, just four simple walls and a
window to let the sunshine in. We look on Craigslist, in newspapers and walk
the streets looking for a place to rent. Everywhere we turn, we see a similar
sight “No Section 8,” which means to us, “You are not welcome here.” We don’t
know why they would reject us before seeing our application, not knowing who we
are. We are everyone: workers, families, parents, veterans, people with
disabilities and people from all different backgrounds and stories to tell. Why
can’t we be given the same chance as every other applicant? Why can’t we just
be given a chance? This is what the Section 8 voucher is for — to give everyone
a chance and opportunity.
Section 8 vouchers are intended to give responsible
low-income tenants a choice of where they can live. When we have real choice,
we have better opportunities to improve our lot and contribute to our
communities in a positive way, economically, educationally, culturally and
spiritually. Right now, Oregon’s Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek, has
introduced legislation that gives us more choice. HB 2639 will make it easier
for tenants to use their Section 8 vouchers by giving everyone the same fair
shot. Landlords can accept or reject the tenant using the same criteria as
every other applicant.
Oregon is full of wonderful places to call home. We can all
work together to ensure everyone has access and opportunity to safe, stable and
affordable housing in the communities that fit their needs.
Come join our Housing Justice Rally for housing access,
fairness and opportunity in Oregon, Thursday, March 14 at 11 a.m., on the
Capitol steps in Salem. Any Oregon resident who cares about housing
opportunities in Oregon is invited to join us. We can provide child care and
transportation from Portland.
Visit www.oregoncat.org or call us for more information at
Justin Buri is the deputy director and statewide policy
lead for the Community Alliance of Tenants. CAT is Oregon’s only statewide,
grassroots, tenant-controlled, tenant rights organization. CAT educates,
organizes and develops the leadership of low-income tenants to directly
challenge unjust housing policies and practices.
For information about your
rights as a renter, please call CAT’s Renters’ Rights Hotline at 503-288-0130.
To read more on Section 8 go here.