One hundred million dollars: It’s an impressive number. Indeed, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposed budget is in some ways a milestone of public commitment to funding affordable housing for the state’s impoverished families.
For the first time, the state is considering dedicating general obligation bonds toward the housing crisis. Compared to the $7 million or even $7.5 million dedicated in years past, this is real money that housing authorities with the state say will create 5,000 new affordable homes in Oregon.
As impressive as the commitment sounds, the need is even more so. In Multnomah County alone, authorities calculate that there are 23,000 fewer affordable homes than there are households that qualify for them. When families are paying 50, 60, up to 80 percent of their monthly household income on their rent and utilities, hard choices are left when it comes to other basic needs, not to mention the overall economy and the stability of the next generation.
And this is about children. Street Roots recently reported on the latest figures from the state Department of Education that nearly 20,000 Oregon students are homeless this school year. It is impossible to expect children to learn, thrive and succeed when they are living out of a car, sleeping on a friend’s couch, constantly moving and struggling to survive.
That means more failure in school, more drop-outs and lower incomes. It means families choosing between meals and keeping a roof over their heads. It means displacement as workers have to move farther and farther form their jobsites in order to find an apartment they can afford.
So the governor’s plan isn’t so much a leap forward as it is one step in catching up. The problem of preserving affordable housing in a runaway housing market has been neglected for so long, we are now in a crisis of affordability and accessibility. The governor’s pledge that this money will help keep the most vulnerable families from becoming homeless and help those who have get off the streets, gives us hope that the lowest income families are the priority, which is where the greatest need in housing lies. Because homelessness doesn’t end in a shelter, it ends with a home.
In fact, there is much to be optimistic about in the governor’s proposed budget, including priorities in education, local mental health services and increasing daycare resources for people getting off of welfare and reentering the workforce. It’s all tied together, and it will take all levels of government, businesses and nonprofits working together to turn lofty goals into reality. This is one step. There’s a long journey ahead.