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Rental Housing Out of Reach for Many in OR

May 3, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - Finding a decent, affordable place to live in Oregon isn't getting any easier, according to a new national study. The report says Oregon rents have increased 35 percent in the last decade, despite high unemployment and foreclosure rates.

Janet Byrd, who chairs the Housing Alliance, a statewide advocacy group for affordable housing, says Oregon's problem for years has been a lack of housing, and today, there are fewer affordable options and more people who need them.

"We're not surprised about this; we know that vacancy rates are low. We are horrified that someone making minimum wage in Oregon has to work ten-and-a-half hours a day, seven days a week, to afford a two-bedroom apartment."

Byrd says it isn't that landlords are gouging tenants, but that many have had to raise rents to keep up with higher operating costs. In the Bend area, for instance, rents have jumped by 10 to 18 percent, just in the last year. Vacancy rates are low, and the least expensive units have long waiting lists.

Cyndy Cook is executive director of Housing Works, the housing authority that serves the central Oregon area of Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties. She says more people there are lining up to get vouchers for housing assistance.

"We'll open up a waiting list: It'll be open for less than a week and we'll get anywhere from 1,500 to 1,800 applications in that week, before we close it down."

Cook says people often ask her how there can be a housing shortage with so many empty houses on the market. She explains that most banks don't want to be landlords while the foreclosed properties are awaiting new owners.

The Housing Alliance is supporting proposals now in the Legislature to preserve existing affordable housing, and fund emergency programs to keep people from becoming homeless.

The Oregon study results are online at www.nlihc.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR