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A solution to a key aspect of the housing crisis

Commentary
September 18, 2019By Alejandro Queral

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer recently issued a report outlining an ambitious plan to tackle the housing crisis in America. While federal action on many of the areas highlighted in the report would be a step in the right direction, the current political landscape makes it hard to see Congress acting with any sense of urgency. Clearly, Oregon cannot let up in responding to a housing crisis that is undermining the ability of Oregonians to make ends meet, let alone get ahead.

Few groups are hurting more than low-income families that rent. Nearly two-thirds of families making under $25,000 a year spend more than half their paycheck on rent. These families often skip meals and other necessities to pay for housing. They go to bed not knowing if they’ll be able to pay the rent at the end of the month.

When unaffordable rent forces families to move repeatedly, it takes a toll on kids. The children in these families are more likely to perform poorly at school and to have chronic health conditions and overall poor physical health.

There’s a growing recognition among policymakers, advocates and industry groups that solving the housing crisis requires a variety of strategies and approaches. In 2019, the Oregon legislature enacted important housing policies to better protect tenants and boost the construction of affordable housing, but much remains to be done. Next week, the Oregon Center for Public Policy will focus attention on one particular housing policy that responds to the crisis affecting low-income renters.

OCPP, with generous support from the Meyer Memorial Trust, will release a report on September 23 making the case for a statewide rent assistance program similar to federal Housing Choice Vouchers. It is an effective strategy to keep renters in their homes and one that could lead to better economic and health outcomes for those receiving assistance, as our upcoming report will explain:

Research confirms the benefits of rent assistance programs for low-income families. Rent assistance fulfills its primary mission — to keep families housed and prevent eviction and homelessness. Those who receive rent assistance tend to have lower rates of poverty and hunger than similar renters who do not receive assistance. They also tend to be healthier, both physically and mentally.

Another advantage of a properly designed and adequately funded rent assistance program is that it allows low-income families to find housing in neighborhoods with less poverty. That can pay big dividends. Research by economist Raj Chetty and his team has found significant benefits for children whose families are able to move to a neighborhood with lower levels of poverty, including a greater likelihood of attending college and earning more income, as well as reducing the likelihood of being a single parent. The benefits can be especially pronounced for families of color.

Following the release of our report, we will hold a webinar for those interested in learning more about the need for a statewide rent assistance program. We invite you to join us at this event on Thursday, September 26.