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A state rent assistance program would ease Oregon’s housing crisis, report says

News Release
September 23, 2019

Oregon could solve some of the worst aspects of the state’s housing affordability crisis by investing in a rent assistance program, according to a new report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

“The housing crisis is, in part, the result of the fact that some families simply don’t have enough income to cover the rent,” said OCPP analyst Daniel Hauser. “Rent assistance is a proven way to quickly stabilize families straining under the weight of housing costs.”

Those straining the most are low-income renters, according to the report. It said that in 2016, about half of all renter households in Oregon spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, meeting the federal definition of being “cost-burdened.” Nearly one in four renter households spent more than half of their income on housing.

When housing costs take up so much of a family’s income, it leaves them in a precarious situation, the report said. Families in this situation may look to save money by skipping meals and visits to the doctor, or by foregoing other essentials. Missing a rent payment can lead to eviction and even homelessness.

Rent assistance “is one of the fastest ways” to address the challenge that low-income renters face, the report said, “keeping families housed and preventing eviction and homelessness.”

“Expanding the supply of housing is important, but that process takes time and available units remain unaffordable for low-income families in the absence of a rent subsidy,” said Hauser. “With a rent assistance program, housing suddenly becomes affordable for families when it previously wasn’t.”

The benefits of rent assistance go beyond reduced homelessness and housing instability, according to the report. It cited research findings of lower poverty and hunger rates, and better mental and physical health among families that receive rent assistance.

Multiple federal, state, and local rent assistance programs already exist, the largest of which are federal Housing Choice Vouchers. These programs fall well-short of addressing the current need, according to the report. It said that, in 2018, federal Housing Choice Vouchers assisted 51,000 Oregonians, even though 290,000 Oregonians met the definition of being “cost burdened.”

“Rent assistance works,” said Hauser. “The problem with existing rent assistance programs is that they are not big enough to deal with the scope of the problem. That’s why Oregon has an important role to play by investing state resources in this successful strategy.”

The Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.ocpp.org) is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.