The Cedar Grove apartments in Beaverton were created by Community Partners for Affordable Housing, or CPAH. The nonprofit has been working to create homes that Oregonians can actually afford to live in for 30 years now. This is part of a series of conversations we’re having this year about some of the biggest problems Oregon is facing, along with possible solutions.
More than half of renters in Oregon don’t have enough money after they pay rent to be able to afford basics like food, child care or transportation. Meanwhile, Oregon is among the states with the lowest supply of rentals that are affordable to people who are at or below the poverty level. As a state economist put it, “We have the worst affordability” in the nation.
We were joined by CPAH staff: Executive Director Rachael Duke; Housing Director Jilian Saurage Felton; and Resident Services Coordinator Renee Sheets Johnson. We also heard from neighbors and residents of Cedar Grove and other residents of CPAH properties, including Talaur Alvarado, Patrick Kirlin, Virginia Bruce, Paula Morrison, Mary Barbee and Jeffrey Worthington.
The show is part of the series funded by the Oregon Community Foundation that examines some of Oregon’s biggest problems and possible solutions.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. We are coming to you in front of an audience today at the Cedar Grove Apartments in Beaverton. This was created by Community Partners for Affordable Housing which has been working to create homes Oregonians can actually afford to live in for 30 years. Now, we’ve come here to talk about the state’s housing affordability crisis. This is part of a series of conversations we’re doing this year about some of the biggest problems Oregon is facing along with possible solutions.
More than half of renters in Oregon do not have enough money after they pay their rent to be able to afford basics like food or childcare or transportation. Meanwhile, Oregon is among the states with the lowest supply of rentals that are affordable to people who are at or below poverty levels. As a state economist put it recently, we have the worst affordability in the nation. We’re going to start today with Rachael Duke. She is the Executive Director of Community Partners for Affordable Housing or CPAH. Thanks, first of all, for letting us do our show from one of your buildings.
Rachael Duke: We’re so excited to have you here and to talk about the work that we’re doing.
Miller: Can you start by just describing where we are? What is Cedar Grove?
Duke: Yeah. So Cedar Grove is an apartment community. [Asking someone in the room] How many units do we have here? We have 44 units here and they range from smaller units to larger family apartments. One of the things that’s really exciting about Cedar Grove is that we have some units set aside for families who are exiting homelessness. That’s really important because we’re also able to provide additional services through partnership with another organization to support those families.
Miller: We have a couple residents with us here and I’d love to go to one of them right now. Talaur Alvarado, I understand that you moved to Portland from Hawaii not long ago, last year, and first lived with a relative before you moved here. Before you moved here, what were your options before I moved here?
Talaur Alvarado: Before I moved here, it was living or squatting in someone’s place because our building we were living in was closing down and housing already was bad like that place we were living in. It was an old hotel and the state changed it to a Section 8 available housing situation. It was so bad in Hawaii and they were just about to close down the building and I had no family, no friends, nothing out there. Everybody was just doing their own thing and it’s just me and my kid and nobody wants to take care of a whole mother and child thing like that. I’ve been getting a lot of that.
So when I came out here, I’m like, ok, I’m giving everything I worked for and did all within this past year and a half and I’m taking it to Oregon and we just kind of packed our bags and got on that flight and I was like, this is it and I made sure everything was arranged before I even got here because I knew I needed to get on it when I get off that plane. I couldn’t just sit around and expect something to fall on my lap.
Miller: When you say to be on it, in terms of like applications for Section 8 vouchers or you already had those when you got here?
Alvarado: Oh no, I had Section 8 before I got here. So that’s why it was really crucial because I already have that part. I just need to get an apartment now. That’s the next step.
Miller: When you say you just need to get an apartment, my understanding is that can still be a huge challenge.
Alvarado: Oh yeah, it is, it can be. There were only three other apartments that I could even consider because my income is so small and I don’t make a lot of money. There was one 30 minutes away from here or I could wait a whole nother year and just keep asking the county to extend my voucher. It was scary.
Miller: Do you remember the moment that you found out that you actually had gotten a unit here?
Alvarado: I was crying. I was first jumping for joy and crying and just in awe because I was told there wasn’t going to be an opening for a whole nother year. And so I was expecting to wait a whole year.
Miller: How different is your life now than before you had this place?
Alvarado: Very different. I feel like I got a backbone. I feel way more safe, way more stable. I don’t have to worry about something going wrong. I don’t look forward to leaving any time soon. The cost I can try and manage but compared to Hawaii, no, I don’t have to worry about being in the streets at any point and that’s the biggest relief for me.
Miller: Do you have a sense for where you would be right now if it weren’t for the Section 8 vouchers?
Alvarado: Probably living with my grandma and on her floor. Hmm, yeah.
Miller: Right next to you, you have an active seven year old son who seemed very happy. When I came right before the show started, I asked how you’re both doing and he said, “great.” [Laughter] What’s life like for both of you at this apartment?
Alvarado: It’s so much more calmer. We don’t have to worry about some random person knocking on our door at like two in the morning. We don’t have to worry about police coming down and chasing people around. We don’t have to worry about any of that kind of stuff or waking up to the yelling or just in general. It’s quiet, there’s a whole bunch of kids on our floor and I don’t hear not one of them and it’s like, oh my God, like it’s real like I kind of have to take a minute to really gather that. I’m still trying to gather that this is real. So for him, he’s just very happy.
Miller: Talaur, thanks very much.
Alvarado: You are welcome.
Miller: Jilian Saurage Felton is with us as well, housing director at Community Partners for Affordable Housing. And I have to say that when we were putting the show together, our senior producer, Alison Frost said that reason enough to do this show is that after she talked to you for the very first time after maybe more than literally more than a decade of talking on and off about affordable housing, she finally understood the mechanism of the way affordable housing works in this country. And I said to her, great because I actually don’t feel like I have ever truly understood it either. [Laughter]
So let’s start with the basics because they’re really important. We’re talking about policy here and, and taxes. So let’s start with the money, where does the money come from to put together an affordable housing building?
Jilian Saurage Felton: So, that’s a great question. I think what’s commonly mistaken is that the major funder of affordable housing is low-income housing tax credit or LIHTC. Over 90% of all affordable housing in the country has some form of LIHTC involved, which makes the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) the number one funder of affordable housing. And that was established under the 1986 tax reform as a way to bring private investment into affordable housing when the federal government wanted to disinvest.
So what that means is that we’re a nonprofit. So we don’t have to pay taxes. So it’s a little bit like Wimpy on Popeye, right? I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. So we will find an investor and they’ll say, ok, you have $10 million in tax credits.
Miller: Wait, but you skipped ahead. So the federal government gives the tax credits to states and then this and then some state housing agency awards them to someone like you?
Saurage Felton: Yes. So the tax credits all flow through the state. And there are two types of tax credits. One is a 9% tax credit and the other is a 4% tax credit. And without getting too wonky, the 9% is bigger. So, with 9%, it’s limited and it’s distributed to each state on a per capita basis, which is adjusted every 10 years with the census. In theory, the 4% is unlimited, but it is capped by the state’s ability to issue private activity bonds. So private activity bonds which were in the original legislation, were meant as a way to make the 4% tax credits more affordable by pairing them with tax exempt debt. But what has happened since the need for affordable housing has grown so much is that we’ve run out of tax exempt debt.So there’s this rule that the 4% and private activity bonds have to go together. So therefore the 4% is now capped.
Miller: And this, I should say, is why I always get a little bit confused when we talk about financing affordable housing. But let’s stick with the 9% ones. You said those are the more attractive ones to investors. So let’s say a group like you is awarded some of these from the state. What do you do next?
Saurage Felton: So actually Cedar Grove, where we are right now, is funded with a 9% low income housing tax credit and what we did is we went out and found an investor who wants to buy those tax credits because they don’t do us any good. So they have $10 million in tax credits. The investor will say, ok, I will give you $9 million up front and you give me the $10 million in tax credits over time. And so that money up front that the investor puts in is what allows us to actually fund the construction of the building. But that also means that we are doing things around the tax code, which I don’t know if you’ve had a look at recently, but is thousands of pages long and complicated. So it only gets wonkier from there.
Miller: But you now have money to spend, to actually build housing and they have gotten a discount on a tax credit.
Saurage Felton: That’s right.
Miller: Who owns the building?
Saurage Felton: So the building is in a limited partnership where CPAH is the 0.1% owner, but we are also the managing partner and the general partner and the investor is the 99.99% owner, but they are the limited partner. They’re kind of like a silent partner. So, if we wanted to do something major to the building, we would need their consent. But for the most part when it comes to day-to-day operations, maintenance of the building, that sort of thing, that’s all on CPAH.
Miller: So, looking at the big picture, is it fair to say that most affordable housing as we know it in this country would not happen if it weren’t for this provision of federal tax code?
Saurage Felton: Absolutely.
Miller: Is this a good system?
Saurage Felton: It is the system we have.
Miller: Right. [Laughter] Let me ask you again though. Is this the best system you can imagine?
Saurage Felton: No, the best system would be to have a single funding source that financed an entire building that required no debt and allowed us to operate buildings providing rents at the lowest possible rate. But that’s not how tax credits work.
Duke: So they paid their taxes instead of needing tax credits because that would also be a much simpler way to do it.
Saurage Felton: Yeah. Nobody wants to fund a project 100%, not even tax credits. So for this building, we have 9% low income housing tax credits. We have home funds which come through the county but they’re federal HUD (Housing and Urban Development) dollars. We have, as we’ve mentioned, project based vouchers. So we have investment and the land was donated by the county. So there’s layers and layers in this cake, right? If you think of the financing like a cake, the tax credits are the bottom layer, right? They’re kind of holding everything else up, but we still have a lot of wedding cake to build to get to a fully funded project.
Miller: I was struck by the idea that people like you, who are putting together these kinds of deals, have to sort of hustle to figure out where all these bits of money are coming from in ways that maybe aren’t that different. I mean, you’re talking about millions of dollars but maybe not that different from the kinds of how am I going to pay for this? How am I going to get money to pay for the daily necessities that are the reality for the people who are living in the buildings that you’re trying to finance?
Saurage Felton: Absolutely. It’s a great observation. We are always trying to hustle money out of here and hustle money out of there. I like that term. And one of the things that happens with the way that these projects are structured is that while there’s all of these millions of dollars coming in and while there’s a very wealthy investor who’s buying the tax credits, the risk of failure generally sits with the nonprofit. So if this building doesn’t make money, it’s not the limited partner that has to come up with a shortfall.
Miller: They still get their tax credit?
Saurage Felton: They still get their tax credit and a nonprofit would have to front the difference. So yes, there’s a lot of contributions. I often tell people that the thing to focus on is that everyone wants to make it work. No one wants an affordable housing development to fail, but at the end of the day, the risk sits with the nonprofit.
Miller: Rachael Duke, I want to take another look at this which is how you decide where to put a building to begin with. We’re in Cedar Mill, which most of it is not in Beaverton. This is a part of what once was unincorporated Washington County which was gobbled up by Beaverton. But how do you decide that this is the right place to put an apartment like this?
Duke: Well a lot of time, development is opportunity driven and in this particular case, there was an RFP for this particular land by Washington for proposals.
Miller: Request for proposal.
Duke: Thank you for that.
Miller: You said, what should we do? Anyone have an idea of what you want to do in this place?
Duke: That’s right. And CPAH applied to be the developer of housing here. Our main competition was a food cart pod. I want to say it was very close between the food cart pod and the affordable housing community. Virginia was here. She’s nodding. And we were really grateful that we were able to get access to the land because really the only way to be successful at applying for those tax credits is to have a place to build. So we have to have a project that we’re going to bring to the state and say we want to fund this project.
Sometimes we do go look for parcels that we think will make good affordable housing communities. And in some cases, we’ve been able to do that successfully, as well. But sometimes we are also reliant on the jurisdictions. If they have a piece of land that they make available for development, that’s really great for us because then we apply for it and it requires less resources upfront than if we’re going to be looking for a parcel ourselves.
Miller: You mentioned Virginia. Virginia Bruce is with us. She is the chair of the Community Participation Organization for this part of Washington County, also the publisher of the Cedar Mill News.
Virginia, what went through your mind as a long time activist, chronicler and community member here when you heard that a long standing nonprofit that builds affordable housing was interested in an apartment here?
Virginia Bruce: Well, it came before that. I was part of the team that was trying to work with the county to decide what to do with this corner. The county did a big redevelopment here at the corner of Cornell and Murray and this was actually originally part of a little mall and by the time the county was done with what they were doing, the property was quite small. They put it up for auction and they never got a good bid for it and so finally they pulled together a team to try to figure out well, now what? And as Rachael mentioned, there was a food cart pod that was interested, but there wasn’t enough parking here and there still isn’t enough parking here.
When CPAH’s proposal [came], the more we studied it, the better it sounded and the county really wanted to help with housing issues. It’s a perfect place because we have transit, we have shopping, we have medical services. This part of Cedar Mill is way more walkable than most of Cedar Mill. And, it just seemed like a good deal.
Miller: Did you encounter nimbyism, people who are in the area who said, I don’t want low income people in my nice neighborhood?
Bruce: No. And as a matter of fact, there’s a piece of the property that was privately owned by somebody who just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It would have made a big difference if they’d been able to acquire that property and she just was against it and there were some people…
Miller: How did you deal with that?
Bruce: Well, she didn’t sell, they had to develop around her.
Miller: I mean, broadly, how did you deal with negative public sentiment?
Bruce: I think mostly we just said, let’s wait and see. And I learned a lot about CPAH before things happened.
Miller: I should say Community Partners for Affordable Housing.
Bruce: Right, but that’s so hard to say.
Miller: We can continue with CPAH, but I just want to remind listeners.
You said you learned a lot, what did you learn?
Bruce: Well, Rachael invited me down to tour another property they had in Hillsdale and they don’t just house people, but that they support the families that move in here, the kids have all sorts of wonderful programs and it’s a supportive environment that wants people to succeed and that makes a huge amount of difference. It isn’t just rooms, it’s a whole support system and I think that helped to convince people.
Miller: Thank you very much, Virginia Bruce.
Patrick Kirlin is another resident here of Cedar Grove. Patrick, thanks for joining us.
Patrick Kirlin: Thank you.
Miller: What brought you here?
Kirlin. What brought me here? Well, I grew up in this area. It’s changed a lot. Around COVID, I became homeless and luckily I had applied for Section 8 when I was losing my house. It took eight years for me to get on that list, but I lived in my car for about a year working. And I got in touch with New Narrative and they were able to get me in and this place changed my life. I was one of the last people to get in this building.
Miller: So, right before you got into a unit here, you had been living in your car for about a year?
Kirlin: Yeah, about a year.
Miller: And it took you eight years to get a Section 8 voucher?
Kirlin: Yeah. When I started having issues in my house, I went through a rough divorce, I just got on the list and that time it was that long and just happened. For a time, I lived with some family for a while and had something happen there instantly here in COVID, no one would take me in. So I had a daughter and I gave her back to my ex and now she’s back with me. But it’s taken that long and New Narrative gives you two years. You have to work and they give you the resources to get back on your feet.
And now I have gainful employment and I’m lucky I have a degree and I had a good education. So I’m different some people here. I had a house so it was different getting here. But I think this area is great. I have a lot of resources and the kids ran around. They’re happy they have a place to play and this is right next to everything. To me, it’s changed a lot since I grew up here.
Miller: Patrick, thanks very much.
Kirlin: Thank you.
Miller: Jilian Saurage Felton, let’s turn to the federal rules because I imagine if they’re going to get $9 million of federal money, they’re going to tell you a lot about what you can or can’t do with this building once it’s built. So, what are the rules in terms of income, for who can actually be residents here?
Saurage Felton: So all LIHTC funded housing is for people who are making 60% of area annual median income or below. For Portland, there’s a Portland kind of metro statistical area or MSA and Clackamas County, Washington County and Multnomah County are all the same MSA. Currently for a family of four, 100% or average median income is about $100,000. So for a family of four, that would put 60%, $60,000 a year or less.
In order to get a 9% tax credit, which is competitive, the state really wants to see that you’re serving people with the lowest incomes and that you’re making the most impact before they want to give you the best deal. Here we have units that the rents are set at affordability at 30% area median income, 40% area median income, 50 and 60. So we have quite the range of both unit sizes and income mix that we can have here. And when you apply for housing, your income is verified; that goes through a certification process and it is that that qualifies you for the low income unit.
Miller: We’ve heard stories so far of two residents here who arrived with Section 8 vouchers that can pay for part or a big chunk of the rent. Are there also vouchers that are attached to the building or do they just attach themselves to people?
Saurage Felton: Both. So this development has eight project based Section 8 vouchers. So those vouchers follow the unit. So they’re assigned to specific units and the building. In this building, they are all family size units, two and three bedrooms.
There are also housing choice vouchers. So those are vouchers that follow the resident and the idea with housing choice vouchers is that you can take them anywhere you want, but the reimbursement rate that the vouchers pay is no longer truly market rate. So it’s hard even if you have been on that eight year waitlist and you have that golden ticket of a housing choice voucher. Without an affordable housing community. It’s hard to find somewhere where you can still afford the rent even though you have the voucher.
Miller: Rachael, can you give us a sense for the need here for the waiting lists just for your properties?
Duke: I mean, for the most part, some of our waiting lists are closed. Each building has its own waiting list that’s managed by the property management company we’re working with. So we at CPAH don’t manage that waitlist, but we get countless calls from folks every week asking about housing and housing availability. So at some of our projects, you can expect to wait two years. After a certain point, the waitlists are closed because there’s no point really in having a waitlist that goes beyond two years.
Miller: Rachael, it would be great if you can stay with us for the second half of our show, Jilian Saurage Felton, thanks very much.
Saurage Felton: Thank you.
Miller: I want to turn to another member of our audience. Paula Morrison is a resident of Red Rock Creek Commons which is in Tigard. When did you move there?
Paula Morrison: It was right after the COVID started and it was at the end of 2019 and thank you so much for having me here so you can hear my voice. When I moved into Red Rock Creek Commons, I was with New Narrative and like that young man earlier that was on the show said, New Narrative is great.
Miller: Can you describe what New Narrative is?
Morrison: They don’t just help you with rental assistance. They have a rental assistance program before they put you into programs like this place. They help you. You have to do the footwork as much as they do the footwork. They have therapy, they have psychiatry. They have classes for people to get together, people that feel lonely and depressed, that don’t have friends and they cannot make friends. They have each other because they have group homes, too. But they’re the ones that introduced me to Red Rock Creek Commons. I was with their rental assistance program.
To make a long story short, I told him I did not want to move to Red Rock Creek at first because I was told that you’ve been working so hard to get on housing, you only have to live there for a year and then you’ll get your voucher. I didn’t know what subsidized housing was. I had never been on my own in my whole life and I’d always taken care of my mother or my brothers or sisters. There’s 14 of us and I’m the oldest. So moving there was a big thing to me.
Miller: You mean being alone, being on your own?
Morrison: Yes. Yes. It was either a group home, foster home or something like that all my life. And so this was a big thing for me to be able to live on my own. And my sister, the only relative that I have here in Oregon, she was like,
you can do this, you can do this. You have the New Narrative support, Melissa and the manager and all these new people that I’m going to be moving in with. Eventually, they became my friends. We are a small community. Everybody that I have met at Red Rock has made me feel at home and comfortable once I have moved in there and become their friends. But I appreciate the fact that we all stick together and if one person has a problem, we all talk about it and try to help one another.
So one day I’d like to be able to say this is going to be my forever home. The only thing I don’t like about Red Rock Creek Commons is the fact that I have to climb up that hill in the winter because of the ice and snow. [Laughter]
Miller: It seems like you had been concerned about whether or not you’d feel supported there or maybe whether or not you’d feel lonely. Can you give us a sense for the services or the supports that have made it work for you?
Morrison: I would have to say the residents.
Miller: The other residents, your neighbors?
Morrison: Yes, and other residents and neighbors and Melissa and the manager.
Miller: Who is Melissa?
Morrison: She is the one that’s sitting right next to me. When this young lady is there at the office, any time someone has an issue or wants to find out about housing or just, or if the manager is not available or a resident isn’t available, we can always come to her. We could either text her or call her or leave a message and she’ll call us even on a weekend or text us on a weekend, but when it comes to having that support and someone to cry with or someone to say I’m just having a bad day or something like that, everybody says I love you, I love you, good morning or something like that. But when there is a crisis there, everybody tries to pitch in and help, especially if someone falls or tries to commit suicide or anything like that. We are all always available 24-7. Even if it’s in the middle of the night and someone is asleep.
Miller: Paula Morrison, thanks very much.
Morrison: Thank you so much for having me.
Miller: Renee Sheets Johnson is with us up here, resident services coordinator for this nonprofit. Can you give us a sense for the range of services that you offer to residents?
Renee Sheets Johnson: Sure. And I also just want to say Melissa who was being referred to is the resident services coordinator for Cedar Grove and Red Rock Creek Commons. So that’s the job that she’s providing there. And that’s the extra support Virginia was talking about earlier that CPAH provides that makes us so unique.
As a residents services coordinator. . .well, I personally work with the 55 and older groups. So I have three buildings that I work with: The Knoll, a shout out to my buildings [Laughter]! And I have a great resident, Mary Barbee from the Knoll, here today with us; the Watershed, which is the one in Hillsdale which Virginia got to visit which also houses our corporate offices; and, then there is the Barcelona which is in downtown Beaverton. So, I provide services to all of those buildings.
First and foremost, I took this job coming in during COVID so social isolation was a big deal. And my background is program management so I really wanted to address the social isolation piece and get people comfortable engaging with each other again, building programs, having volunteers coming in and running programs, running bingo, having volunteers run yoga, doing ice cream socials. So social isolation was a big one for me, but we also provide amazing services that you would partner with someone organization like New Narrative or Community Action Council so that you can get energy assistance for our residents. So for us, that means PGE puts up huge credit on their PGE bill so that they don’t have to pay their PGE bill. We also do work with food insecurity so we have information about local food pantries.
For me personally because I work with the elderly, if they don’t drive, I will go and pick up food for them, get them a food box at a local food pantry and deliver it to them. And mainly a lot of what the other resident was talking about is really just building that sense of community. And because I am working with seniors, I want to help them stay as independent and living to their fullest potential as long as possible. And that’s what they want, too. So the more I can support them to do that, the better. And that’s what I focus on.
Miller: All of this sounds like making people’s lives better. And so maybe this question seems coldhearted or terrible, but why are you doing this? This is not necessary from the perspective of an affordable housing nonprofit. You’ve already succeeded in building this as an organization and you’ve gotten people into it. Why go this extra step of actually making their lives better?
Sheets Johnson: Well, for me personally, I’m a trained social worker. I have my master’s in social work and I have to tell you, prior to this job, I had no idea what a resident services coordinator was. I had no idea that anybody did this job and/or that it existed. So I’m thrilled to have a job that is a hybrid between being a social worker and also getting to play and run bingo and do yoga and all the fun things, too. So, it’s a perfect mix for me and it’s obviously needed in our communities. I think again, it’s what makes our apartments unique. But any apartment complex would appreciate it, I’m sure.
Miller: But most don’t have them. Right? And, and most managers wouldn’t pay for someone like you to do this work?
Sheets Johnson: Exactly. And I think part of that is we’re a nonprofit so we’re mission driven and our mission is to provide people not only affordable housing but to help them live to their fullest potential. And we do that by providing those kinds of supports.
Miller: Well Rachael, we haven’t really talked about what it means to be a nonprofit here. But I guess I’m curious about the opposite of that. To what extent do you think the for profit model or for profit entities could do what you’re doing?
Duke: Before I answer that question, I would like to speak a little bit towards the purpose of resident services beyond.
Duke: So, I think what’s really important to say is that resident services a lot of what that is about is helping our residents being successful in staying in housing. And from a systems perspective, if you just want to talk about how systems work, our systems spend a lot of energy helping to get people to move into that housing. It doesn’t make sense for somebody to get into that housing and then have a problem and then have to leave. That’s not a good use of resources.
So it is true that Renee gets to play and that’s awesome, Renee, I’m so glad that yes, but also what she’s doing is helping people be successful and stay in that housing so that we don’t have a revolving door. We’re in this business because we like to say we build housing, but we house people, we’re here to house people. We’re not just here to make deals, work or build housing. Even though Jilian and her team are amazing at that, we’re also very dedicated to providing robust services. And I think that really does differentiate us a lot from some of the for profit kinds of communities.
When we get paid to do housing development, which maybe isn’t a ton of money, we’re going to reinvest that money back into the community that we serve. We want to make sure that our communities are successful for the long term. We’re a nonprofit organization and we’re dedicated to our residents. And that is, I think, what makes us different from other kinds of developers.
Miller: Well, I want to go back to what you started with. What are the ways in which the kinds of services or activities or socializing that Renee and others have been talking about, how do those actually help people stay in their homes?
Duke: So, it’s really important that we know who our residents are and we develop relationships with them, but let me give you a super concrete answer to how things we do help people stay in their homes. So during the pandemic, we had a lot of residents who were struggling to pay their rent and there were rules that the state was really clear that if folks applied for rent assistance, they were not going to get evicted. So we had staff who reached out to every resident who was having problems paying their rent. And we made sure that, I think all but maybe five families had connected to rent assistance.
Miller: Five out of hundreds of families?
Sheets: Yeah. Yeah. And so I feel part of the reason that was successful is because people spent time building relationships. Bingo is actually important.
It helps people stay connected to their neighbors and people feeling connected to their neighbors is going to help people stay in housing. If you have a neighbor and they’re usually there at Bingo and they’re not well, then that neighbor is going to notice that person isn’t there and they’re going to either find the services coordinator or the property manager or someone and say I’m worried about so and so. So there’s a lot of things beside that, but we also do things like we have a grant right now from Care Oregon that helps us with housekeeping that is for Renee’s population in particular because some folks have a hard time cleaning their apartments and that can become a lease enforcement issue if it goes on for a while.
Sheets Johnson: And I just want to interject because the term that I learned not having been in housing prior to this job is eviction prevention. So there are all sorts of housing laws that I don’t even know what they are, but if a resident has barriers and ends up being at risk of being evicted and having to go to court, I would join that person and go to court with them and work with the judge to develop a stipulated agreement so that person doesn’t get evicted.
Miller: And is it fair to say that maybe often when we’re talking about eviction protection, we’re also talking about homelessness prevention?
Miller: Yeah, you mentioned Mary Barbee, a resident of the Knoll who is actually with us. Mary, hello.
Mary Barbee: Hello.
Miller: I understand you’ve been there for about a dozen years now.
Barbee: Yeah, when I moved in I was an infant. [Laughter] So did you behave badly like a lot of infants do [Laughter]. No, actually I was pretty good. We’ve matured together.
Miller: What does that mean?
Barbee: It means that I’ve been through some pretty complex managers but built a rapport with them and saw how they helped the community grow, assisting us as residents. Right now ‘m 70 years old. Amanda and Renee have made…
Sheets Johnson: Amanda is the property manager.
Barbee: Yeah, property manager there. They have actually made my home there a little more secure. I feel safer. If any issues arise, Amanda’s on it, Renee is really helpful with everything. I’m not able to drive and I have quite a few health issues. She will go get food baskets for me and bring them to me and she just did my utility assistance for me just this morning.
Miller: I understand that you also have a Section 8 voucher?
Barbee: I actually applied for Section 8 when I was in San Jose, California. So I waited for my voucher for 10 years.
Miller: 10 years?
Barbee: Yes. So I actually came in and my son secured it. I’m on social security so my income was 30% so I was able to pay for my rent with that part until I got my voucher and now the voucher takes a big chunk of that out. So it kind of balanced things out and made it a little bit easier for me to be sustainable.
Being there has really improved my life. I have to say, I have a lot of health issues like I said, but I can’t judge a book by its cover because I feel hopeful. They look after us a lot. I mean, it’s provided me with a secure place to live.
Miller: Mary, thank you very much.
Rachael Duke, I want to turn to some of the bigger pictures here. Maybe this is an oversimplification. But, tell me if it is because it seems like there would be two big ways to make housing more affordable: You could increase the amount of money that people have or you could decrease the total cost of housing. Vouchers, it seems that they largely do the former, they make it so people have to spend less money for housing, but we haven’t talked that much yet about what it would take to actually make housing truly less expensive to begin with. What would it take?
Duke: There’s been a lot of analysis lately of what is the origin of this housing crisis that we have, not just in Oregon but around the country. And there’s a lot of evidence that suggests it’s a supply issue and really what we need to be doing is building a lot more places for people to live. And we probably took a little bit of a break from doing some building here in Oregon and we’re behind on the amount of units we have.
Miller: The number I’ve seen is that Oregon as a whole is short, something like 140,000 housing units compared to what we need. Because of that, the governor has called for an increase of 80% in terms of the production of new housing over the next decade, meaning 36,000 new units of housing every year for 10 years, a gigantic increase in the status quo. Do you think that’s possible?
Duke: It would be awesome to have that much housing built every year. And I think that we can definitely do better than we’re, than we’re doing now. So I think it’s really important to have aspirational goals and I also think we can do a lot better than we’re doing now in terms of making funding available, making it easier to access resources so you don’t have to layer 15 funding sources like we have in some of our buildings, creating opportunities for private development to do middle income housing so that there’s folks who maybe don’t need affordable housing. Well, I mean, all housing is affordable to somebody, I guess, right? But not necessarily housing that’s targeting folks who are lower income, but maybe people who are middle income, we definitely need more apartments and homes for those folks as well.
And then there are strategies around land use that we can employ to get there. Oregon passed a land use bill a couple years ago that essentially outlawed a single family dwelling as the base zone and that you can’t limit it to single family homes in most zones. And what that does is gives us an opportunity over time to add more housing units to existing parcels which while it’s a smaller slow strategy, it’s one that I think could have real impact over time as well.
Miller: Have you seen an impact in this region from the Metro regional government’s affordable housing measure that voters said yes to a couple of years ago?
Duke: Yeah, I mean, we are so excited about the resources that passed thanks to the voters and the bond and I want to point out that has recently completed the Joyce in downtown Portland. We’re working on a 116 unit apartment building in Tualatin and we have three other communities in the pipeline and those are all bond funded communities and those are of hundreds of units and CPAH is not the only organization obviously creating those apartment communities. And so without that kind of resource, we would not have been able to create that housing.
We still are reliant on things like tax credits, the 4% tax credits in particular. So we’re grateful to the state for those, but the bond created a really big opportunity for us to add units for folks who really need it.
Miller: We have time for one more guest from our audience. Jeffrey Worthington has lived in CPAH’s Spencer House Apartments in Beaverton for the last seven years.
Jeffrey Worthington: Correct.
Miller: I understand for the last two years, you’ve been a member of the board for CPAH. What does that entail?
Worthington: Well, for me, the reason why I like being part of the board is I have a say. I’m one of those people who likes to know what’s going on as far as policy is concerned and feeling a part of something bigger than myself really is something I was seeking and being a part of the board was a lot that allowed me to feel like that. And even more that I have a personal stake being a resident in affordable housing that I actually have my input into how things go.
Miller: You’re a voting member of the board?
Worthington: Yes. I’m a full voting member. Correct.
Miller: That’s real power.
Worthington: Yeah, it is. I’m one of those people who because of my history of disability, I guess I like to be an advocate for people who have disabilities wherever I go. And if I can be an advocate on the board and I guess that’s my perspective having been somebody who’s had a disability in the past and having been somebody who’s lived in affordable housing for much of my existence, having that way to present myself and present where I’ve been and my perspective is really important to me. I’ve always felt like I wanted to do something meaningful and be a part of something meaningful. And I feel like being on the board is one of the things that helps me feel like I’m connected to something bigger and something part of the community. And that to me is very important.
Miller: What do you think Oregonians maybe don’t know enough about affordable housing?
Worthington: I think that they don’t know the scale of the problem. I think that a lot of people don’t know who is in affordable housing. They don’t realize that it’s not just people like me who are on disability, I’m on low income, but there’s people paying 75% of their rent. And I have a friend who’s paying 75% of her rent, barely making it month-to-month and I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be in her position. I feel really badly for her and knowing that people are actually having to scrunt by just to pay rent and living that way with the insecurity of not knowing if their rent is going to go up and not knowing whether or not they’re going to be able to afford housing in a month or two. I guess because I’m one of those people who has always felt kind of like, I guess, like an activist, I really feel like that to me it is just appalling.
I guess also I want to add, though, that as an aside, it’s really because the place I lived before in Wilsonville was not connected to a larger community, it was kind of on its own, it was kind of off to the side, so to speak. It was kind of in a more rural area and we didn’t have a lot of access to grocery stores and places like that. And we didn’t have access to public transportation. So I feel like it’s really important to build affordable housing in places where people have access to the transportation and other services that make life possible for people like me who don’t drive.
Miller: Jeffrey Worthington, thank you very much.
Rachael Duke, before we go, I’m curious, you’ve been working in this field in affordable housing for decades now, but it’s only the last couple years that every elected official I can think of has truly started to talk about affordable housing about what you’ve devoted your life to. [Laughter] Well, your professional life, I think. I’m just curious what that’s been like to have everybody realized that about the scale of a problem that you’ve actually been aware of for a long time?
Duke: I am excited that there’s more engagement in the larger community right now on this issue, ultimately. I know and I think my staff knows that housing is one of the most important issues in the universe and it’s good to have the support and we hope increased funding will continue so that we can do the work that we really want to do.
Miller: Rachael Duke and Renee Sheets Johnson, thanks very much.
Duke: Thank you.
Sheets Johnson: Thank you.
Miller: Thanks very much to everybody in our audience here and to the Oregon Community Foundation for helping make this show and our whole solutions oriented series possible. The series producer is Alison Frost.
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