40 people turn up to discuss affordability, safety and crime -

FILE PHOTO - Rep. Carla PilusoHow do landlords sleep at night?

That was a question posed near the end of a town hall meeting on affordable housing held Monday evening, Aug. 22, in the Human Solutions community room on Northeast 181st Avenue, by one of the 40 attendees who had come to discuss and share solutions.

The forum, hosted by Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson and Rep. Carla Piluso, had a panel of experts explaining the problems surrounding affordable housing, what is being done, the connection to safety and crime and how the community can help make a difference. It is an important topic for East Multnomah County to tackle, as more people are being displaced from North and Northeast Portland.

“Issues related to public safety and housing are really important,” Piluso said. “If our kids are living with roofs over their heads and an address, they are less likely to commit or be a victim of crime.”

On the panel were Gresham City Councilor Mario Palmero, Jean DeMaster, housing advocate and former executive director of Human Solutions, and Steven Holt, chairman of the oversight committee for the North and Northeast Portland Housing Strategy and pastor at Kingdom Nation Church.

The first thing the panel did was define what constitutes affordable housing, as there is a difference between what is available. Some housing is cheap because it is rundown and poorly managed, which makes them only low-cost because they are bad places to live, which panelists noted is counterproductive to uplifting those needing a place to live.

It is preferable, they noted, when the properties are designed to be affordable, as it still allows for stability and community development. The panel said having intentional properties for low-income families allows them to keep their dignity.

According to DeMaster, 62,415 households qualify for affordable housing in East Multnomah County. The problem is there are only 26,000 units available, and the waitlist is only getting longer as Holt said about 1,000 people are moving into the Portland area each month.

“When you think of the homeless, often the image of single men living in Portland or along the Springwater Corridor Trail comes to mind,” DeMaster said, “but many are families in shelters.”

Too large of a portion of income is being dedicated to housing, which removes any kind of buffer that prevents people from constantly being on the verge of losing their home. No-cause evictions are a problem, as is the lack of a rent cap to keep costs from skyrocketing.

“Just because you are secure financially, don’t think this issue doesn’t concern you,” Palmero said.

One of the big solutions the panel discussed was the idea of forming balanced neighborhoods. Rather than have huge blocks of low-income housing, which breeds safety concerns, the way forward is to design neighborhoods with multiple types of housing options.

The difficulty, they said, is in combating the stigma against affordable housing. The panel agreed that while most are vocal in support of finding more housing options for low-income families, no one seems to be willing to host it in their own backyards.

“I know how difficult it is to be a person coming into a neighborhood where no one wants you, and how hard it is to invest back into communities,” Holt said. “At the end of the day there is no ‘them’ and ‘they’ — it’s just ‘we’ and ‘us.’”

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