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New program by Harbor of Hope also tries to find housing for recent wildfire victims.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Recent wildfire refugees in need of housing.As the pandemic's economic damage pushes more Oregonians to the brink of homelessness, there are more than one million spare bedrooms in owner-occupied homes in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now a new program has been launched to match homeowners willing to share them with those needing affordable places to live.

The program, called Home Share Oregon, was launched in July by the Oregon Harbor of Hope, the nonprofit homeless agency co-founded by developer Homer Williams and consultant Don Mazziotti. If just 2% of available rooms were offered, 20,000 new housing units would be created.

"This program has the potential to prevent foreclosure and create literally thousands of rentals out of thin air because the rooms already exist," Williams said.

The program recently expanded to find rooms for people displaced by this sumnmer's wildfires.

We are pivoting Home Share Oregon providing specific support for homeowners to provide space to victims of the fires for temporary housing, in addition to the longer-term service we already offer," said Marissa Cade, Home Share Oregon's program manager.

Anyone can offer a room or look for one on Craigslist and other websites. But Home Share Oregon is more than a matching service. Online applications also provide criminal background checks for both parties and templates for such legal documents as rental agreements. Once homes are identified for a listing, community partners also offer support to both the owner and to the clients, if needed, to create a successful arrangement.

"If we can connect homeowners with support and make home sharing possible for them, we can help seniors age in place, families keep their homes, and simultaneously create rentals that people on fixed incomes can afford," said Cade.

According to Cade, more than two dozen homeowners already have agreed to offer rooms. One is Susan Stoltenberg, executive director of the YWCA of Greater Portland. She lives in a four-bedroom house in the Rock Creek area; her adult children are all living on their own.

"I believe affordable housing is the greatest need in the region," Stoltenberg said. "I'm willing to share my home with someone who is working to make a life for themselves, or even a small family. Some of my happiest memories involved having young people in my life."

Cade said the program also aims to connect people who are willing to rent a house together to reduce per-person costs. She believes that sharing the rents has the potential to help far more people find affordable housing.

"Research shows that renters are more willing than homeowners to share their homes," said Cade, who is hoping the program will serve 450 people in the next 12 months.

A structured home-sharing program already is successful in the Portland area. Metro HomeShare is operated by the nonprofit Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. It is designed to serve vulnerable people who need supportive services to maintain their housing. The program currently helps to house about a dozen people.

Home Share Oregon has partnered with Metro HomeShare. They have agreed to refer potential clients to each other, if the clients don't match their programs. Those needing support would be served by Metro HomeShare. Those who do not need support would be served by Home Share Oregon.

Harbor of Hope's new program uses compatibility matching software from Silvernest to pair homeowners with room-renters they relate to. Both apply thorough its website. Homeowners identify what they have available and "house rules," such as no pets or smoking. Potential tenants describe their needs. Rent is negotiable. It can be money or light services, such as cleaning, running errands or providing transportation to appointments.

As an added incentive, property tax relief for homeowners in the program also is possible. A new state law enables counties to pass a local option partial tax exemption.

To post a rental listing or create your renter-profile visit HomeShareOregon.org.

Founded in 2016, Oregon Harbor of Hope also has built a homeless navigation shelter in the Old Town area and operates mobile shower and laundry facilities in Portland, among other things.


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