Woodburn planners hear about affordable housing woes
Woodburn residents who grapple with home-rental hardships have a prime opportunity to air their concerns at the state level.
A glimpse of those hardships surfaced Thursday, Dec. 13, during a Woodburn Planning Commission meeting dedicated to housing issues. Testimony from the meeting and further information gathered will be shared with the Oregon State Legislature per House Bill 4006, which requires cities with rent-burdened populations to hear about housing affordability issues and report it back to the legislature.
Woodburn is included in that category.
Woodburn Senior Planner Colin Cortes defined rent-burdened households as paying 50 percent or more of their income on rent, and rent-burdened cities as having more than 25 percent of their population in that situation.
Thursday's session and the information gathered by the city of Woodburn through 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, will be shared with the legislature.
That information is aimed at the causes and consequences of severe rent burdens within the city; barriers to reducing rent burdens; possible solutions to reduce the rent burdened households within the city.
"The city of Woodburn is basically hosting this meeting on behalf of the state legislature," said Charles Piper, chair of the Woodburn Planning Commission. "We are simply a conduit taking information that is shared with us ... and passing it on to the state."
Thursday's testimony included input from housing and tenant advocates and a number of single mothers. The latter described burdensome situations that ranged from unexpected evictions to expensive application processes to long waiting lists for housing that still costs more than their income can afford or sustain.
"Sometimes peoples' needs change drastically," said Lorrie Cox of WH Realty, who was among those describing the housing trials that can abruptly confront a single mother.
Maria Elena Guerra, executive director of the Farmworker Housing Development Corporation, told the commission that her group has about 150 applicants on a waiting list. She stressed that FHDC works primarily with farm laborers, and she suspects that a community-wide waiting list of all occupations would see that number double.
Pam Phan, the policy and organizing director of Community Alliance of Tenants, reiterated the trials reported by rent-burdened Woodburn residents at the meeting.
"We get hundreds of calls a month. ... It's really important for the council to know that we do get a number of calls from the city of Woodburn," Phan said. "And many of the experiences, as with the mother who just came to speak, (are) the norm."
Phan said CAT is seeing more and more renters experiencing a cost crunch; they either feel priced out, can't afford a rent-cost increase or they receive a no-cause eviction that leaves them homeless.
She added that fears of eviction often lead to unreported repairs and neglected dwellings. She also indicated that CAT has observed housing discrimination issues.
"Many times we find that tenants are being chosen to receive those no-cause evictions or receive those rent increases and get harassed or discriminated against because of who they are," Phan said.
She told the commission that CAT wants to work closely with Woodburn officials to find affordable housing solutions, including education on tenants' rights and responsibilities and aid to families who experience eviction so they can avoid homelessness and keep their kids in school.
"(CAT advocates) support tenants to make sure they not only understand their rights and responsibilities, but how to assert them," Phan said. "We found that landlords are more likely to negotiate with their tenants and be willing to keep them housed when tenants are working together."
Woodburn Community Development Director Chris Kerr said the city hopes to hear from more renters.
"It was good to hear all the different perspective on this issue at the meeting," Kerr said. "This helps us to make more informed decisions.
"We're trying to get as many people to contribute as we can."
Share you views
The city of Woodburn will gather testimony and survey information regarding affordable rentals through 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20. Information can be sent online or through direct written testimony.
• To take the survey online, visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WQ5R6JV, or find it on the city's planning commission webpage.
• Testimony may also be mailed or dropped off at: City of Woodburn Community Development Dept., 270 Montgomery St., Woodburn, OR 97071-4730.