By Eric A. Howald
Of the Keizertimes
Six months to three years.
That’s how long a wait some area residents can expect to wait for affordable housing to become available, according to a panel of property managers who attended a meeting of the Mid-Willamette Homelessness Initiative July 20.
“We have pages and pages of wait lists and it’s almost daily that people walk out of the office crying,” said Cathie Miles of Shelter Management, Inc.
A conversation with members of the Initiative task force covered topics ranging from the availability of affordable housing to the common problems encountered with low-income renters and the overall state of the housing market.
The central message from the property managers was that more housing is needed and developers need more incentives to build it.
“Developers need to be offered incentives to develop properties, affordable system development charges and tax incentives,” said Valerie White, owner of Encompass Management & Consulting, who added that she is curating waiting lists for every type of housing she manages. “We have 50 people waiting on single-family housing in Keizer. For them it doesn’t matter how much it costs, they want to live in a certain school district or a certain house or near a job.”
According to a 2014 analysis of census data, Oregon ranks 46th in terms of providing low-income housing to the state’s impoverished. There were only 42 apartments or other housing types for every 100 families in very low income households, defined as households with incomes less than half of the median income for the area in which they live. The problem disproportionately affects minority communities.
While increasing the housing stock is one starting point, property managers also struggle with maintaining residents once they are accepted into a low-income housing, said Nicole Utz, of Salem Housing Authority.
“The number one thing we run into is garnishments of paychecks. We base rents off the check residents expect to receive and then it gets garnished. We can’t lower the rent based on garnishments,” Utz said.
“Everyone has a different situation, but a lot of it comes down to budgeting and learning how to budget,” White said (see related story Page A3).
Kathleen Ashley, of Making Homes Happen, Inc., said property managers can offer partial payment and late payment agreements, but residents will frequently wait until eviction is imminent before approaching property managers.
“Once they have the letter saying that eviction is coming, they can then approach community groups and other services that might help them cover the rent,” Ashley said.
Utz said property managers try to avoid creating more debt history for low-income residents, but White said the situation can quickly snowball.
“If they get behind 30 days, it very quickly can become 60 days. We’re trying in that first 30 days to help them get on top of the rent they are behind,” White said. “As long as they can complete a payment plan we will continue to work with them. It shows good faith on their part.”
Ashley said that working with residents’ case managers can also help ease tensions when problems arise, but getting that permission can be a sticky wicket.
Complicating matters further is a more general housing shortage. The echoes of the Great Recession kept rents low for several years, and now that property owners can raise rents, it’s creating even more of a pinch on low-income housing availability.
“We went a long time without raising rents. Now that we are able to do that to meet costs, it’s having a negative impact on tenants,” Ashley said.
Miles said that some tenants are seeing their rents rise as often as twice a year. It prompts them to look for other options, but decide to stay once they realize how much other spaces are going for.