Alieving rent burden up to all of us

Keizer is a rent burdened city. Well, what city isn’t? 

According to the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services, Keizer is a rent burdened city. Fifty-four percent of renters in Keizer spend more than a third of their monthly income on rent. 

Of Keizer’s 5,215 renting households, more than a fourth are severely rent burdened—spending 50 percent or more for housing alone. Other cities in our region are in similar situations (the college cities of Corvallis and Eugene stand at more than 35 percent each).

The state of Oregon mandated that cities with a population of at least 10,000 hold public hearings about the issue. Keizer’s city council held a public hearing at its meeting this week. Only two members of the public spoke before the council on the issue.

It is not surprising cities are rent burdened. Wages country-wide have not kept up with expenses. Rents at every level have steadily increased since the Great Recession of 2008 ended. The cost of building multi-family residences keeps escalating; high rents have to be asked to offset the expense of the construction.

In a free market there is not much private incentive to build low-income housing; that usually falls on governments. The housing industry is not a charity, they have a profit motive just as any other business. 

The burden of paying more than half of one’s income on housing has forced families to make tough decisions: rent or food, rent or medicine. It is not difficult to imagine some people living on our streets or in their vehicles do so because of the cost of rent.

One public hearing will not make Keizer less rent burdened. The city is expected to house an additional 10,000 people in the coming years. Much of that housing will be multi-family housing in the categories of low income and very low income. The private sector can’t be expected to bear that alone. 

The federal, state and local governments will have to lead the push to build housing for those who can’t afford to purchase their own house. Aside from constructing large housing projects (as was done in large cities in the 20th century), governments will need to formulate incentives for the private sector to join with the public sector to alleviate rent burdens on our most vulnerable citizens.

Tax incentives and fee waivers are but two tools for governments to offer. Another tool could be rent vouchers for a set percentage of rent with a limited time frame, say a voucher for 25 percent of a $1,000 a month rental for two years to allow that family to put themselves in a better financial situation. In return, recepients would be required to be de facto superintendents of their buildings—maintaining, repairing and clearing.

As the cost all things in life continue to rise and wages stagnate, solutions must be sought. And that means doing more than just holding a public hearing to make us feel like we’ve accomplished something. We haven’t.