The Need for LOWER COST “Affordable Housing” – in order to eliminate two year waiting lists, and reduce homelessness
January 31, 2010
We need more TRULY AFFORDABLE HOUSING projects to help address the growing crisis of homelessness. This should include projects which will help those earning below 30% of poverty level – aka those now falling through the cracks under the current approach to housing the poor (which focuses on 30 to 50% of median income earners).
No doubt a LOWER COST, higher-yield “affordable housing” approach among the cities of the metro area is badly needed. Especially for Portland – which receives and spends the lion’s share of H.U.D. money coming into Oregon – where we have (at last report) THE highest rate of per capita homelessness in the U.S.
With federal funding for housing about to level off (even as the numbers of homeless increase dramatically), the concerned Oregon activist citizen would now do well to prepare to scrutinize how that money should be spent locally. Surely the money which our local governments will spend CAN produce many many more units of ‘affordable housing’ than has been the trend.
For the millions of housing dollars which have been spent lately by local politicians on “affordable” housing units (at $100,000 + per unit) Portland’s Housing Bureau COULD be producing tens of thousands of more truly affordable units. Especially if in cooperation with the local counties (as in land use), MANY THOUSANDS of new simpler, lower-cost housing units could be built within the year.
Ironic isn’t it – to be calling for more affordable “affordable housing” – so that we can house MORE PEOPLE. The homeless population is growing locally SO fast that the “ending homelessness” goals of Housing Bureau/CCEH are no longer true. It’s as if they are ignoring a pink elephant in the room, as the numbers of people without shelter reach epidemic proportions. What ARE the broader costs of letting this go on? That subject is for another writing. But indisputably there are already far more people experiencing homelessness than the current ‘Ten Year Plan’ to End Homelessness’ can deal with.
We call upon City Councils and County Boards everywhere to devote idle public lands (especially county lands) and resources (vacant buildings included) to housing projects with the goal of MORE units for the money. Cities and counties working in greater cooperation could more wisely spend City-managed HUD funds in this way.
We ask that all citizens call on Nick Fish for the most efficient use of any new federal funding. With the near-wizardry found on the lawyerly Commissioner’s bureaucratic housing team, we are hopeful they CAN figure out legal and more moral ways to NOT CONTINUE ALLOWING dozens to freeze to death here or die of despair on the streets (R.I.P. George E. Clark. et al who’ve died outdoors this winter in Portland so far).
Many people are hopeful that all good citizens here will voice their concerns and demand that many many more housing units be produced for the money locally. This we need, along with an emphasis on use of PUBLIC lands, and EXISTING public buildings.
We do NOT need always need to build new hotel-like structures, or to build new at all. The money will run out way too quickly – as it has been – leaving thousands on the streets. There are many rational engineering designs for strawbale and earthbag construction at your disposal, for example. And why not lower costs further by contracting with capable un-sheltered people to help build or renovate their own structures? If building designs also incorporated more shared workspaces, and an ongoing emphases on self-support activities, this really might allow nearly everyone to be housed eventually – even if public budgets keep shrinking locally. The federal money, we believe, will run lower and lower over time. More innovative local solutions are needed.
Let’s think about facilitating greater self support for the newly sheltered. Common work shops, gardening, canning, building construction and maintenance, trails and parks maintenance, leaf removal from the streets in fall, etc. This could be done by people grateful to work perhaps 20 hours per week for simple room, board and a stipend. This is efficiency. This will allow us to get far more people off of the streets.
What else makes for greater efficiency in order to house as many homeless people as possible? Shared kitchens, shared workshops, shared vehicles and garages, shared sewing rooms, shared libraries and tools, whatever it takes to help
A) minimize costs of housing and food programs — resulting in MORE housing units produced for the same money, and
B) build vocationally focused, educationally/therapeutic,
self-reliance-focused communities. Part-time work is therapeutic for nearly everyone. Rebuilds self-esteem for those who’ve suffered all of the uncertainty and continual rejection which characterize homelessness.
At minimum, for a start, there should be another homeless encampment. This could be similar to dignity-village, except that its capacity would need to be many times higher than D.V.’s in order to help more people. The Dignity Village collective, as imperfect as it may be, has MUCH lower costs than other Housing Bureau favorites. The CCC’s and TPI’s of our city are housing maybe 5 people for what D.V. spends to house nearly 50 people. For the same amount of money!
The excuse has often been made by the CCEH that “housing” definitions will not permit dignity-village type of developments. NOT TRUE. There are bureaucratic wizards, I tell you, among Nick Fish’s people there. They could tailor their applications and their projects to fit the requirements of the federal money. It’s usually simply a matter of making sure that needed social services are made a part of the housing project.
They could figure out a way. Perhaps our elected leaders lack motivation. Maybe they are too insensitive to just how bad it is for so many people on the streets in a Portland winter. Or maybe it’s another kind of …lack of motivation. Clearly, there’s not as much money to be made in building straw bale huts in an out-of-the-way field as there is in investing in high-priced units tucked in amongst Pearl condos. But it is quite possible to spend the millions of federal dollars on creating thousands of units instead of just hundreds.
There’s also this kind of under-reported incompetence (at best) with the public money meant to house low income people: http://theportlander.com/city-of-portland-another-2-million-evaporates-into-thin-air/
We need leadership with more vision to make this happen, that’s all. Leaders who are willing to tell the big players in the Portland Business Alliance (e.g. CHASE and Wells Fargo, and the billionaires club) that we WILL allow the poor to be seen. We need leadership that has a better sense of real urgency about shelter – the way 10,000 homeless people locally have an urgent sense of cold and hunger and loss. Are our leaders, so often backed by soul-less corporations, lacking motivation, or are they just out of touch? The suffering of a fast-increasing number of voting, homeless people (and their allies) in the Portland area is on your consciences — whether you are aware of the consequences of your omissions, or not.
Note: Oregon law already allows for yurts or other mobile structures as emergency shelter. Portland and every Oregon city is already authorized to create TWO tent cities or other ‘transitional housing’ projects or encampments under Oregon law. Dignity Village arguably qualifies as one for Portland. Another could be set up at relatively low cost, and with proper planning could provide health/sanity-saving relief to perhaps a hundred (+) people immediately. See, ORS Chapter 446.265 (5). http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/446.html .