Low income housing crisis impacts the most vulnerable

It might be true that the fastest path out of homelessness is to find yourself diagnosed with stage IV cancer, as my friend Greg’s recent experience is teaching us. Greg is a lot like many people I’ve known who are homeless; he’d been stuck there for years. He picked up odd jobs here and there whenever he could, but nothing that ever amounted to enough to get back on his feet. The jobs that he could get often paid less than minimum wage and involved physical labor. Right around the time Greg was diagnosed, the weather turned and temperatures were dropping below freezing. The Ashland Community Resource Center jumped in and helped him secure housing for the next six months.

Before you start to feel comfortable, you should hear that homeless folks don’t have the market on housing woes. In 2013, the rental vacancy rate in Ashland was almost 17%. The rental vacancy rate for all of Jackson County is at an alarming 1.5%. Jackson County is facing a housing crisis.

Charu Colorado, an Ashland based artist, was recently given a 30 day notice that her rent will increase by nearly 50%. Colorado has lived in the same apartment for 23 years. Late last summer, the complex was purchased by Pacific Properties, a property management company. At first Colorado thought she could reason with the property management company. “I thought, they can’t do that. I went about having my family help me make investigations and did you know that the state of Oregon has not got a law to protect renters,” Colorado says. “They can raise the rent the next day if they want, but they usually wait a month. A month is nothing.” Such a dramatic rent increase is hopeless for Colorado who lives on a modest, fixed income.

Colorado lacks the mobility to simply move out. This is her home. She’s created a garden there, grown flowers and vegetables in the soil outside her front door and made improvements on the property. The previous management company valued Colorado’s long term residency there. She’s been a good tenant. For twenty three years, other than basic maintenance issues, they never needed to replace carpeting or paint her unit and never had any complaints about her.

When St. Vincent de Paul stepped in to help, the threat of eviction weighed heavily on her mind. “They told me, when they saw how worried I was, don’t worry. How long do you want to stay? I said, I don’t want to go now, because I just couldn’t get out of here and maintain myself. I have 25 years of work all filed downstairs… that I have to re-sort. I’d like to stay at least until spring.”  St. Vincent pledged to help her pay the difference between her old rent and the considerable increase in rent for a few months to help ease her worries. “They’ve been great,” she says.

But where will she find housing?

Welcome to the fallout of the foreclosure crisis of 2010. Throughout Jackson County there are numerous homes that are sitting empty. The banks hold on to them as real estate prices continue to rise.

What can Jackson County do to alleviate this? First our county commissioners must be dedicated to finding housing solutions that work. There are groups in Jackson County who are ready to build tiny houses and affordable homes– our city governments need to facilitate this before this housing crisis gets worse.