Affordable housing issue gets attention from lawmakers

PORTLAND, Ore. — When you see new building in Portland remember this: Advocates say the city needs an estimated 100,000 more affordable housing units.

And most of what you see is not that.

Over the last few years, 22,000 new apartments were built in the Portland area, but only 3 percent are affordable to low income families.

Senator Jeff Merkley led a forum Tuesday looking for solutions.

“Families are feeling the squeeze and we’ve gotta respond as a federal government and help our communities with many of the strategies that were mentioned here today,” he said.

Those strategies include cutting red tape that tangles some housing programs, offering tax breaks for owners who donate their buildings to nonprofits and protecting the charitable tax deduction. Senator Ron Wyden said forces in congress want it ended.

“You do that and that will do enormous damage to the nonprofits that are trying to serve the homeless. So we’re going to be building a bipartisan coalition to protect the charitable write off for donations,” said Sen. Wyden

Affordable housing and the homeless are issues that appear intertwined.

Rick Donaldson spoke at the forum and said he ended up homeless after the new owner of the house he rented in Portland doubled the price.

“I was paying $825 a month. And the new guys easily could rent it for $1,650, which put me and my one year old daughter, I’m a single parent, out on the street,” he said.

Kathy Hambleton lives with the result.

“I’ve lived in the same house 65 years and we’ve seen the changes and the affordable housing go sky high,” Hambleton said.

She found homeless men and women taking over her back yard in north Portland.

“We had em sleeping in our back yard, using it for a bathroom,” she said.

They’ve moved on now but the homeless issue has not.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer said the federal government needs to spend more on housing.

“What we are seeing up and down the West Coast, this is a problem that’s exploding. Because there has been less investment in the programs that used to keep people housed,” said Blumenauer.