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Are our existing programs and policies skewed toward serving fewer low income households well instead of a greater number adequately? What defines "well" and "adequately"?
I read this as asking, basically, how do you balance the number of people you could help with the level of amenities or services you offer? As crass as it sounds, when there are more people than you can help, how much help do you give to each person in need? How big a subsidy? How big a house or apartment?
I sent all of these questions off to our guests.
Bruce Jaqua, of Housing Works in Bend, responded:
This is an excellent question and it is a subject that we here at Housing Works have put quite a bit of thought and consideration into. There are numerous organizations here and in the Portland area that tries to be everything to everyone, and unfortunately that doesn't work. When we are developing a new program or analyzing an existing program or service one of the first questions we ask ourselves is "are we effective?" On one hand you could provide everything a family needs and end up only being able to help a few, or you can provide something to a lot of families but not everything they need, for example; an organization here in Central Oregon provides rental assistance to families, everyone that applies has to attend mandatory counseling which includes up to 100 other families or individuals. After the counseling, they do a random drawing for names and only end up helping about 10 families. They have just wasted 90 families' time but if you look at their stats, they can say that they had 100 families attending the orientation or utilizing the service, but in reality they didn't do much of anything. This is the problem when an organization is trying to be a one-stop center for families and it is not a realistic approach to helping families or individuals in need. Our approach and solution to the question is answered by partnering with other organizations to provide the needed services and through these partnerships we are able to provide a greater range of services and share the costs of providing the needed solutions. Another approach that we take is to try to educate the public so that they can reduce or eliminate his or her need for public assistance. It's going on the old adage of teaching a person to fish instead of giving them a fish. We measure our success by a family not needing our assistance any more, so the elimination for the need of our own existence is our goal.
And Sarah Buckley, from Clackamas Community Land Trust, wrote:
Everyone deserves a safe, stable place to call home. The market doesn’t serve people from 0-50%/60% (the high end is debatable and depends on family size/market conditions, etc) [of an area's median income] with decent rental housing and typically the market doesn’t serve folks below 100% of AMI with decent homeownership options. So for these folks left out of the market, we need to provide a housing continuum of services that will vary depending on their needs. All of them should be served well. For example, someone on disability will need a deep subsidy to live in a decent place, and a potential homebuyer with a family of 4 earning $60,000 might only need a $5000 in downpayment assistance and some education to get into a decent home with a responsible mortgage product. In addition to income, we should also think about minority status when it comes to homeownership because there is a large gap between white people who own and African-Americans, for example, even when they earn the same amount. This is largely because of historical discrimination and if we have a commitment to truly helping everyone in our society to reach their potential we need to correct this.
I can’t comment too much on rental housing, but I believe that we serve populations from 30-60% for rental housing better than we serve those from 0-30% because it’s cheaper to do so but it doesn’t mean that we’ve even met the need in the 30-60% range. It takes a lot of subsidy to serve extremely low-income populations and we need more of it, for sure. There is a great need. There are also thousands of people in Clackamas County whose jobs back in the 1940s-1980s would have allowed them to buy a house, but income has not kept up with housing prices and now those same types of earners are renters. Shouldn’t they be allowed the opportunity to have a place that they own and can build security for their children with? At CCLT we tend to target the income range that we get the most demand from (30-80% of AMI). A lot of folks earning below 80% are not interested in homeownership for one reason or another, but some are and we have served a few of those folks.
In terms of quality/size of housing, we find a balance between cost and what our buyers want, and we use our organizational values (community, sustainability, opportunity, stewardship and empowerment) to guide us. We place a great emphasis here at CCLT on green building because our buyers want healthy (ie, no carpet because of allergens, no VOC products indoors, etc.) and highly energy efficient homes. They want healthy homes for their kids and efficiency to keep their costs down, and they like the environmental benefits too. And we want to help the environment and keep costs down for our homeowners as an organization, so this works. We have a range of housing to serve different needs, from 750 sq. ft 2 bedroom/one level homes to 3 and 4 bedroom 1400 sq foot homes. We tend to build small because it’s more affordable and truly, how big of a home does someone really need, whether they earn $30,000 a year or $200,000 a year?
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