In a wide-ranging project started last year, Unite Oregon surveyed 300 households throughout the Rogue Valley about housing conditions and affordability. We know that the lack of affordable housing is putting a major strain on many folks and families here in our communities, but we want to be able to show elected leaders and the public the more personal ways folks in our communities are directly impacted by the lack of affordable housing. We will spend the next few months taking our findings to decision makers in our communities, and in the legislature, to create real solutions.
By Nichte Verdugo, Unite Oregon Rogue Valley Chapter
The housing survey collection, which was connected to the Stable Homes Campaign (HB 2004), focused on creating a space for our community members to share their stories about their challenges of finding housing and/or sustaining a stable home without compromising another aspect of their livelihood (e.g. food, travel, bills, childcare). In addition to creating a space for community, this initiative gave our community members the opportunity to prep to testify in front of our elected officials (Rep. Esquivel, Sen. DeBoer, and Sen. Marsh) in Salem to push them to pass HB 2004 which would put an end to no-cause evictions and establish a form of rent stabilization.
From our data collected, and our conversations with the community, it is clear that: 1) the lack of renters protections creates a dangerous power imbalance with families facing retaliation and discrimination and 2) families of our community are being put at a high risk of becoming homeless due to the constant evictions and rental hikes.
The impact of the housing survey collection built a stronger local coalition of support between Unite Oregon, Southern Oregon Housing For All (SOHFA), Oregon Strong Voice Southern Oregon, Southern Oregon Tenant’s Union (SOTU), Southern Oregon AFL-CIO, and Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT).
At a statewide level our partners were the Housing Alliance of Oregon, Community Alliance of Tenants, Fair Shot Coalition, Stable Homes Campaign, OPAL Environmental Justice, and AARP.
Impacting Talent Housing Policy Process
The City of Talent has been in the process of updating the Talent Housing Element (Element G), a part of the Comprehensive Plan and the guiding policy document for all housing development including zoning, city building regulations, and criteria for approval/denial of local development proposals by the city. This document will guide housing development for the next 20
years and so this process was prioritized for its potential for far-reaching impact at the local level.
As part of this process, Unite Oregon:
Reviewed proposed revisions to the housing element and the updated Housing Needs Analysis;
Wrote policy recommendation letters to Talent Planning Commission. Recommendations were based on an updated Housing Needs Analysis, feedback from community members gathered during our survey project, and our values. (Key recommendations: Implement re-zoning and infill to increase higher density residential housing, add inclusionary zoning as a policy tool, prioritize multifamily and rental housing for households at or below $25,000/yr.);
Answered questions from planning commissioners about inclusionary zoning, one of our key recommendations. They were getting pushback from developers and the city manager/city planner on including IZ and wanted some of those concerns explained/addressed. We provided resources and testimony in support of IZ as a city policy;
Met with the City Planning Director and two City Councilors to discuss inclusionary zoning and developer concerns, explain our recommendations for the Updated Housing Element;
Wrote letter to Talent City Council re-stating our recommendations and urging the city to prioritize development of city codes for IZ in the first year instead of in the year 3 – 5 timeline as was drafted in the policy document due to concern that developers would push projects through before they could be subject to the new policy, eating up our available lands inventory and reducing the city’s opportunities to incentivize affordable housing development;
Attended 8 planning commission/city council meetings total during this process to track, show support, provide testimony, and answer questions;
Had 9 meetings with city staff, council members, mayor, and developers throughout this process. Had 6 phone calls with city councilors and planning commission staff;
Outcome: the new housing element was passed with a second reading on May 17th by city council and included most of our recommendations including IZ on the 1 year timeline.
Other Housing Activities
Neighborhood Partnerships - Conference Housing Summit September 2016. Michelle Glass spoke on tenant protections panel at Salem Housing Summit to a roomful of policy folks, developers, agency folks, elected about our survey project and the housing crisis in S.O., importance of IZ and HB2004;
Organized affordable housing forum in Ashland August 2016 that was co-sponsored by the Ashland Housing Commission and an Interfaith Social Justice Coalition, 75 attended.
A permanent working group grew out of this gathering called Southern Oregon Housing for All that is meeting regularly and organizing to pressure the Ashland City Council to fully fund their Housing Trust Fund, pass 90 day notice for tenants, change their codes to allow for tiny homes in the city, and support increased funding for winter and summer shelters. We are members of SOHFA.
AARP Forum Medford - Michelle Glass spoke on behalf of Unite Oregon at AARP Livability Forum in Medford on housing policy to a room of local developers, elected leaders, agency folks, and planning dept. staff from across the region.