Looking ahead to February 2012 — our voices can create housing opportunity. The State Legislature has been adjourned for over two weeks now, and we’re a little more than two weeks into the new state budget. The dust is settling, but the full impact of the work of the Legislature on Oregonians struggling to make ends meet won’t be known for many months.
We all need a safe, stable place to call home. Our state and our communities are stronger and better when everyone has access to opportunity, which comes from having a place to call home.
The Oregon Housing Alliance — a coalition of organizations from across the state concerned about the lack of affordable housing — has worked along with other housing advocates since 2004 to secure the resources we need to create strong communities across Oregon. The Oregon Housing Alliance made progress this past legislative session, but it was not nearly enough. Our victories were important: we secured funding to help preserve existing affordable housing across Oregon; protected tools such as the Oregon Affordable Housing Tax Credit and others to help build new affordable housing; we protected funds for emergency rent assistance; we helped pass protections for tenants living in foreclosed properties; and we worked in coalition with partners to prevent the worst of the cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Despite these small gains, this Legislative session was a disaster for low income Oregonians. The prolonged recession and the continuing shortage of affordable housing have left too many of our neighbors at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Too many of our families and neighbors are struggling to keep both a roof over their head and food on the table.
Devastating cuts were made to essential services and supports, and we know that the impacts of these choices will hit hardest and be hardest felt by those who are already hurting. While we made progress on many fronts, overall we have stepped backwards this session. Protecting the most vulnerable among us and maintaining a strong safety net is one of the core functions of our government. The Legislature should make decisions that uphold and advance this purpose.
Instead, the Legislature made a choice in the 2011 session to pass a budget for human services and housing that will barely keep emergency services afloat during the next two years. The decisions made will have far reaching and very real consequences that will include thousands of Oregonians unable to access emergency rent assistance or affordable housing, or the supportive services they need to get back to work. When the Legislature returns in 2012 and 2013, we need them to be ready to make choices that will put all of our options — including new revenue — on the table, and we need them to make the best choices for our state.
We need your voice and your help in the coming months to ensure that this happens. We know how to solve the crisis of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. The solution begins when housing advocates begin to speak louder.
We must do everything we can to build up our voices, to work across issues, and to help legislators understand the impacts of their decisions on the men, women, and children in their districts who need the opportunity that stable housing provides in order to fully engage in their life and their community.
Over the next year, three years and five years, we must work to expand the voices of those concerned about the lack of safe, stable and affordable housing for all Oregonians. We must document the effects of the economic recession, and the effects of the 2011-2013 budget on our neighbors passed by the Legislature this session, and share what’s happening with decision makers. Housing advocates must speak louder and do more to ensure everyone has a place to call home. If we’re going to build a movement across Oregon that speaks out for our communities and our neighbors, we have to shift the conversation in our state from “we can’t” to “we must”, and we need to talk to our neighbors and communities about our vision of what we want our home towns and our state to be, rather than about the budget and the deficit. We can solve the problems we face. We can make sure everyone has a safe, stable place to call home, and the opportunity that comes with it.
The Housing Alliance brings together advocates, local governments, housing authorities, community development corporations, environmentalists, service providers, business interests and all others dedicated to increasing the resources available to meet our housing needs to support a common statewide legislative and policy agenda.
Alison McIntosh is a Policy Manager with Neighborhood Partnerships.