By Sheldon Traver, For Community Trust Resource
Laura and her three children seek shelter following an abusive relationship. She finds housing and other community resources in Salem while looking for work. Eventually, a low-income apartment becomes available in northeast Salem, and she and her children move in. The children settle into school, and she secures a minimum wage job working paycheck to paycheck to support her family.
For many of the homeless in Marion and Polk counties, this could be a reasonably happy ending; however, after one year, her rent increases substantially. Unable to make rent, Laura and her children end up living out of their car. Soon she has to give up her job as she and her children struggle for survival.
“This story is not unique,“ said Ron Hays, CEO of Community Resource Trust. “Homelessness is a systems issue where the confluence of multiple societal problems has compiled to create more complex and devastating problems for people in our community—a perfect storm.”
The Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) Report, a study conducted by the regional United Way of the Pacific Northwest, researched employed families and individuals who are above the federal poverty line but financially struggle to cover basic household expenses. The ALICE Threshold was developed as a gauge to determine the survival budget for individuals and families. Thirty eight percent of families live below the ALICE Threshold in Oregon. Salem exceeds this with 47 percent of families living below the threshold.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines the housing affordability limit for ALICE families as 30 percent of a household’s income. Housing costs above 30 percent impair the ability to afford other household necessities for these families. This is defined as housing burdened. In Marion County, 49 percent of families living below the ALICE Threshold are housing burdened, and in Polk County it is 52 percent.
Recent estimates for vacancy rates in Marion County range between point five and two percent. It takes four percent vacancy to handle normal housing transitions in a community. Anything below four percent is functionally considered no vacancy. The high demand and competition for rental units results in higher rents and causes downward pressure toward homelessness for ALICE families. It also complicates efforts to find permanent housing for those who find themselves homeless or in shelters.
The ALICE Report and the City of Salem’s Housing Needs Analysis both indicate that the greater Salem area needs to add several thousand affordable units in order to address the current and future demand for affordable housing. Issues that are often intertwined with homelessness, such as mental health, chemical dependency, domestic violence, and socio-economic isolation further complicate efforts to help families achieve self-sufficiency.
Community Resource Trust recognizes the complexities involved with homelessness and housing and is currently working with community partners to address these issues. For more information and to find ways to help, visit (Website info) or call 503-507-8248.
“It is a complex and long process that requires community-wide tenacity, thoughtfulness, and commitment in solving the systems issue of affordable housing.” he said. “We are committed to helping the Lauras in our community.”