Report: Homelessness and Housing in Portland

Root cause analysis illustrates both complexity and potential for collaborative solutions.

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Correlation between inadequate housing supply, rising rents, and homelessness opens opportunity for focused dialogue among policymakers, nonprofit leaders and funders.

ECONorthwest, the Pacific Northwest’s largest independent economic research firm, released a new report today, Homelessness in the Portland Region, commissioned by Oregon Community Foundation.  The report suggests that the magnitude of the region’s homelessness dilemma is the result of two converging crises: an inadequate housing supply leaving tens of thousands of Oregon children and families at risk of becoming homeless; a smaller population of chronically homeless people who experience challenging personal circumstances like mental health, illness, physical disabilities and substance abuse.

“Many caring, highly competent service providers have been delivering nation-leading work in Portland for years to help Oregon’s homeless population. These professionals have simply been overwhelmed by a broader housing market crisis,” says John Tapogna, President of ECONorthwest. “This report shares the most current available data, policy and programmatic approaches, locally and from across the country, to help address this pressing social problem—and to recommend next steps for policy and investment frameworks that can deliver the greatest impact,” says John Tapogna, President of ECONorthwest.

According to the analysis in the report, factors driving homelessness and housing insecurity in the Portland region are varied, and both national and local in scope. At the core of the problem:

1.    A population of under 2,000 individuals facing highly personal challenges—mental illness, adverse physical health conditions, substance abuse issues—who are chronically homeless and need sustained, intensive support to remain housed. While challenging, this crisis can and should be solved by existing social service agencies and local governments.

2.    A second crisis that affects tens of thousands of households—those who are episodically homeless or homeless for a short period of time due to a personal crisis, and the growing numbers of severely cost-burdened renters on the verge of homelessness thanks to rising rents and an inadequate housing supply. This crisis requires action by a much broader set of public, private, local, state, and federal actors and particularly, policies that spur the creation of more housing.

Oregon Community Foundation commissioned the report to help fill information gaps and inform ongoing, community-based work. The foundation is convening cross-sector groups (government, non-profit and community leaders, donors) in ongoing discussion of collaborative frameworks to guide further research, policymaking and philanthropic giving toward promising solutions.

“Rising housing costs, driven primarily by an undersupply of housing stock, have pushed many people in our communities, particularly low-income residents and communities of color, into greater financial instability. For some, this has meant moving away out of their neighborhoods and living further from family, employment, and basic amenities. For others, it has meant the loss of a stable home altogether,” says Max Williams, CEO and President, Oregon Community Foundation.  

The report first examines the latest data about causes of homelessness and in particular, the role that housing costs play in the crisis.  It also provides data and information about four key policy areas and specific solutions that have been shown to work. These include a continued focus on increasing the supply of affordable housing, deep rent subsidies, intensive social services for people and families at most risk and increasing shelter capacity.  

OCF will continue to explore – through research and convening of partners and donors – each of these policy and program areas to determine the greatest opportunity for philanthropic impact.

“We agree with ECONorthwest’s conclusion that more energy must be focused on chronically homeless populations, particularly those with untreated or undertreated complex health issues, including mental illness and substance use disorders,” said Corporation for Supportive Housing Northwest Director Heather Lyons. “Supportive Housing – deeply affordable housing coupled with intensive services – is the approach to quickly create affordable places where people live permanently and become stable and healthy for this population.”  

Tapogna points to the rapid evolution of policy, research & development and technology as added impetus for collaboration.  Many of the best practices referenced in the report are less than a year old in practice and will require focused attention and investment to keep pace with the evolving nature of homeless and near-homeless needs.

OCF’s Williams noted how this issue touches every community in which the Foundation works. “By providing donors, policymakers and community leaders with solid information to guide strategic decisions, we hope to be able to address root causes and help those kids and families who are most at risk,” Williams added.

Download the Report.

About ECONorthwest- ECONorthwest is the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most respected economic consulting firm. They provide independent, insightful, and relevant analyses that strengthen policy and investment decisions. Since 1974, ECONorthwest has served a diverse range of public and private-sector clients across the United States: business management and labor unions; conservationists and energy companies; public planning departments and private developers; litigation plaintiffs and defendants. Our studies are conducted by staff vetted for strong economic, financial, and policy evaluative skills. We use the best analytic methods available, and our products are clear and concise.

About Oregon Community Foundation- Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) puts donated money to work in Oregon – more than $100 million in grants and scholarships support Oregonians annually.  For nearly 45 years, OCF grantmaking, research, advocacy and community-advised solutions have helped individuals, families, businesses and organizations create charitable funds to improve lives for all Oregonians.  Impactful giving – time, talent and resources from many generous Oregonians – creates measurable change.  

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