A crowd of more than 60 people gathered for two hours Thursday night at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library to discuss housing affordability.
And many wanted to keep on talking.
A panel of directors of area nonprofits plus two community members spoke at length about the causes and consequences of severe rent burdens as well as the barriers to reduce those burdens and possible solutions.
City housing officials presented data on the challenges the city faces, and audience members got to chime in by putting sticky notes on wall charts.
The problems are severe. Literally. Corvallis was required by state law to hold the meeting because its rate of households with severe rent burdens — those paying 50 percent of more of income on housing and utilities — is the highest in the state at 37 percent. Eugene (36 percent), Medford (32 percent), Gresham (30 percent) and Albany and Portland (27 percent apiece) are next in line among state cities of 50,000 or more.
Another chart posted by Kent Weiss, the city’s housing and neighborhood services manager, showed the hourly wage rate a person or family would have to have to afford an “average” rental. For a studio, it’s $13.08 per hour. For a one-bedroom it’s $15.40 per hour. For a two-bedroom it’s $18.77 per hour, with the required income rising to $27.31 for a three-bedroom and $33.06 for a four-bedroom.
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Such financial challenges with housing, said Martha Lyon of the Community Services Consortium, “lead to stress, child abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse. You are required to be in a constant state of stress, which eats away at your health. There is a whole wave of people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Some of the most poignant testimony on the problems came from Tara Walker, a single mom with three kids who was homeless in Corvallis in 2014. She’s in a more stable position now, but said that her good situation “could all end in two weeks” and noted that she benefited from some flexibility from her landlord when one of her children needed surgery.
Among the solutions offered were reducing red tape that makes it harder to build, avoiding the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, building more community awareness of the cultural shifts taking place in town, increasing density in town and building up (more multistory buildings).
“We need to focus on the emergency,” said Donna Holt of the Linn-Benton Housing Authority. “If you had an emergency at home you would act … and you might have to do something uncomfortable.”
Several panelists complimented the work of local property managers and landlords, who have been working together on training, education and problem-solving. Several audience members disagreed and raised concerns as the meeting was drawing to a close that there wasn’t enough opportunity for those in attendance to make comments and ask questions of the panelists.
Panelists and city officials stuck around in an effort to keep the conversation going.