Although we are currently in an economic recovery, Washington County — like many municipalities throughout the region — is facing a steep challenge when it comes to keeping our communities vibrant and our housing options affordable. We are grateful to Sen. Jeff Merkley and the rest of the Oregon congressional delegation for their recent support as local governments continue to address this challenge.
As the Hillsboro Tribune recently described ("Housing Crisis Growing Worse for Renters in Hillsboro," May 12, 2017), almost half of renters and 29 percent of home owners are now paying over 30 percent of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. On the one hand, the private home building industry is adding thousands of new homes in Washington County's urban areas. On the other hand, we continue to face a growing shortage of 14,000 homes for those with low or extremely low incomes. These numbers are considerably higher than they were prior to the recession.
To help us, two important tools in our local government tool boxes have been federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME). Funding from these programs has expanded the supply of affordable housing, provided options for those struggling with mental illness and kept the doors open at facilities many rely on, such as group homes for persons with developmental disabilities, community centers, homeless shelters and senior centers. Consider these local success stories:
n Sequoia Clinic and Spruce Place Apartments — CDBG and HOME funding helped to build a clinic and permanent housing in Aloha to serve persons with severe mental health issues.
n Cornelius Library and Cornelius Place Apartments — CDBG and HOME funding anticipated this summer will help to build a new 14,000-square-foot library for the City of Cornelius, above which will be 45 homes for seniors creating a catalyst project in the heart of the city.
n Pomeroy Place — HOME funding also supported the development of 20 affordable apartments in Aloha that will serve homeless veterans.
n Juanita Pohl Senior Center — CDBG funding supports rehabilitation improvements to senior centers in Tualatin and throughout the county, to ensure that they continue to provide a safe place for seniors to receive nutritious meals and supportive services.
The support and leadership shown by Sen. Jeff Merkley and our entire Oregon congressional delegation has helped steer the debate away from cuts to the CDBG and HOME programs as part of the omnibus spending bill that passed in May. With the potential elimination of these programs on the table as part of the president's 2018 budget proposal, now is the time to take stock of the important benefits these federal programs have provided to our communities. Without them, our most vulnerable residents could fall further through the economic cracks.
Frank Bubenik is a Tualatin City Council and chairman of the Washington County Community Development Policy Advisory Board. Andy Duyck is chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners.