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Stable housing options vital

As Jerralynn Ness and I head off to retirement, we’ve both had the opportunity to reflect on how much the county has changed over the last 10 years — particularly when viewed through the eyes of the vulnerable members of our community.

The good news has consistently been that Washington County is the engine of growth for the entire state. More jobs at both the high and low end of the spectrum. A relatively healthy unemployment rate.

At the same time, we have experienced significant increases in poverty and a very tight rental market. Many working families have found themselves seeking assistance for the first time in their lives. And estimates suggest we need at least 14,000 affordable homes for families, seniors and people with disabilities.

Having a safe and secure place to live is critical to finding and keeping a job, preventing kids from changing schools and feeling as if you are part of a community. Stable housing is also key to staying healthy and productive.

Community Action and the Community Housing Fund have worked collaboratively over the last 11 years to provide housing opportunities for low-income people in need. Community Action frequently addresses immediate problems resulting from a temporary emergency or short-term crisis — providing rental assistance, shelter from a domestic violence incident or preventing utility shutoffs or loss of heat. They have been a consistent voice for populations unable to speak for themselves, effectively documenting the need for the community to craft a safety net for all residents of the county.

The Community Housing Fund is a nonprofit housing trust fund with a mission to help other nonprofit community development corporations build new affordable housing for working families, seniors, people with disabilities and others living on limited incomes.

The fund was created in 2003, and over the past 12 years has raised more than $4 million from public and private partners to help finance the creation or preservation of more than 1,000 apartments and homes throughout Washington County. Our funds come from local governments, such as Beaverton, Washington County and Hillsboro; foundations, churches and individuals who share our mission.

Research and real world experience make clear that linking stable housing with supportive services for residents is the key to building confidence and a path to success. Community Action has been a leader in bringing those services to people in temporary housing, as well as those in permanent housing created by the nonprofits supported by the Community Housing Fund. The fund and Community Action routinely participate together in strategic planning and advocacy with local governments and other funders to make sure housing and supportive services are included in any proposed initiative.

The mutual goal for the fund and Community Action is to lay the foundation for low-income people in Washington County to thrive and take advantage of opportunities in their communities. The need and demand continue to be great for housing and social services.

Our best hope for addressing these needs is to continue collaborative approaches, such as ours, to secure new sources of funding to build more housing tied to supportive services, thereby providing more individuals and families in Washington County the chance to succeed.

Ramsay Weit is the executive director of the Community Housing Fund.