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Middle class can't afford homes near jobs

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COURTESY PROUD GROUND - Proud Ground is selling this Milwaukie home for $158,800, compared to over $300,000 for most area homes.A newly released study is highlighting an underreported aspect of the affordable housing crisis — the lack of homes that moderate-income families can afford to buy near employment centers in the region.

“To find a home they can afford to purchase, middle-income families must increasingly look outside of the region’s core, far from job centers for middle-income jobs,” reads the study released Wednesday, titled “Solving the Affordable Homeownership Gap.”

The study was commissioned by Proud Ground, a nonprofit organization that sells affordable homes throughout the region. It was underwritten by the Bank of America and can be read at http://tinyurl.com/hpwa35p.

The affordable housing crisis has quickly emerged as perhaps the No. 1 political issue in the Portland area, generating responses from local, regional and state leaders. Most of the efforts have focused on finding and funding more apartments people can afford to rent.

But even those with middle-class jobs are finding it increasing difficult to live near where they work, especially if they want to purchase their own homes. Numerous reports show home prices in the Portland area are growing faster than practically anywhere else in the country, while wages have stagnated or have not kept up with the increases.

“Much of the attention and most of the resources dedicated to solving the affordable housing crisis in our region have focused on rental housing, and certainly there is great need for it,” says Diane Linn, Pround Ground executive director. “But affordable homeownership is critically important to our region. We need new funding sources so that the entire housing continuum — including homeownership — is more fully funded.”

The study was compiled by the ECONorthwest consulting firm and DHM Research.

Linn hopes it will help generate support for ensuring that at least some of the new affordable housing revenue is dedicated to homeownership opportunities. Funding sources that have been recently approved or discussed include additional urban renewal revenue from the city of Portland, an additional $30 million commitment from the city and Multnomah County, a 1 percent construction excise tax under consideration by the 2016 Oregon Legislature, and a yet-to-be-finalized bond measure proposed by housing advocates.

According to the study, homeownership is a critical component of the overall housing picture, especially for minorities being forced from their neighborhoods by gentrification.

“Affordable homeownership is an essential component of a complete housing continuum, and permanently affordable homeownership is one of the most effective tools to address the minority homeownership gap and mitigate displacement,” the study’s authors conclude.

For the purposes of this study, middle-income jobs were defined as those paying between $35,000 and $47,000 a year, which is 60 to 80 percent of the region’s median household income. The 2015 median sales price of a Proud Ground home was $152,750, versus $305,000 for a market-rate home in the region.

Local leaders understand the importance of middle-income families being able to afford homes near employment centers. The issue was discussed by all three major candidates for Portland mayor when they appeared before the Columbia Corridor Association last Thursday. Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey, Portland State University researcher Sarah Iannarone, and state Treasurer Ted Wheeler all noted that increasing home prices are pushing middle-class families farther and farther out of town.

Iannarone said Portland does not have a comprehensive housing strategy because it has no plan to meet the needs of middle-class homeowners, and Bailey and Wheeler both agreed.

Bailey subsequently released an affordable housing plan Tuesday that included home ownership opportunities.

On Proud Ground

Proud Ground uses the Community Land Trust model to keep Portland-area homes affordable from one owner to the next. Homeowners agree to resale arrangements that provide them with a share of the home’s equity while ensuring the new price is affordable for another moderate-income homebuyer.

Proud Ground is funded in part by the municipalities where it operates.

For more information, visit http://proudground.org.