Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

Rent burdens draw eye of state

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer is now one of more than two dozen Oregon cities classified as severely rent burdened by the Department of Housing and Community Services.

The news came in the form of a letter from the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services to city leaders as part of a new legislative requirement. The designation as a severely rent burdened city means that more than a quarter of renter households are paying more than 50 percent of the household gross income on rent. In Keizer, 27 percent of renters, about 1,400 households, fall into the severely rent burdened category.

In the overall picture, Keizer is just over the line that triggered the designation, but the city is required to address the issue. City officials must convene a public meeting to discuss the causes and consequences of rent burdens, the barriers to reducing rent and possible solutions.

The effect of rent burden is striking current city residents in a variety of ways, and at different stages of life.

Christine Braning Reed felt a sense of sticker shock as she began looking for an apartment when the rent on the home she was living in increased beyond her means. Most apartment complexes required an income of at least three times the monthly rent on the applications. Reed’s household income, which includes a disabled daughter, is roughly $2,800 a month between PERS and Social Security benefits. The rent on a two-bedroom apartment is roughly $1,000 in Keizer.

“I had to downsize so much it was unreal. We had two weekends of garage sales and then I just junked the rest. I saved what I wanted for my kids and put it in storage so I have the bill ($160). I have had to really curb the grocery shopping because I can’t buy in the bulk because there is no storage here in the apartment,” Reed said.

While each act of culling her possessions was difficult, she’s had the most trouble adjusting to the little things, now gone, that made her house feel like a home.

“I had to give up all my potted plants that I love because we can’t have that much on the porch or grounds. I was told we don’t rent the outside. I loved having fushia plants hanging on my porch and I can no longer do that. I had to give up my rose gardens and some of the roses I had planted at the house were from my husband’s funeral,” she said. Reed’s husband died of a terminal illness in 2006, between that and the housing crisis, her brother purchased her home and allowed her to pay below-market rent for the past decade.

Adding to Reed’s current hardships, she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer that, between co-pays and surgeries, will only add to the budget crunch she was already feeling.

“I am only hoping that God continues to provide for me. I thought this move I would be able to save some money but now with the cancer I don’t know what I am going to do. I might have to go get a part time job. I don’t know,” she said.

When Keizertimes asked Facebook readers about their experiences with rent burdens, multiple commenters noted their rent has climbed by leaps and bounds in recent years often with little or no renovation to the facilities themselves. Some reported their rents had increased by $500 or more in the past six years and several had taken on additional work to make ends meet. Health crises, like Reed’s, also figured heavily into some renters’ struggles.

Chris Rands is currently in the process of moving to a nicer apartment but his family’s rent is doubling – from $650 to $1,300 a month.

“What it means for me is I’ll have to work more overtime to be able to make ends meet, which means less time at home with my wife and daughter. My wife does not work as of now so we live off of my income. I’m a mental health therapist technician at the state hospital in Salem,” said Rands, 34.

He said the hard facts are the rental picture in Keizer is difficult for single-income or single-parent families. He said his family usually doesn’t make it all the way through the month on his paycheck.

“You can’t survive off minimum wage plus pay what they’re charging for rent these days. I’m very fortunate to have the career I have and praise the Lord every day for it but, even with what I make, it’s difficult to make it being the only provider,” he said.

He plans to keep working hard to better himself and his family.