Cottage Grove Cares: Home Share Oregon
December 23 - The Oregon Beliefs and Values Center conducted an online survey of Oregonians from October 1-6, 2020. It revealed 50 percent of residents believe that solving the homeless crisis in Oregon should be the top priority for our elected officials and that our leaders have a responsibility to fix it. Despite the growing severity of homelessness, Oregonians remain optimistic. Fifty-seven percent believe a mix of policies and resources implemented by our elected officials can help solve the epidemic.
Since that two-year-old survey was taken, elected officials at the municipal, county, state and federal levels continue to establish programs and services to address the homeless crisis. One of the state-endorsed programs is the nonprofit organization Home Share Oregon.
According to HomeShare International (homeshare.org), the roots of the home sharing concept date back to a seed planted in 1972 by the late Maggie Kuhn, an elder rights activist who founded the Gray Panthers. Home sharing was originally set up to benefit older people who needed support to live independently but the concept is very flexible and can be adapted to meet local needs and circumstances.
A half-century later, the Gray Panthers’ original idea of home sharing directly benefits many people around the world including: people of all ages who have a disability or support needs, single parents who need help with child care, students who need low-cost accommodation, and key workers (such as nurses, police officers, teachers) who are priced out of the housing market.
The direct benefits to older/disabled people include help with daily living, companionship and the security of having someone in the house, especially at night. Home sharing alleviates loneliness which is an acknowledged issue in many societies. There are even recorded instances of home sharers saving lives by calling emergency services.
Home Share Oregon (HSO) became an IRS recognized nonprofit organization in June 2021. The genesis of HSO is part of a strategy proposed by Portland-area developer, Homer Williams. As one of the leading developers of Portland’s Pearl District, he has spent the last several years of his retirement dedicating his mind and money to solving the homeless crisis in the Portland metro area.
Concerned of another wave of homelessness as people face potential foreclosures, especially those over 50 who are unemployed and have a harder time finding jobs, Williams reached out to Tess Fields. He was impressed with Fields’ success as an effective and innovative strategist in governmental and public affairs initiatives and persuaded her to take his home-sharing strategy and develop a statewide organization.
In their Dec. 8 appearance on the KNND Beeper Show, Fields and HSO Lane County Area Manager Judy Smith noted that
Oregon’s housing crisis has become a humanitarian crisis and the problem is outpacing current solutions. They said the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Oregon is $1,100 to $1,800 and Oregon’s rental market is expected to increase 14% in 2023. Nearly 40% of all Oregonians over 65 say they are at risk of losing their homes. Leaders say 9,000 new units of housing must be built annually, for a decade, just to catch up.
The Oregon census indicates there are 1.5 million owner occupied homes with a vacant bedroom and one out of three homeowners are mortgage burdened. If just 2% of these homeowners elected to home share, we could house 30,000 people affordably and keep 30,000 people in their homes, with no new infrastructure.
Lane County Area Manager Judy Smith describes HSO as a cross between an Air B&B and a dating app. Through a partnership with Silvernest, a national for-profit company, HSO pays up to six months of the program’s service fees and the cost of criminal background checks.
Members can browse each other's profiles and choose to initiate conversation through the Silvernest website. It provides templates for rental agreements, which can be negotiated and personalized by renters and owners. Initially, the agreements are on a month-to-month basis than can be terminated with 30 days' notice.
Fields and Smith explained HSO helps facilitate the process by assisting people in creating profiles, giving home providers with tools and generally reducing barriers to people finding housing. Smith said Cottage Grove leaders have warmly welcomed Home Share Oregon as a tool in preventing homelessness in the community. She trained local librarians in how the Silvernest site works so they can help folks sign-up for the program using a library computer if necessary.
“It’s a great way to allow seniors to age in place, meet their monthly mortgage payment, and provide a compatible housemate with an affordable rent who can take out the trash or mow the lawn,” Fields said. “The matching service includes a long list of compatibility questions, background checks and legal services. The program is free to use thanks to the support of donations and grants.”
Fields believes home sharing is an effective strategy to address housing instability with more formal, reliable, and relationship-based solutions. She said home sharing tackles two problems at once – assisting middle class people to hold on to their homes, while extending vacant bedrooms to those who otherwise might fall into homelessness. She added, “Incentivizing homeowners to rent vacant bedrooms, and home share, is just common sense.”
Home Share Oregon’s vision statement seeks to create a world in which every person has a clean, safe home, a world where home sharing is normalized as a lifestyle preference, and homelessness is uprooted. HSO is committed to advancing public policy solutions that advance home sharing.
The organization is working with state legislators to pass legislation in the upcoming session to provide a tax benefit to homeowners who chose to participate. If a home is owner-occupied, and the homeowner agrees to rent a spare room for $1,000 per month or less, long-term, they are absolved from the state income tax liability on the earned income.
Fields said, “At Home Share Oregon, over 700 homeowners have signed up to rent a spare bedroom for an average cost of $735 a month. This reduces the need for 700 apartments and is affordable for many people who would otherwise be at risk of displacement. Incentivizing homeowners to become a part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis, is the most cost-effective thing we can do.”
For more information on Home Share Oregon and read some personal testimonies go to: www.homeshareoregon.org To set up a meeting with Lane County Area Manager Judy Smith send email to: [email protected]