Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Ofelia Chavez addresses a crowd at St. Andrew Parish Sept. 29, explaining how she hesitates to leave a bad housing situation because she cannot afford anything else in the city.

Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel

Ofelia Chavez addresses a crowd at St. Andrew Parish Sept. 29, explaining how she hesitates to leave a bad housing situation because she cannot afford anything else in the city.

Ofelia Chavez, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Northeast Portland, gets suspiciously high water bills from her landlord. She never sees what the water bureau sends. 

But Chavez just pays, fearful of angering the landlord, being evicted and cast even deeper into the hard-to-afford Portland housing market. 

“We can’t keep paying so much for rent and bills,” Chavez told an assembly Sept. 29 at her parish. “Moving will destroy all parts of our lives, but I am most worried about my children and how it will affect them.” 

Chavez was addressing the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good, a coalition of faith groups, unions and social service agencies. MACG, as it’s called, is holding the Portland Housing Bureau’s feet to the fire over promises to increase the number of lower-cost units as the city’s market continues to boom.

 

In front of the assembly more than 200 in the St. Andrew gym, Bob Brown of Congregation Havurah Shalom asked Matthew Tschabold of the Portland Housing Bureau if the bureau would bring City Council a proposal to enforce past lower-cost housing commitments citywide. Tschabold answered in the affirmative, prompting cheers and applause. 

Tschabold gave the faith-union coalition credit for last year’s city decision to dedicate $67 million in urban renewal money to housing. Members filled meeting rooms, wrote letters and made phone calls. Now, MACG is pushing for a tax on construction projects to bring in millions more.  

Shelly Baker, an OHSU nursing student, attended the assembly because she sees the bad health effects of homelessness, especially among families. She serves at a busy shelter in the Rockwood district.

“Having the stability in housing is going to influence so many other factors in their lives,” Baker said.    

“Now is the time to un-concentrate poverty,” said LaVeta Gilmore Jones of Salt and Light Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland. Jones argued that the city’s housing crisis is the latest manifestation of a system that has always favored wealthy Portlanders. 

Mary Karter of St Mark Lutheran Church reminded the crowd that high rents and mortgages hurt not just homeless people, but the middle class. 

Jes Larson, of the Welcome Home Coalition, said she once was able to help homeless people get shelter the same night and housing in three months. Now, it’s a six-week wait for a shelter bed and 18 months for a room or apartment. 

“This is what’s happening every day, day-in, day-out, in the front lines of this housing crisis for our community members who are struggling most,” Larson said. “We don’t have what we need to help people survive, overcome and prevent homelessness.”