By Victoria Leca
The activist on hunger strike outside Portland City Hall ended his 55-day housing protest on July 26. In response to the protest, the City Council will participate in a Regional Summit on Housing and Homelessness this fall. The Council also will support a public vote on new funding for “affordable housing.”
Homelessness is a tough problem. No matter how much assistance is given, it will never completely go away. Self-destructive choices or mental problems will impede some people from living normal, healthy lives. No matter how much help is provided, they may never live in independent housing, no matter the price tag.
For those for whom price is the barrier to stable housing, “portable rental assistance” programs, which already exist on the federal level, can be a less restrictive option that empowers them to live outside the public housing system. Obtaining “decent and affordable housing on the private market” maximizes opportunities to escape poverty and promotes integration with the wider community. But while preferable to public housing, even housing vouchers come with their own dangers, such as reinforcing dependence on government cash subsidies.
Portland must acknowledge that its restrictive Urban Growth Boundary is at the root of high housing prices. The City Council could make housing more affordable for everyone simply by ending zoning policies that inflate the price of land within the Urban Growth Boundary and make more land available for low-cost housing. But the Council’s proposal simply to fund more public housing for the homeless is neither a desirable nor a sufficient solution to high prices and homelessness. Throwing more public funds at “affordable housing” only masks symptoms, rather than addressing the causes, of high housing prices in Portland.
Victoria Leca is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy think tank.