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Oregon's Working Poor: Housing

John Rosman

This week we bring you stories of Oregon’s “working poor,” or those who are living below 200 percent of the poverty line.For many families, housing eats up the biggest portion of limited budgets. Amanda Peacher reports from Central Oregon, where the rental market is especially challenging for low-income workers.

Alaina Campos just got off the phone with an elementary school worker in Redmond, trying to get her daughters enrolled in school.
Campos: They won’t let me in because I don’t have a permanent address. But that’s really not good cause I don’t have a permanent address right now….

Campos is a 32-year-old single mother. She works at McDonald’s in Redmond. She has been living in one bedroom of an emergency shelter in Bend since June. She hopes to find a better job, but first she has to secure a place to live. In order to move forward with any of her goals, she needs a house.

Campos: I'm really determined. That’s why I want to get a house. I need a house. I’m out here looking everyday. I want to get a house so I can set my goals. Now my goals are--I want to get back in the medical field. I want to do something for my kids. It’s just a lot. I want to be stable, so that way I can get a better job.

Campos has been searching for housing since April. So Campos spends this morning as she does most days before work: scrolling through Craigslist at the library computers in Redmond, looking at rentals.
Campos: Ok, so I’m gonna call, if I just email them they never email back.
She’s submitted dozens of applications. But so far, she’s always rejected.
Campos: “Wow...I’ve got my hopes up a couple of times. Nobody wants to give me a chance with bad credit.”
It doesn’t help that Central Oregon has the tightest rental market in the state.

Kenny LaPoint: We’re definitely in a housing crisis right now here in Central Oregon.
That’s Kenny LaPoint with Housing Works, an agency that helps people find affordable housing.
LaPoint: We’re seeing a lot of renters get pushed out of their rental units because of rising, increasing rental costs. There’s record low vacancy rates, all the way down to half a percent in Bend possibly even lower than that at this point in time.
So, less than one percent of all the possible rental houses and apartments in the city are up for grabs.
With rentals in such high demand, property managers have little incentive to bring on tenants with any kind of black mark on their record.

Credit john Rosman / OPB
Alaina Campos and three of her daughters outside their new home.

Kenny LaPoint: Landlords can be a little bit pickier on their screening guidelines. They’re less likely to make exceptions for past history.
Low-income workers are often the hardest hit in a tight rental market. As rents increase they have a harder time meeting income requirements.
But like Campos, many workers in Oregon earn far less. Campos makes minimum wage at McDonald’s, or nine dollars and ten cents an hour.
Campos: It’s frustrating because I have no money. I have nothing. I’m still trying to pay off my electricity bill from the last house.
I feel like I'm spending more in my bus passes and coming back and forth than I'm making in my paycheck.
She’s scheduled for thirteen hours per week. She’s requested more hours, but her manager recently brought her up to thirteen hours a week from ten.
On a day off in August, Campos views a rental house with her three youngest daughters in tow.
Her face registers disappointment as soon as she walks in the door. The living room doesn’t have much light, the fridge seems to be broken and the whole house smells like dirty laundry. But her kids like it.
Ambi with kids : “Wow, I like this house...”(more ambi of looking at house runs beneath)
There’s a good chance that even if she wanted to live here, she wouldn’t be approved even though Campos has help from a nonprofit from Neighbor Impact that will pay her rent for a year.
Campos has $156 to last a week and a half until payday. That’s for food, bus fare, gas for the car she borrows from a friend, and anything else that comes up.
She’s hoping to hear back about a bigger, nicer house before she has to resort to applying for the one she looked at today. But at this point, she can’t afford to be picky. Under the shelter’s rules, she can stay six more weeks.
Campos: I’m struggling, it’s hard. And looking for a house and working and taking care of these kids by myself. It’s just hard.
The next day, Campos hears back on an application for a three-bedroom house--the one that she really wanted. After her four-month search, the property management company offers good news.
Campos: “She was like, ‘Your credit was really really bad.’ And I said ‘I know’ and she just said, ‘We’re gonna give you a chance.’ So she’s letting us in.”
It’s not quite ready for move-in, but Campos takes her three younger daughters to peek in the windows of their future home.
Campos to her daughters: And you get the big room with the bathroom! Are you excited about your own roo--well, you get to share a room with your sisters but you get your own bed! (kid screams in delight.) Stop yelling, you’re going to scare everybody.
She moved in with her family earlier this month. And now with a permanent address, she can enroll her kids in school in the same city where she works.

Copyright 2014 OPB

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