Half Of Springfield Residents Struggle To Pay For Housing And Basic Needs

Feb 22, 2017

In Springfield faith and service organizations continue to help homeless folks find shelter and get in to housing. They also help low income people pay rent. There’s little to no emergency shelter available in the city, and thousands of names are on the wait list for subsidized housing.

Ebbert United Methodist Church near downtown Springfield welcomes those in need to eat breakfast some mornings in the church's basement.
Credit Kyra Buckley/KLCC

It’s Monday morning in the basement of Ebbert United Methodist Church near downtown Springfield, and several dozen homeless people are eating breakfast, including Phillip Rosenberg.  

Rosenberg has been homeless for most of the last decade. Right now he’s living in a six by 10 foot temporary hut.

Rosenberg: “I’m trying to make it look like home, feel like home, sometimes it feels like a jail cell, sometimes it’s debilitating, other times it’s security.”  

Rosenberg has been in his small housing unit for three months. Even if he got on a wait list for Section 8, the federally funded voucher program, he may have to spend another four years or more in his hut.

That’s according to Jacob Fox, Executive Director of Housing And Community Services Agency of Lane County, or HACSA. He says there are 3,000 families on their Section 8 list.

Fox: “Once they’re on the waiting list, unfortunately there are pretty significant waits. Springfield and Eugene, the waits for one bedrooms can be up to five years. For families, two to three years.”

Jacob Fox, Executive Director of HACSA.
Credit HACSA

Saint Vincent De Paul of Lane County also helps people find Section 8 housing and other affordable options. They say their  list is at about 3,000 as well. Some families might seek housing through both St. Vinnie’s and HACSA.

June Fothergill is Reverend at the church where Rosenberg ate his Monday morning breakfast. She says lack of affordable housing is just one thing perpetuating Springfield’s homelessness problem. For people who don’t have a place to sleep, there is no emergency shelter, like a Mission, and the car camping program in the City only serves 10 to 12 people a night.

Fothergill: “At the level of you’re a homeless woman on the street and you’re looking for a place to be safe for the night, I don’t have very much to offer them.”

Sandy Belson is with the City of Springfield and leads the effort to establish an affordable housing strategy. She says housing costs are increasing faster than incomes.

Belson: “At this time half of Springfield’s population struggles to pay for housing and basic needs.”

Reverend June Fothergill of the Ebbert United Methodist Church.
Credit United Methodist Church

Reverend Fothergill says a place to live allows people to work on finding a job or recovering from drug addiction.

Fothergill: “If someone has a stable place to be, where they feel safe, and they can be focused on something other than ‘where am I going to sleep tonight, and where am I going to get something to eat,’ then they can start working on addiction issues and mental health issues and things like that.”

The City recognizes this basic need and wants to support existing services for homeless and low income populations. According to Belson, lack of affordable housing is the main problem identified and presented to Springfield’s City Council: there are not enough housing units to meet the needs of Springfield residents.

Belson: “What the council is looking at now, and will continue to look at, is what can the city do to address that problem.”

Phillip Rosenberg says he’s concerned housing units aren’t available because it’s not seen as profitable to rent to those in or close to poverty.

Rosenberg: “Bottom line is greed and money. I mean, we have plots of land all over the place that aren’t being used for anything.”

The City of Springfield is in the process of researching strategies to increase housing options.
Credit City of Springfield

Rosenberg suggests putting portable bathrooms on those land parcels and allowing people to legally camp.

Belson says while the city doesn’t build homes for people, it does play a role in creating affordable housing. She says over the next few months city staff will research different options—like a pilot tiny house project—and present their findings to the council.

Follow Kyra Buckley on Twitter @krbuckle.