PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With the cost of real estate and rents on a never-ending climb, Portland is now one of the least affordable cities in the country. More and more people are on the verge of losing their place to live.
The cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in Portland has gone up to $1381 a month, according to MultiFamily NW. Between December 2020 and December 2021, the average prices of a home in Portland went from $494,000 to $571,900, according to the Regional Multiple Listing Service
But there is a program underway in Portland that is a beacon of hope for people on the edge — if it can gain traction. The idea: Getting people to share their homes with a stranger.
That might sound scary, but it is something Home Share Oregon is hoping will become the new normal.
Gayle and Brenda
Until a little more than a month ago, Gayle MacDonald and Brenda Rose had never met in person. Now, the recent strangers and each of their dogs, Paulie and Hazel, share a house in Northeast Portland.
“I can’t afford this whole house myself,” MacDonald told KOIN 6 News. She knew she wouldn’t be able to keep this house based on her own fixed income. But her friends cautioned her about this plan.
“I have a 96-year-old friend. She goes, ‘Oh no, don’t do that. That sounds really dangerous. Like, you don’t know who you’re gonna get,'” she said.
Meanwhile, Rose’s photography business was crushed by COVID.
“And then all of a sudden I had no income. So my rent was $1350 a month and I couldn’t do it,” she told KOIN 6 News. “And my sister said, ‘Hey, I have this RV sitting in my driveway. You know, you can live in that for a little while until you figure it out.’ In Michigan.”
Rose brought the RV to Portland — and lived in it on the street for 15 months.
“There’s this much space between you and the world,” she said. “I put a security system in, I had the dog, but it’s in terms of, like, how that feels in your nervous system. It’s super stressful.”
She began searching the internet for places to live. MacDonald was searching for people to live with her. Eventually each landed on the same website — Home Share Oregon.
Safety, background checks, sign ups
Much like dating apps match potential couples, Home Share Oregon matches potential roommates — someone like MacDonald who has a home with extra rooms and someone like Rose who can afford a low amount of rent.
The match is made through an extensive list of compatibility questions.
“I think the safety piece, I think I was surprised that I didn’t feel unsafe,” Rose said. “I had to do a background check. We had to do background checks and I like that.”
Tess Fields runs Home Share Oregon, a non-profit that launched last year.
“Our biggest challenge is that for every one homeowner that we have sign up to Home Share, we have four housemates who want a Home Share,” Fields said.
Home Share Oregon is backed by Homer Williams, the well-known Portland developer who also started the Harbor of Hope shelter. In April 2021, he told KOIN 6 News why he turned his attention to programs addressing the housing crisis.
“I realized about 4 or 5 years ago that half the Baby Boomers were broke and we didn’t have a plan for them, so I figured I’d better figure out another way to house them,” Williams said then.
So far, 1254 people have signed up for Home Share Oregon wanting to rent a room in a home. But only 346 homeowners have signed up. That’s a ratio Home Share hopes to changed by reaching people who could use assistance.
“A lot of people bought their homes many years ago. They are not going to find an apartment that is less expensive than the home that they’re currently living in for the most part,” Fields said. “We really want to encourage people to give home sharing a try before they attempt to release their sense of security, and then go out into a rental market that is unsustainable for most.”
A census bureau survey in December 2021 showed 55,323 people in Oregon are behind on their mortgage In Washington, that number is 88,830 — where the foreclosure protection ended months ago.
Share your thoughts with us on our “Is Portland Over?” series by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In Oregon the foreclosure moratorium expired December 31, exposing more vulnerable people.
“You hit a certain age. I would say in the 60s for me, where you start thinking about all that stuff heavily,” MacDonald said. “I don’t think about it once at all. With Brenda’s contribution, I feel really at ease.”