Commissioners told that one-third of Lebanon tenants ‘rent-burdened’

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Planning Commission members and city staff discussed the Lebanon’s severe rent burden during its Dec. 16 meeting.
Households that spend more than 50 percent of its income on rent and utilities are considered “severely rent burdened,” explained Kelly Hart, community development director. The Oregon Housing and Community Services Department has reported that 32.9 percent of Lebanon households are severely rent burdened.
That equates to about one in every three renters, or 1,073 households, in Lebanon. In 2019, the percentage of severely rent burdened households in Lebanon was 35.8 percent. There are 10 other cities in Oregon with a population between 10,000 and 25,000 that also fall under the severe rent burden category.
House Bill 4006 requires cities with more than 10,000 population that have a severe rent burden of 25 percent or more to hold annual public meetings to discuss the matter.
“We, out of all the cities that fall under the severe rent category are the ninth highest (of 11), in terms of percentage, throughout the state,” Hart said. “So we do have a clear issue, and we need to work on several different prongs of how to address that issue.”
One reason Lebanon is “burdened” is because fair market rents continued to increase at “a pretty high clip” of 15 percent over the past three years from 2017 to 2019, Hart said.
Renting is on the rise in Lebanon, largely from age groups over 55 years old, she noted.
“It continues to increase, and that has a lot to do with property values and the ability to purchase other homes. There’s also a supply issue,” Hart said. “The last I checked, we had on average in Lebanon only a 2.4 percent vacancy for rental units, and that’s astronomical. What that means is, because there’s no units available and there’s such a low vacancy rate, people are ending up having to spend more money on homes and housing that they can’t afford or that they don’t need because it’s the only stuff that’s available that’s in the stock.”
Per Hart’s latest calculations, Lebanon needs 363 affordable units, but only has 271, which means 74.7 percent of the need is met. However, in 2020, the Planning Commission approved 72 affordable restricted housing units, which, when completed, will fill a large portion of that gap.

“But overall, housing cost is increasing in the state and in the region. You have the lack of housing that’s keeping up with the population growth,” Hart said.
She pointed the finger at people moving from out of state and are able to pay cash for housing, which removes competition from locals who would take a loan out for the homes.
The consequences of severe rent burden include an increase in housing insecurity and homelessness, especially among disabled, elderly, minorities, single parents and veterans, she noted. Also affected can include: student development, social services, childcare, healthcare, transportation, and inability to save for home ownership.
Some of the barriers in the region include lack of available developmental land for various reasons, and affordable housing from developers.
According to Hart, the City of Lebanon has already implemented some solutions, such as making the permit process easy to follow. Other solution ideas include offering incentives for affordable housing development, and providing affordable housing revenue sources.
Dina Eldridge, housing services manager for Community Services Consortium, said CSC has a variety of programs to assist people with housing situations or obstacles.
She agreed people are having a hard time finding rentals, first of all, but many are also not able to sustain a means of being able to continue paying their rent. Many calls to CSC come from those who are chronically behind on rent because oftentimes they can’t afford the rental they’re in.
There are so many callers who are “severely rent burdened,” that CSC is limited in being able to help all of them, she said.
Eldridge pointed out another aspect that a rent burdened community faces. When renters are struggling just to pay for basic necessities, there’s then a lot less disposable income.
“That means you’re not able to buy anything but necessities, so that can impact the economic development of a town,” she said. “So it kind of limits how much small business that your town can sustain.”
Brigetta Olson, of DevNW, chimed into the discussion as well, noting she’s grateful for the partnerships that made the new 72 units a reality.
“But I would just ask for you to think about what you could continue to do to help support hard-working people who are trying to make ends meet, particularly now in the pandemic,” Olson said.