Oregon housing crunch catastrophic for many domestic violence survivors

The severe shortfall of affordable housing throughout Oregon, particularly in the Portland metropolitan area, has been catastrophic, for none more so than individuals and families fleeing domestic violence. Government agencies and community-based social service providers work tirelessly to connect people with emergency shelter, transitional housing, and other programs to restore dignity and self-determination. However, the number of individuals and families in need far exceeds the number of units available. Recent proposals such as Portland ballot measure 26-179 (Affordable Housing Bond), an outright ban on no-cause evictions, and requiring landlords to provide more prior notice before rent increases are excellent first steps to alleviating the housing crisis and helping keep survivors of abuse safe.

More than one in three women and one in five men in the United States report experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes. The impacts of domestic violence can be catastrophic on a number of levels: the physical wounds, emotional turmoil, and social stigma are generally well understood, but the negative effects of financial abuse on economic viability and housing stability are particularly insidious. Financial abuse can include disallowing the victim from working; sabotaging work or employment opportunities; hiding bank accounts and other assets; running up large amounts of debt in the victim’s name; and refusing to pay child support or manipulating the divorce process.

As a result, ruined credit, spotty work and rental histories, and legal issues feed very real fears of homelessness for individuals and families escaping abuse. Combined with skyrocketing rents and an unprecedented shortage of dedicated affordable housing units, it’s little wonder that survivors sometimes have no choice but to return to an abusive relationship, despite harmful or even life-threatening consequences. Even for those who manage to escape, recovering from the effects of financial abuse can take years, during which acquiring stable housing and building economic independence is often extremely difficult.

The shortage of available housing, skyrocketing rental prices, and a largely unregulated rental market have been disastrous for our most vulnerable neighbors. Supporting the expansion of affordable housing and renter protections will benefit those in the greatest need, as well as help make our state a more just and safe place to live.