Rural Oregonians living in places like Wallowa County shared urban concerns about missing affordable housing. (Courtesy of Rick Vetter)
Oregonians in every county worry about a lack of affordable housing and rising levels of homelessness, and while many said they appreciate the state, some people of color and LGBTQ residents said they felt uncomfortable in their communities, survey data released Tuesday showed.
The Oregon Voices survey, a joint project from the Ford Family Foundation, ECONorthwest and Portland State University, aims to be a resource for lawmakers setting state policy and nonprofit organizations, schools and health care providers to learn about needs.
The foundation, headquartered in Roseburg, provides grants and college scholarships in rural Oregon and Siskiyou County, in northern California. Foundation leaders spent years working toward the survey, citing concerns that rural residents often go unheard in traditional polls that focus on getting a representative cross-section of the state’s population.
Instead of seeking to accurately reflect the state’s population, the survey focused on getting respondents from every county. Pollsters first contacted 18,000 randomly selected households – 500 in each Oregon county – with paper or online surveys, then reached out to people who had previously partnered with the Ford Family Foundation or received scholarships or grants and encouraged them to fill out the survey online and share it with anyone else who was interested.
More than 4,300 people participated, and many questions were open-ended, allowing respondents to write their own thoughts. Kasi Allen, director of learning and knowledge management at the foundation, said in a statement that the result was data made by people, not about them.
“The power of the data comes from the honest, authentic reflections from people across Oregon about the realities they experience day to day,” Allen said.
More than 86% of respondents from urban areas and 84% of respondents from suburban areas said homelessness was a problem in their communities, compared to 55% of rural respondents.
Oregon’s most populated cities and counties received nearly $80 million this spring to address homelessness, while the remaining 26 rural counties will receive a combined $26 million in July. Most of the roughly 18,000 homeless Oregonians live in urban areas, but about 4,000 are in rural parts of the state.
In Yamhill County, one of those rural counties, respondents focused on a soaring cost of housing and affiliated increase in homelessness. One said that professors at George Fox University – a private college in Newberg that charges close to $40,000 annually for tuition – couldn’t afford to live in town.
“I’m afraid that we are pricing people out of our community with the insane home prices,” another said.
Statewide, nearly two-thirds of respondents said their communities didn’t have affordable housing. It was worse in urban areas, with 76% of urban respondents saying the community lacked affordable housing, but 75% of rural respondents and 64% of suburban respondents said the same.
Rural residents on the coast and in other tourism-heavy areas reported more concerns about housing costs and wages not keeping up than those in eastern Oregon counties. In Lincoln County, for instance, Oregonians surveyed described how a tourism-dependent economy meant that many jobs were low wage and seasonal and vacation rentals took homes off the market for workers.
“I have lived in Oregon my entire life,” one Tillamook County resident said. “I once loved it here, but I no longer feel that way. We have been taken over by tourism — there are too many people now, it’s all about money — and I feel we are being pushed out of our own communities and state.”
Survey data was also split by 10-year age brackets, with at least 70% of each group between the ages of 25 and 64 saying their communities lacked affordable housing. Younger and older respondents were less likely to cite a lack of affordable housing – only 59% of respondents 24 or younger, 63% of those between 65 and 74 and 51% of respondents 75 or older thought their communities lacked affordable housing.
Fewer rural residents described having reliable internet, cell service throughout their community or enough places to shop than urban or suburban residents.
Throughout the state, in rural, urban and suburban areas, about one-third of respondents said streets and roads were in good shape.
People from urban and suburban areas were more likely to say that people in their communities voted and less likely to say that people in their communities went to church or took care of each other in hard times than those in rural areas.
But some people who spoke to pollsters, especially people of color and LGBTQ people in rural areas, described feeling unwelcome in their communities. One Klamath County resident said they loved living in such a beautiful place, but they felt uncomfortable.
“It’s horrible that as an indigenous person, a member of the Klamath Tribes, I don’t feel I can thrive on my ancestral homelands because of lack of economic opportunities, racism, settler colonialism and far right extremism,” the resident said. “This is our homeland. We should be free to live here and thrive without facing hatred from the broader community.”
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