We own and operate a diverse portfolio of apartment communities throughout Multnomah County. Differences in the kind of financing, subsidies and ownership structures used to create this housing have lent to disparate practices in how it’s managed, as well as how we think and talk about the different parts of the portfolio. Many of these structural differences can’t be changed and demand recognizing their distinctions, but we have been working for years to bring overarching, unified practices that are common to effectively managing real estate.
The importance of this work is amplified by our recent decision to convert our entire public housing portfolio to a Section 8-based subsidy structure. Since public housing operates more like a grant program than real estate, once the conversion process is complete, we will truly have a full real estate portfolio that requires cohesive asset management practices, even while responding to specific regulatory differences.
As we see the housing market in Multnomah County experiencing a seismic shift in real time, we recognize our apartments provide critical access to neighborhoods that the private market may otherwise make inaccessible to low-income families. At the highest level, we must ask ourselves how the portfolio we own can be best positioned and preserved to ensure this access, and how the housing we acquire, rehabilitate and/or develop is responding to what the community needs most.
Our real estate is stable for generations to come and meets the needs of the people and neighborhoods it serves.
Our housing assistance takes a variety of forms, but generally falls in the categories of 1) rent assistance and 2) a portfolio of apartment communities. We have taken steps to bridge those worlds, separated internally by different departments, such as structuring the leadership of our community services program to unify practices, and supervise and train staff doing the work across both departments.
Internal and external influences demand that we do more in this realm. When we convert our public housing portfolio to a Section 8 subsidy platform, there will be increased regulatory overlap in the work between our property management and rent assistance departments. The community’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis requires us to think holistically about the resources we have at our disposal and how they can best be deployed to address these needs. We will think more expansively than departmental lines and programmatic differences in order to be truly responsive to our community.
There are deeper connections and continuity between the types of housing assistance we provide that allow us to meet the evolving needs of the people we serve.
Every major initiative we accomplish – our 85 Stories preservation project, our public housing subsidy conversion – requires collaborative effort from every corner of the agency, including our governing board. This means making a conscious, sustained commitment to organizational development, inclusive and data-driven decision making processes, effective leadership practices and rigorous, open communication.
We build our skills and work together in ways that help us constantly evolve and improve our ability to serve our community.
We are connected and accountable at many scales, including to our national, state and regional affordable housing community. We’ll use our voice and influence to help shape larger efforts and conversations, we’ll learn from others’ challenges and successes, and we’ll build strong relationships.
Most intimately, we are responsible to serve the whole community of Multnomah County and to do that effectively, we must respond to the needs of its many parts. We want to do our work with humility and in partnership, neighborhood by neighborhood, population by population, with a committed focus on equitable outcomes.
The people we serve, our partners and the public see us as open, supportive and responsive to their needs, even when our resources are constrained.
Poverty is a crisis that intersects and transcends health, mental health, education, employment, criminal justice and many other systems. We increasingly hear the recognition that housing is the critical ingredient to a person’s stability and success in each of these other realms. This offers the opportunity to further explore how funding and service alignment can best serve the community and, ideally, support the creation of more affordable housing.
We also see the many ways in which families’ interactions with multiple systems create confusion at best and, at worst, does harm rather than help. We will continue to look at ways that we contribute to that dynamic and make changes. We will also use our relationships and influence to move other systems to respond more effectively and compassionately to the people we serve, and those we strive to serve.
We leverage our role as the largest provider of affordable housing in Oregon to improve collaboration and efficacy between systems impacting people in poverty.