SALEM — Inadequate data tracking, poor communication with employees and housing partners, and lack of strategic planning are putting the existing affordable housing inventory at risk, according to an audit of Oregon Housing and Community Services released by the Oregon Secretary of State today.
“We can’t help address Oregon’s housing crisis if we lose existing affordable housing,” Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins said. “The loss of even a single rental unit could mean one or more Oregon families may not be able to find a home. This agency has been through a lot of change and uncertainty in recent years, but now they need to address the issues we’ve identified so they can help ensure Oregonians have stable and affordable housing.”
OHCS was created to be state’s leader on housing, but the audit found that it isn’t providing sufficient leadership in Oregon’s housing crisis. From July 2015 to July 2016, home values in the state rose 12.5 percent, while rental housing is currently increasing nearly 7 percent a month. The increasing costs, coupled with relatively stagnant incomes since the 2008 recession, result in housing costs taking a bigger chunk of Oregonians’ paychecks. Finally, Oregon’s vacancy rates are currently much lower than the 5 percent vacancy that is typically expected in a balanced market.
Auditors found that OHCS is falling short on its requirement to complete an annual statewide housing plan, in large part because it does not have an accurate, reliable inventory of affordable housing around the state. Outdated data systems are also contributing to incomplete and error-prone data.
“Partnerships with housing developers, funders, advocates, and others in the housing community, are a crucial part of preserving low-income affordable housing,” said Atkins. “However, the audit found that OHCS needs to improve its relationships with stakeholders through better communications and transparency.”
OHCS helps to preserve affordable housing through its administration of an IRS tax credit program that provides one of the largest sources of funding for affordable housing in the state. The agency also provides loans and grants to private and nonprofit housing developers who can use the funds to preserve affordable housing. Auditors found better planning around the agency’s funding of preservation projects could help preservation efforts in the state. In addition, auditors recommended working with the Legislature to increase the availability of funding housing developers need in addition to the available tax credits.
“Our auditors found that crucial communications between OHCS leadership and the Housing Stability Council are lacking, and that the Council needs clarity about its role,” Atkins said. “I urge the Legislature to work with the Council and agency leadership to help define this essential relationship.”
State auditors identified four main areas they recommend OHCS work to improve: affordable housing preservation efforts, strategic planning, data management, and organizational issues. Some of the major organizational issues auditors identified included poor communication, inconsistent staffing and workload levels, and inadequate policies and procedures.
Read the complete audit, including recommendations to OHCS and the agency’s response, on the Secretary of State’s website. Click here.