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Housing Agencies Get Federal Rent Barometer Raised for the Portland Metro Area

A group of Portland metro area housing agencies has been successful in their quest to have the federal government increase a key metric that affects subsidy amounts in rent assistance programs.

The metric, Fair Market Rents, is set each year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The most prevalent use of Fair Market Rents is to establish payment standards, which are local ceilings for rent assistance provided by the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program.

The revised 2016 Fair Market Rents, which are set by bedroom size at the 40th percentile of market rents, are 28% higher than 2015 levels for a two-bedroom apartment, increasing to $1208 from $944.  HUD’s original 2016 Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Portland metro area was only 8.8% higher than 2015.  The individual housing authorities that administer the voucher program can set their payment standards or subsidy ceilings between 90 and 110 percent of Fair Market Rents.*  

“The revised FMR levels are a much more accurate reflection of what’s happening in rental markets across the Portland metro area,” said Val Valfre, Washington County’s Housing Services Director, speaking for the group of housing agencies involved.  “It’s great news for people in our Section 8 programs.  If the value of their voucher goes up, they will have more choices in a very competitive market.”

Valfre noted, however, that the change does not guarantee additional program funding.  If housing authorities decide to raise their payment standards and increase the value of a voucher for individuals and families with low incomes, they will do so within the limits of their current budgets, which could mean fewer vouchers in use.

The area affected by the change spans Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington, and Yamhill counties in Oregon and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington.  The housing agencies that petitioned for the change commissioned Washington State University to conduct a market rent survey sent to 11,000 households in the seven county Portland metro area in October 2015.  The cost of the $74,653 research was shared by Home Forward (Multnomah County), the Housing Authority of Clackamas County, the Portland Housing Bureau (City of Portland), the Washington County Department of Housing Services, and the Vancouver Housing Authority (Clark County.)

“In our rapidly escalating housing market, providing relief to renters and stabilizing households is one of the City of Portland’s top priorities,” said Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who, last fall, championed a $425,000 allocation from the City budget to improve the utilization of Housing Choice Vouchers in Portland. “The increase in Fair Market Rents will allow one of our important tools in this effort to be more effective and help open new opportunities for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities otherwise priced out of the market to secure safe, decent housing.”

Support also came from Oregon’s federal elected officials.  “We’d like to thank our Congressional delegation for backing us in this effort,” Valfre said.  With the leadership of Representative Earl Blumenauer, Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Representatives Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader joined in asking HUD to approve the change quickly to bring relief to renters with low incomes.

The housing agencies will work individually to determine payment standards for their voucher programs based on the revised Fair Market Rents.  

  

February 4, 2016

 

*Home Forward has used its Moving to Work deregulation authority to expand the range for its program to 80-120%.