Breaking New Ground by Focusing on Race

June 24, 2019

Oregon Housing and Community Services recently released their 5-year Statewide Housing Plan, Breaking New Ground . In the plan, Oregon is taking an intentional and bold focus on changing the dynamics of racial impacts on housing opportunities.

It’s a bit of a paradox to say that focusing on race in housing is really “Breaking New Ground”.  Sadly, through the years, federal, state and local policies and programs have systematically disadvantaged people because of their race.  This includes housing.  We have previously instituted red-lining , creating areas where lenders didn’t wish to support mortgages for fear of diminished land value due to an abundance of non-white people living in the area. Non-white people faced difficulty securing loans, encountered higher costs of insurance, and were offered less favorable mortgage rates.  We even allowed deed restrictions which prevented a homeowner from ever selling their house to a non-white household.  And, we allowed many of our other overlapping systems to disadvantage the educational, economic, and social opportunities for people of color.

Today, there continues to be substantial wage and poverty gaps for people of color.  So, it is no surprise to find that people of color are disproportionately represented in all facets of housing: rental costs as a percentage of gross income, substantially lower homeownership rates, and a staggering overrepresentation among people experiencing homelessness.

So, how is Oregon actually Breaking New Ground?  For starters, we are calling racial injustice exactly what it is: a series of policies and practices implemented by agencies which disadvantaged people because of their race.  By being direct with this, we are focusing on what we can do to change ourselves and the state.  We want racial injustice to be our “old ground”.  We want our new foundation for which we build the state, and housing opportunities for Oregonians, to be solid, fair, and equitable.  Specifically, in the next five years, OHCS is planning to:

  • Double the number of homeowners of color in our homeownership programs – We are launching a new mortgage assistance program to provide substantially more homeownership opportunities to lower income individuals and those who need down-payment support, and increasing marketing of our existing loan products for which people with low incomes are eligible.
  • Invest in rural development where agricultural workers and native Americans families are particularly impacted by lack of housing supply – We are increasing technical assistance and support to local communities to assist with ensuring development projects are properly positioned to be eligible for competitive Tax Credits, and setting aside money and Tax Credits to be used specifically by rural communities
  • Triple our pipeline for affordable rental housing – We currently have over 8,000 units in the production “pipeline” and are striving to get that number up to 25,000.
  • Invest in proven models to end homelessness – We are prioritizing the use of Permanent Supportive Housing to assist people who are chronically homeless into housing stability with supportive wrap-around services.

To guide our work, we have joined the Government Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE). This network is providing OHCS with tools to assess our organizational culture.  We have adopted a framework which will allow us to systematically review all of our policies and procedures, to ensure an equity lens is applied.  We have encouraged other state agencies to join us on this journey in the hopes of creating additional momentum to change other parts of the systems that effect Oregonians.  Through GARE, we will also be networking with other governmental entities across the US who are taking up the same cause, to undo systemic racism.  We are participating in the Northwest Cohort, which has approximately 180 people from Washington and Oregon learning the GARE model, so as to be able to train their own jurisdictions.  There are regional networking phone calls, and also topic specific learning/sharing groups, where we can learn from others who are working through the same issues.

Talking about race can be difficult; leading with race even more so.  It’s time for us to stop explaining racial disparities as a product of individual willingness, or not, to succeed.  The fact is people of color have been disadvantaged by institutional policies.  OHCS can’t change the past, nor can we change the minds, opinions, and policies of every agency in the state.  But, OHCS is committing to do work differently, committing to seek to do better, committing to “break new ground” for the state of Oregon.

For more information about the work of OHCS:

OHCS Op-Ed written on Equity and Racial Justice

A video from OHCS on our policy priorities for Racial Equity and Inclusion

Ryan Vogt is the Chief Operating Officer for Oregon Housing and Community Services.  He is passionate about racial justice and has dedicated over 21 years of professional work to helping families achieve stability and prosperity.  He can be reached at

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