Jul 27, 2022 |

Client Spotlight: Human Solutions - Affordable Housing and Supportive Services in East Portland

Housing insecurity puts families’ opportunities for upward mobility at risk and creates a sense of powerlessness and disconnection from the community. Building new affordable housing is an important part of the solution, but it is not enough. A holistic, community-focused approach is required to help prevent homelessness, maintain existing affordable housing, and support families with the services they need to thrive. Human Solutions is one organization working to ensure that everyone has housing security.

Human Solutions is an affordable housing development and social services organization operating with a unique model to build vibrant, healthy neighborhoods where all people can share in the security, hopes, and advantages of a thriving community. The organization operates in East Portland and East Multnomah County, a racially diverse area that has experienced long-term underinvestment. This area has the highest percentage of people experiencing poverty in the region.

Over time, Human Solutions has shifted its offerings to meet the needs of the communities they serve and to have the biggest impact. Human Solutions started in 1988 as a social services provider. The organization now offers a broad range of housing and economic security services, including eviction prevention services, emergency shelter and rapid rehousing for adults and families experiencing homelessness, employment and economic development programs, and permanent affordable housing. “Prevention requires stable, healthy housing, which we know directly impacts economic security. Building housing is a long-term investment that ensures our communities have the stability to thrive and prosper in all aspects of life,” says Ryan Winterberg-Lipp, Senior Project Manager. Human Solutions supported over 9,000 households to avoid having their utilities shut off and over 440 families to remain in their homes through their short-term emergency rent assistance program. In addition, the organization owns and maintains 18 high-quality, affordable housing complexes with 804 apartments.

“Affordable housing wasn’t the first thing we did as an organization,” explains Ryan. “Now, our affordable housing program is where we serve the largest number of people in our community. There weren’t many housing development providers in East Portland and East Multnomah County when we began this work. Human Solutions stepped in to meet a community need.”

A group of kids and adults on a playground
Photo by Christine Dong

Racial and economic justice require affordable housing

Human Solutions has prioritized its social and racial justice commitments over the last five years. “Our work has always incorporated social and racial justice, and we are now centering equitable outcomes in a more intentional way,” says Lisa Frack, Director, Communications & Fundraising. “One thing we know: there can be no housing and economic justice without racial justice because both our housing and economic systems were built on racism.”

Human Solutions is focused on long-term systems change and the day-to-day support they offer individuals seeking to move past poverty and housing insecurity. “We’re qualified to change the systems because we see every day exactly how they are failing people. We work within these systems while trying to improve them,” explains Lisa. The organization works in partnership with the federal and state government, foundations, religious organizations, and other community partners to fund their work and reach people in their communities.

There is more development activity happening in East Portland than ever before. “Economic displacement and gentrification have changed where people can afford to live. East Portland and East County are where many people are landing and are now the places with the fastest-growing housing costs. Economic vulnerability and housing insecurity mean that people are especially at risk of experiencing homelessness,” says Ryan.

A family smiling and hugging
Photo by Tom Cook

Preserving affordable housing as a key strategy

“Preservation doesn’t always get the same attention as new developments,” says Ryan. “Yet keeping the existing housing stock affordable is incredibly important.” Human Solutions uses two approaches to preserve affordable housing. First, as an affordable housing developer and owner, they manage a housing portfolio that they commit to keeping affordable, including rehabilitation and repairs over time. Second, they preserve existing market-rate housing that was previously affordable in their neighborhoods (known as “naturally occurring affordable housing”). As economic and market conditions change, some of these properties are at risk of no longer being affordable. Human Solutions can purchase those properties to preserve their affordability.

“We first worked with Beneficial State Bank on a rehab and repair project. Having different financial tools available helps us keep our properties affordable and livable over time,” says Ryan. “Beneficial State Bank is a good partner because they understand the complex nature of the affordable housing projects we take on and are willing to be flexible in working with each unique project. Having someone dig in, understand the unique constraints we face, and understand the need for preservation has been incredibly valuable for us.” Ryan adds, “It’s easy to say no to financing an affordable housing project because it’s so complex, and no two projects are the same. Having good financing partners makes our work more possible.”

“Housing is the foundation of everything for people,” says Lisa. “We aren’t able to solve other problems fully until we solve for housing. We encourage people who care about social and economic justice to learn more about affordable housing and the foundational role it plays in our communities.”

Sign up for Human Solutions’s newsletter to stay updated on their projects. Visit their volunteer page to find out how to get involved. As they say, “it takes a village to house a city.”

A family stands on grass arm in arm, smiling at the camera
Photo by Tom Cook