Sharing Is Caring – Eugene Weekly

If you have a spare bedroom, you could be part of the solution to Oregon’s housing crisis. 

Home Share Oregon brings homeowners with empty rooms together with potential renters. The program uses an online matchmaking platform to let homeowners and renters vet each other to fill empty bedrooms. 

The program and its supporters say it’s a way to chip away at the low supply of housing in the state. 

Started in 2019 and associated with the Portland-based Oregon Harbor of Hope, Home Share has the backing of the Oregon Legislature, which created a pilot property tax abatement incentive for homeowners during the 2019 legislative session — but only if county governments approve. 

So far, no county governments have signed up for the pilot program, though the program is lobbying officials in counties such as Lane because supporters say it could increase homeowner participation and not affect tax revenue. 

Home Share Program Manager Tess Fields tells Eugene Weekly that the program serves the housing insecure in Oregon, such as students, people who work minimum wage and those who are 55 and older who may own a home but are either trying to retire early or just pay their mortgage with the rental income. “It’s a way to marry two populations of people to get both of their needs met,” she adds. 

Home Share uses the online platform Silvernest for matchmaking homeowners and renters. The matchmaking website is similar to Airbnb or Fields says the website brings together homeowners and renters with similar interests or living styles, such as vegans who want a meat-free home, or non-smokers or people focused on cleanliness. 

Participants can also do background checks through the website. And if rent is paid online, Fields says an insurance policy is included — $100,000 for homeowners and $10,000 for renters. Home Share pays for Silvernest, so it is available to Home Share users for free. 

About 148 people throughout the state have signed up on the website, Fields says, and Lane County is the most active county in the state on the program with 38 total, 15 of them homeowners. Users are also signing up for the program throughout southern Oregon and in Deschutes County. 

White Bird Clinic’s operations coordinator Heather Sielicki says she first heard of Home Share at a neighborhood meeting. Although White Bird has promoted the program on social media and on its website, Sielicki says the social services nonprofit hasn’t used it for clients to avoid creating an overwhelming demand from renters on Home Share. 

Sielicki says the program could be beneficial for the growing population of older people who could be at risk of losing their homes in Lane County. And the program could help those older people who she says have expressed their intent to age in the homes they’ve lived in for so many years. “They don’t want to live in a [nursing] home,” she says. “If you could help people to make them age in their homes — it’ll make people happier.”  

Home Share has pre-written leases that allow chores to be done in exchange for reduced rent, Fields says, and that helps attract the program to older homeowners who may need a hand around the house. 

Fields says she recently spoke with someone whose mother, in her 70s, lives alone in Roseburg. “They don’t want to sell the property; she doesn’t want to go into assisted living,” she says. “He’s just trying to find someone that needs a place to live who would be open to mowing the grass, making sure the trash is taken out and just making sure if his mom falls there’s someone in the house with her. He’d be willing to take reduced rent.” 

During the 2019 legislative session, Oregon lawmakers approved Senate Bill 1045, permitting county governments to allow up to 500 participating homeowners statewide to pay less in property taxes and letting counties to individually cap participating homes. The law allows a city or county to adopt property tax exemption to not exceed $300,000 of assessed value. Unless extended by the Legislature, the law sunsets Jan. 31, 2027, and ends Jan. 2, 2029. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but in the House, Eugene and Springfield representatives voted against it except Rep. Marty Wilde, who was a sponsor of the bill. 

Although no counties are taking advantage of the subsidy, Home Share is talking with officials at Coos, Multnomah, Deschutes and Lane counties. Fields says with new commissioners on boards throughout the state, she’ll continue to talk with county officials about the benefits of the program. 

Sielicki says she talked with Lane County commissioners Joe Berney, Heather Buch and Pat Farr, and they were interested in the Home Share tax subsidy. “Honestly, what I think it’ll take to get popular in Lane County is the tax abatement program,” Sielicki adds.

In January 2020, Lane County spokesperson Devon Ashbridge told EW that the county did not have plans to adopt the property tax abatement. Home Share was briefly discussed at an Oct. 14 joint work session of the  Eugene City Council and Lane County Board of County Commissioners. Current board Chair Berney said the program could be a way of creating a systems approach to housing. 

At that meeting, Sarai Johnson, city and county housing and homelessness strategist, said she was excited about Home Share. But in December 2020, Johnson told EW she couldn’t comment on the program because the city and county have not taken an official stance on endorsing it.  

Berney tells EW he first heard of the program from Sielicki. He says it’s a way to chip away at the housing shortage in the county. “While not dealing with the structural imbalance in our housing market, it is a prudent common sense approach to connect individuals who need to rent a room with those who may want to rent with those who may want to rent a room in their house for whatever the reason,” Berney says, “be it needed income, company during an relatively isolated time, or just because they want to help in a way that makes sense to them and their lives.”

When he spoke with the county tax assessor, Berney says the tax assessor told him that his job is to generate income for the county, so he wasn’t initially enthused with the idea given potential property tax revenue implications. But he would be open to exploring it. 

“I personally think this program should be followed up on and made available,” Berney says, “and I don’t think the number of people participating in Home Share just for property tax benefit would make that much of a difference.”

Although many counties in Oregon may be concerned about property tax revenue during an economic recession, Fields says that because of the property tax cap, counties would experience minimal costs in offering homeowners a subsidy that “disrupts the housing market.” 

Home Share is also about chipping away at American culture’s dismissal of intergenerational living to offer more affordable housing while also tapping into an unused housing supply, Fields says. 

“Affordable housing is difficult to access in many parts of the country. It’s difficult to access here in Oregon,” she says. “This is really about using the inventory that already exists in terms of development and housing and putting that in a situation that’s helping to solve the housing crisis.”

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