We’re in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. You can read about it everywhere from the Portland Tribune to the Atlantic Monthly. Or you can just go for a walk and see the number of unhoused people living in city parks. Or visit schools in districts like Reynolds where as many as 11% of students identify as homeless—and where many more live in the anxiety of insecure housing.

The simple truth is that we have nowhere near enough affordable housing to meet Oregon’s needs. And with upward pressure on rent and a substantial maintenance backlog on existing affordable housing stock, the situation is likely going to get worse before it gets better.

The question isn’t whether this crisis is real, it’s what exactly should we do about it. Should we invest all available resources in building more affordable housing, even if that means suspending some of the state’s energy efficiency building codes to keep costs low and expedite construction? Or should we prioritize environmental concerns about human need?

Maybe we should be asking an entirely different set of questions.

In the coming months, we’re going to be using our new blog to talk about issues and events here in Oregon that are critical to our mission: Delivering immediate efficiency savings to existing  affordable housing properties, helping integrate efficiency into new construction for affordable, multifamily properties and in turn triggering exponential benefits that will help address climate change.

But for this inaugural edition, I’d like to focus on a concept that has a direct bearing not only on the critical and timely question of how affordable housing stock is created and maintained, but applies to so many of the issues we as a society must face: The idea of “Either/Or.”

Historically, when it comes to tackling the large issues facing us as a society, we take a “winner take all'” approach: Should we spend on education, or on defense? Provide broader welfare support, or spur the economy with tax cuts for business owners? We’re currently at one of these decision points both here in Oregon and nationally: There is an acute shortage of affordable housing, and the impulse to build as many units as quickly and affordably as possible is clashing with the desire for long-term, efficient and sustainable solutions.

As both a facilitator and an partner in the affordable housing field, MPower Oregon believes that rather than choosing between these very real demands, the only way to successfully address either of them is by tackling them both, head on.

Intuition tells us that undertaking major construction projects with the intention of later disposing of them doesn’t make good business or societal sense. But hard data, in the form of embodied carbon studies and reports on energy efficiency, backs up what for many is simple wisdom. Temporary housing, while it can be an attractive short-term solution, is never going to deliver the returns we as people and as a society need: Buildings that truly serve their inhabitants, their owners and their neighborhoods by providing efficient, comfortable and more desirable places for people to live, and ultimately invest in their communities.  

And, while high-quality, efficient building practices may be more expensive upfront, funding sources exist that can significantly reduce that initial cost barrier. We know this to be true, because helping affordable housing organizations assemble that financing is one of our primary activities.

MPower’s mission is to work with stakeholders to help secure financial resources and facilitate efficiency projects that meet both short-term needs and long-term priorities. When each of these is aligned, there is no more need to choose between two desirable outcomes: They support and validate one another.