Utility Shut Offs Are A Tipping Point

Traditionally I stick with budget specific topics, but upon seeing the lines at Rogue Credit Union locations throughout our valley yesterday, I wanted to bring these ideas forward.

With a record number of Oregon workers applying for unemployment benefits the system has been swamped. To answer the need, our State Legislature recently allocated $35M to provide Oregonians impacted by our state’s shut down order, $500 emergency relief checks. This morning’s Ashland Tidings discusses the relief program, individual stories, and long lines our friends and neighbors braved on a hot day. In one interview, the interviewee explained the challenges of facing utility shut off orders during the heat of summer. Knowing that Ashland runs its’ own electric utility I found this story particularly thought-provoking.  I could not help but see the connection to the housing instability continuum.

Many live paycheck to paycheck and may be one family emergency, illness, or catastrophic event, like Covid-19, from losing their home.  Therefore, as a community we need to solve for keeping individuals and families stably housed before the balance tips into homelessness. Tenants are often responsible for paying electric and gas bills, along with rents, that together comprise better than 50% of their take home pay. Keep in mind, traditional financial planning advice touts that housing costs should require no more than a third of take-home income.

Subsequently, I feel given the impactful nature of utility expense on stable housing, our city has a responsibility to partner with our residents who are facing challenges with shut off orders, especially due to Covid-19. Additionally, working to help residents currently in homes, stay in their homes, is imperative in addressing homelessness. If our community can help before an individual or family transitions into homelessness why wouldn’t we? On the “Issues” page of my website I discuss housing insecurity and propose ways Ashland can partner with local organization, and work within its’ own means, to help our residents before they become homeless.  More specifically, I propose looking at Ashland’s policies around shut-off orders:

  • First, Oregon does have minimal protections to ensure services are not cut in extreme heat and cold, but we can do better.
  • As a municipality with our own electric utility we have the ability to review the rules around shut off orders.
    • Reexamine and update how can we best work with those in jeopardy of utility shut offs.
  • Similarly, though our city does have assistance programs, are they effective?
    • It is imperative we conduct periodic reviews of our programs to ensure they meet the needs of those utilizing the benefits.

Ashland must look for constructive ways to meet the needs of our housing insecure residents. We are all Ashland residents! Preventative measures are far more effective than having to muster a full complement of resources to assist if our neighbors lose their homes. Covid-19 calls us all to action. Now is the time to pull together and make an impactful difference for the long-term sustainability of our community and our city.  

What can be done right now? In addition to the $500 emergency, one-time payments the Legislative Emergency Board also directed $15M in utility assistance. This assistance is available in our community through ACCESS www.accesshelps.org. For those not facing utility challenges, consider Ashland’s “Round-Up” program. The Round-Up program does as its’ name suggests, rounds your bill to the next dollar. The amount of the round is then used to help our neighbors. More information on this program can be found here, http://www.ashland.or.us/FormPageBS.asp?FormID=262.

We are a progressive community dedicated to helping our neighbors and most vulnerable residents. I thank all of those working with the incredible organizations throughout our city, and the Rogue Valley, to meet the needs of our unhoused neighbors, and to keep those who are housing insecure, in their homes. Now is the time to strengthen our partnerships and by extension the fabric of our community.

3 thoughts on “Utility Shut Offs Are A Tipping Point

  1. Hi Paula, You have such a very thoughtful and accurate analysis here. I am so interested in utility shut off reform for our city. The Housing & Human Services came up with a set of utility recommendations pre covid and sent our advise to the city when Kelly was admin. She was so supportive. But we don’t know where our recommendations went now. 1. Is it ok for me to post your comments/ analysis on line in Face Book . We also have a FB page for Southern Oregon Housing for All SOHFA that I would like to add this post. Thanks for this excellent work. Rich Rohde

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    1. Hi Rich, Thank you for your feedback and yes please feel free to share. With the advent of Covid-19, the utility shut-off reform recommendations of the Housing & Human Services Commission feel more important than ever! Would you be able to direct me where I might read them as well? Thank you!

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    2. Rich – I haven’t seen anything about this, so you might talk with your Council liaison about queuing it back up. That’s Dennis, right?

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