UO, media and community partners come together to strengthen public conversation about Portland’s housing crisis


Photo by Justin Yuen

Open: Housing has been quietly gaining shape and momentum over the past three months. Now this broad-based community collaboration, which aims to support inclusive public conversations that drive solutions to the Portland region’s housing crisis, has an online home with a big parlor for visitors: OpenHousing.net.

In July, project sponsor Agora Journalism Center, part of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication (UO SOJC) in Portland, hosted a community event that drew more than 70 housing experts, journalists and advocates representing 50 organizations, as well as cost-burdened and homeless residents. The topic of the morning’s insightful discussion: strengthening public conversation about Portland’s housing crisis. That discussion, and others, led to Open: Housing — a platform, a network, and a five-part strategy for addressing two issues of pressing regional and national concern.

One of those issues is a severe and growing housing crisis that is creating devastating impacts for residents, especially low-income ones. The other is a “civic-communication infrastructure” that isn’t fully equipped to address difficult, complex issues like this one, says Andrew DeVigal, UO SOJC’s Chair in Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement.

“The media landscape is fractured, public-interest journalism is under-resourced, and coverage and conversation about important issues don’t always reflect the diverse perspectives of our communities,” said DeVigal. “In the face of these challenges, we’re bringing the community together to create cross-sector public conversations that are inclusive, informed and oriented toward real solutions.”

Enter OpenHousing.net, a Medium publishing site that curates housing coverage from media partners and community members. Media partners include InvestigateWest, KBOO, KGW, KOIN, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Pamplin Media Group, Portland Business Journal, Street Roots and Willamette Week, as well as bloggers who cover housing and social-justice issues, including Mike Anderson of Portland for Everyone and Thacher Schmid, who publishes Poor for a Minute.

OpenHousing.net is just one part of the Open: Housing project. Efforts are also underway to coordinate coverage around focused housing topics, engage the community through face-to-face gatherings and a mobile-messaging network, provide underrepresented voices with storytelling resources and training, and coordinate opportunities for housing stakeholders to share access to housing data. Partners in these efforts include Journalism That Matters, Oregon Humanities, Portland State University’s Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, Portland Community Media and funder The Jackson Foundation.

“The high level of participation and support from our project partners and the community is thrilling, and testifies to the high degree of common concern about the issues this project is addressing,” said DeVigal. “We’re excited that Agora can play the role of convener and coordinator of what is becoming a cross-sector learning community around housing issues."