A Hungry City (by Erica Bella)

erica.bella-Culminating%20Project%20PictureOregon is known for being rainy, environmentally friendly and “outdoorsy”. But what about hungry? Although Oregon has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation at $9.25, 1 in 6 people struggles with hunger in Oregon according to Feeding America. I recently spent some time volunteering with the Oregon Food Bank and seen this first hand. One shift I volunteered for lasted about 2.5 hours and from that 2.5 hours of work the team packaged 33,670 meals. Imagine the amount of food being distributed in one week. There is an obvious food crisis that most of us may not be unaware of.

Many people that receive assistance through food banks and local pantries like this are working class Americans. It’s a sad fact and there are a number of factors that contribute to this reality. One of the most noticeable in the Portland Metro is the up rise in housing costs. Rent growth in December 2014 was 7.5% and it hasn’t slowed down. It doesn’t even matter if you already have a place and aren’t out in the market, landlords are raising rent prices for existing tenants as well. Just over the last year I know of 2 rentals with monthly costs going up. One was a one bedroom apartment that was rented originally for $700/month, their rent was increasing to $800/month. The second is a townhouse where I currently live, it was originally rented out at $915/month and is now going up to $1150 with a lease. Without a lease rent will be $1250/month. Families have been moving outside the city for a while due to the cost differences. What are you supposed to do when your rent goes up by $100-$200 a month? You still have utilities to pay, probably daycare if children are in the household, as well as gas and food.

As if the real estate market is any better; housing costs are expected to skyrocket when the rains let up in the spring. This is causing concern for many lower income families that aren’t able to afford these housing spikes. City officials are working on initiatives to help build more affordable housing and to pass bills with the lower income renter in mind.

As mentioned earlier, the minimum wage in Oregon is $9.25. If a person works 40 hours a week, their income at the end of the year would total $17,760. Let’s say this income has to support a family of 3 (one parent with 2 children). The federal poverty level is $20,160 for a family of 3 and this family would obviously be below it. You may be lucky if you find a two bedroom apartment for $1000 that would be $12,000 paid in rent after 12 months. That is 67% of a minimum wage income…not even including taxes. Then take childcare, utilities, insurance into consideration. It is an uphill battle.

Now that we have found a significant contributor to the ongoing hunger issue, you may ask what can I do? Well, I’m glad you asked!

Here are some ways you may be able to help:

  • Support the increase of the minimum wage, this will allow for some breathing room for these families. Remember rent was taking up %67 of their annual income? This will help alleviate that burden.
  • Get involved at your local food bank or pantry. These non-profits are always in need of volunteers, not only for the physical help but also to spread the word.
  • If you’re not able to donate your time, you can always donate make a cash donation. This is always in need also.
  • Find out about if your local elementary school has backpack program. These programs send students home with a backpack full of food to last them through the weekend so they don’t go hungry. Here’s a link for more information: Feeding America.
  • The most simple of them all, just be aware. Awareness brings knowledge, which in turn brings action.

Feel free to read some of the research, or do some research of your own. The amount of information available is endless, but hopefully I have sparked your curiosity and provided a start to getting involved.


Terry, Clancy. “MULTIFAMILY MARKET ANALYSIS.” PSU Multifamily Report March 2015 (n.d.): n. pag. HFO. 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 3 Mar. 2016. http://www.hfore.com/files/6763_PSU_Multifamily_Report_02_15.pdf Clancy Terry is a Student Fellow Master of Real Estate Development Candidate, this research is on the housing market in the Portland Metro over a span of a few years. The research looks at rent prices as well as home sale prices. The general theme from the reading and interpreting the graphs is prices overall (rent or sales) have increased. There were normal fluctuations when they would increase and drop, but in the last five years have been steadily increasing. The average occupancy rate is also on the rise, which in turn could be driving these costs up.

“Childhood Hunger: A Public Health Concern.” Research. Oregon Food Bank, Mar.-Apr. 2010. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. <http://www.oregonfoodbank.org/understanding-hunger/research&gt;. The Childhood Hunger Coalition completed the research for this article. The coalition’s executive members consists of doctors, medical professionals and a few personnel with the Oregon Food Bank and Oregon Hunger Task Force. The report breaks down some of the factors contributing to childhood hunger. It examines income levels, housing costs, unemployment rates and even the lack of social support networks. It also discusses having to bargain shop by shopping sales and cutting coupons, the need to buy inexpensive foods which usually aren’t healthy choices and also the negative effect this can have on children.

Redden, Jim. “Expect Housing Prices to Skyrocket.” The Portland Tribune. Pamplin Media Group, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. <http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/289677-166478-expect-housing-prices-to-skyrocket&gt;. This Portland Tribune article discusses the rising housing market and inventory levels. Costs are at their all-time high in the last 20+ years. Homes aren’t even last a few months on the market. There is even a bill in the works to help minimize this impact on consumers and ensure housing is affordable for low income residents.



  1. Allison Schmidt

    Great post Erica! You sound really passionate about the hunger crisis in Portland and about the rise in housing cost. I had no idea that rent for some people is so high and still on the rise and that it is contributing to families going hungry. The ratio at the beginning of your post about the 1 in 6 people struggle with hunger in Oregon was also something I didn’t know and it is very shocking to hear. You did a really good job of putting it into perspective what a person who works a minimum wage job would receive annually and what they might pay in rent for a house for a year and what little leftover money they may have to pay the rest of their bills and buy food. I also think you did a good job of adding in ways to get involved to help with the hungry, I really liked the backpack idea, I had never heard of that before. One thing I would have liked to see in your post would be what it is like outside of the Portland area if housing costs are cheaper elsewhere or if it is still high and where we see most of the people struggling with hunger are located. All together though it is a great blog and you seem very passionate about this topic, I also think the articles you chose really help pull together your blog!

  2. Erica Bella

    Thanks Allison!

  3. Amanda Harrelson

    I moved this past October from an apartment where in 2 years the rent had gone up over 400 dollars. We now live in a townhouse that is 1400 dollars a month. So I completely understand, though I will say that I live across the bridge in Vancouver. So I completely understand how that is. It sucks, quite frankly.

    You seem very passionate about this topic, it certainly shows in your writing. I liked that the sources were hyperlinked (wish I had known how to do that with mine). That made it super easy to just look at the facts that you were talking about. I think that your community work is admirable and so sweet and compassionate of you, and that comes across here as well. I agree with Allison, that statistic in the beginning was shocking. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea how bad it truly was. I think that helps pull a reader in and get them to really feel what you are saying. It was awesome that you added the example of how much one would make working a minimum wage job, as that is a hot issue right now. Overall, great job. I have nothing negative to say.

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