Housing vs. Income Crisis in Milwaukie Affecting Students

“No where in America can you work a minimum wage job and pay rent.”

Sasha Nielson, Reporter

The discrepancy between housing prices and income is seen as an issue primarily affecting adults, but children and teens are widely affected by this issue as well. The prices of housing, mortgages, and rent in Milwaukie, OR are far above the national averages. Unfortunately, the median household income is only 1% above the national average. This is a major issue for people in our area, as families are having difficulty finding affordable housing. The average Milwaukie home price is 32.6% above the national average of $184,700, mortgage payments being 53.8% above the national average.


Angel Falconer, Milwaukie City Councilor, is working with her team to address issues that raise housing prices. “We should be looking at the way our rules have limited the options for people in need,” says Falconer. 20% of Milwaukie residents spend over 50% of their income on housing. Once considered to be disconnected from the Portland Metro Area, the region was formerly seen as an affordable place to live. Due to Milwaukie’s outdated land use policies, 70% of Milwaukie is zoned for single family housing, making duplexes, triplexes, and other more affordable options illegal.


Falconer states, “It is important to look to see how we got here.” Falconer often sees transportation costs excluded in the conversation of housing. Milwaukie Safe Access for Everyone (SAFE) has been put in place to create safer routes for students to go to schools, adding new sidewalks and traffic diverters. The project should reach 40% of Milwaukie streets by its conclusion. New affordable housing is also being built near Milwaukie High School. The City Council has also recently partnered with the Clackamas County Housing Authority on a grant application to plan for hundreds of new affordable and mixed income housing units at the Hillside Manor/Park site. Falconer explains, “There are limitations put on us by state law.” State law changes in upcoming conferences could put “more tools in city government’s toolbox,” and may create opportunity for updates to the city’s comprehensive plan.


Katie Ray, the North Clackamas School District Homeless Liaison and Site Coordinator works with homeless and financially unstable students and families. She says, “Homelessness is not just living in a tent or under a bridge the way it’s stereotyped. For many people, it’s living in a motel or at their grandma’s house or a family friend’s. You can pass through under the radar in our schools, and it would be great if others could be aware that there might be kids you know in that situation.”


Working at the Wichita Center, the district’s one-stop food pantry, clothing closet, and resource for medical needs, many families come through who are not “technically” in poverty. These families do not qualify for assets like free and reduced lunch, as their income is too high. They cannot afford the things they need and turn to the Wichita Center for assistance. “We see a lot of working people trying to make ends meet and not having anything left over after paying the rent. No where in America can you work a minimum wage job and pay rent.” Though Ray has seen a slight decline in Milwaukie’s homeless population in the past few years, she thinks this can be attributed to relocation.


Leslie Nelson, Milwaukie High School Counselor, advises students to reach out to trusted adults as much as possible if in situations of poverty or homeless. Nelson says, “We have a person here who supports them with transportation or providing shelter. Another resource we can provide is just a safe space…Because we can’t control what happens at home but we can at least make the six hours you’re here worthwhile.” Nelson also recommends that students reach out to staff members they can trust to get connected to resources. She also has noticed that students often take the blame for the systemic issues of poverty and unstable homes. “It’s really hard to not feel like, ‘Why doesn’t my mom have a better job,’ or, ‘Why can’t I work more hours, I should just get out of school,’ and kind of placing that blame on yourself, but it’s a systematic thing…Our housing prices are out the roof, our minimum wage is super low.”


The housing and income problems in Milwaukie affect more than just adults. They affect children and teenagers in schools. If a student is unable to feel safe, the student is unable to learn successfully. Nelson relates it back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, summarizing, “Before we can address our intellectual need, we have to address our physical need for food and shelter and warmth and consistency and safety, and if those are not in place, it’s going to be really hard for us to sit in class and worry about Pythagorean’s Theorem when you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from.”