A community-wide survey of Salem residents found the majority of those contacted think the city is headed in the wrong direction. Researchers said the negativity can likely be traced to two key issues: homelessness and crime.
Seven out of 10 people said the city is on the wrong track, following a national trend of increased negativity and concerns over the future.
Homelessness has consistently headlined the list of city residents’ top concerns. Community concern over homelessness has steadily risen in the annual surveys. Most recently, 57% of people surveyed rated it as a top concern.
Concerns over crime saw a notable spike since last year.
“A new concern has now emerged, as 16% of Salem residents say they want leaders to address crime — up from 3% last year,” researchers noted in their report.
The survey, conducted by the Oregon-based firm DHM Research, involved interviewing 400 Salem residents from Sept. 7 to Sept. 13 via cell and landline calls and an online option. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9%.
DHM Research officials said they took measures to ensure survey responses accurately represented all areas of the city and the diverse backgrounds of its residents, making sure to talk to all age ranges, races, education levels and genders.
Other top concerns among respondents included police enforcement, affordable housing, building a new bridge, traffic and taxes.
Since 2017, the city has commissioned the Community Satisfaction Survey to better understand community priorities, city staff said.
Officials said insights drawn from the survey and other outreach activities help city leaders plan for the future of Salem.
Survey results also influence Salem City Council’s annual work plan – the City Council Policy Agenda – which provides direction to the organization and informs the city’s budget.
“Feedback from the residents we serve is always helpful,” city manager Keith Stahley said in a statement. “We are grateful for the feedback. The survey results indicate where we have work to do. We look forward to working together to achieve the best for Salem.”
Despite thinking the city was on the wrong track, the majority of those surveyed acknowledged the city was not entirely to blame for the decline.
More than 60% of respondents attributed it to a combination of city actions and circumstances beyond the city’s control.
Two-thirds of residents reported dissatisfaction with residents of all income levels having access to affordable housing.
Dissatisfaction also increased in driving from one side of the city to the other during peak hours — with 82% finding it difficult or somewhat difficult. Levels of dissatisfaction were up in areas of coordinating social services to serve the needs of the homeless in the community, enforcing city codes for noise, yard upkeep, growing job opportunities in the local economy and protecting the natural environment.
The majority of those surveyed also reported difficulty in having concerns heard by city leaders, finding information about city planning and learning how decisions are made.
Satisfaction was high with 911 and emergency services along with water and sewer services. More than half were also satisfied with city parks and the library.
During a work session Monday, Salem City Council listened to DHM Research senior vice president John Horvick outline the results.
He pointed to a consistent pattern of increasing concerns over crime and homelessness throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“Every single community, save one, that we’ve done a survey where we asked the same question… the No. 1 issue is homelessness,” Horvick said.
Several councilors noted their concerns over the results and put homelessness and addressing crime at the top of their priorities for the coming year’s agenda.
The results of the survey come as leadership is changing drastically in Salem.
Mayor Chris Hoy was appointed to office early. Stahley was hired as city manager a few months ago. And several new councilors were elected in the May and November elections.
Reporter Whitney Woodworth covers city hall, economic development and business for the Statesman Journal. For questions, comments and news tips, email email@example.com, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth.