Cannon Beach, a city known for carefully protecting an image as an idyllic coastal getaway, has taken a practical approach to the housing crunch.
The city has prioritized workforce housing and a task force is analyzing potential options on three city-owned properties.
In a citizen survey this year, 76 percent responded that it is necessary or important for the city to assist with developing affordable housing. The City Council has set a goal to add 25 affordable units by 2018, and 25 more by 2020. “It is absolutely essential for the health of Clatsop County that we begin to address affordable housing,” City Manager Brant Kucera said.
Kucera has spoken about living in Tillamook County because he cannot find housing locally.
Cannon Beach Fire Chief Matt Benedict also struggled to find housing in town. He stayed in the Cannon Beach and Arch Cape fire stations for several months until finding a place to rent and then purchasing a home.
“I basically sold everything I had so I could buy a house here,” said Benedict, who recently closed on a Haystack Heights home. “We’re happy. It’s where we want to be.”
Housing specialists and local business leaders interviewed in an affordable housing report in 2013 said most of the city’s workers reside in other towns. Many earn too much money to qualify for low-income housing, but not enough to live in town.
The affordable housing task force — comprised of community members, the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, local business representatives and more — began in 2014.
This year, the task force saw conceptual designs for affordable housing options on the downtown Spruce Street parking lot, the city’s RV park and the former children’s center building in Tolovana Park.
The task force is recommending park model homes in up to 10 spaces at the city-owned RV Park for affordable housing. A November presentation at City Hall will provide more information about the homes.
Putting park model homes in the RV Park would not require major changes in infrastructure and zoning, and would meet the need for individuals or couples, task force members said. The task force considered the Spruce Street concept unrealistic, as it would take up downtown parking.
Though city government has pinpointed a need for workforce housing, some residents raised questions about whether the city can sustain more people and how neighbors of the RV Park would be affected. Residents have also spoken about keeping the Tolovana Park children’s center, one potential housing site, open for community use.
The Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce supports the city’s efforts to create workforce housing.
Court Carrier, the chamber’s executive director, said the city’s need for an adequate workforce, affordable housing and a school are interconnected.
“From the chamber’s perspective, our interest is to find a place for employees to live,” said Carrier, who serves on the board of Clatsop Economic Development Resources. “It is so difficult to recruit people to work here on a full-time basis if they cannot afford to live here.”
City Planner Mark Barnes said it is difficult to imagine how Cannon Beach could grow. “It would have to be done through infilling vacant lots, more density or more space,” he said.
Building up is not an option for a town that prides itself more like a village than a city.
Robin Risley, principal broker at Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty, said Cannon Beach has a low housing inventory and high prices.
“Cannon Beach is one of the higher-priced communities along the coast,” with comparable prices to Lake Oswego, Risley said.
An affordable house to someone making about $55,000 a year would be about $200,000, Risley said. In the past year, three houses in Cannon Beach sold for under $300,000.
As of late August, some condo units were available for less than $200,000 — but only for an ownership stake of one month of annual usage.
Risley, a member of the Chamber of Commerce board, said she recommends Seaside instead of Cannon Beach to buyers with lower price ranges in mind.
“The inventory is a lot smaller in Cannon Beach than in Seaside, so there are more opportunities for a beach house that is affordable,” she said.
Long-term rentals in Cannon Beach are scarce compared to Seaside or Warrenton, said Bonnie Belden-Doney, North Coast Rental Property Manager with Windermere Stellar.
Though short-term rentals provide ample flexibility for property owners, Belden-Doney said homeowners can rent their house out for nine months out of the year.
“I think it’s a win-win situation when you rent long-term,” Belden-Doney said. “You have someone who cares for the home.”
Other renters, she said, are willing to live month-to-month in homes that are on the market. The renters must be prepared to leave when the house sells.
Some property owners have shifted the use of their homes from vacation rentals to long-term rentals to avoid dealing with short-term rental regulations, Belden-Doney said.
However, Barnes said more property owners seem to be making their homes available as short-term rentals.
According to census estimates, 60 percent of Cannon Beach housing units are seasonal or vacation rentals..
Short-term rentals have been tied to neighborhood disturbances and a factor in the lack of long-term rentals. But some say short-term rentals, considered more lucrative than long-term rentals, are part of the city’s economy. Room taxes help fund the city’s budget.
In the recent citizen survey, 59 percent said it was essential or very important that the city reduce the number of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.
Barnes, who fields calls from people interested in purchasing investment properties in Cannon Beach to rent short-term, said there is no proven connection between short-term rentals and the affordable housing shortage.
The city considered suspending new licenses for vacation rentals, one part of the short-term rental program, but decided against the suspension in August.
Jason Menke, co-owner of Sea Level Bakery, said some employees have had difficulty finding housing or have been in-between housing.
“It’s more difficult to find employees, because of the lack of housing there’s a lack of a workforce to begin with,” Menke said. “When we find someone who’s interested, it’s extremely difficult finding them housing so it’s affecting their ability to work here or not.”
Employees have found housing through Craigslist, word of mouth or are sleeping on friends’ couches. Staff has also lived in Wheeler or Gearhart, which is “doable but not ideal,” Menke said.
Haystack Rock Awareness Program coordinator Melissa Keyser said the lack of housing affects the program’s employees, leading to high turnover.
“I spend a lot of time hiring people,” she said, noting that some employees have found rooms to rent but want their own space.
For a period of time, Cannon Beach Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn noticed some overnight campers were city employees who were unable to find a place in town to live.
Jordan Gulasky, a former Sea Level Bakery employee who struggled to find housing, said she felt understaffed at work this summer — and the area’s lack of affordable housing is not conducive to community activities for young people. “No one else can find a way to live here so we have a severe lack of youth community,” she said. Gulasky has since relocated to an affordable home in Nehalem.
City councilors have tied the closure of the children’s center in April with the lack of families in the area due to the housing shortage.
Todd Johnston, the executive director of the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, said the city affordable housing task force has a public process and “takes into account the different viewpoints of residents.”
“Now it comes to a question of, ‘What does the community really want?’” he said. “I’m thankful that I’ve been able to be part of the process. There is not going to be an easy solution.”