Most people agree there is a lack of affordable, family and workforce housing in Clatsop County. Finding solutions to the nuanced problem must start with a collective effort, according to many who attended a “housing huddle” organized by Clatsop Economic Development Resources.
This collective effort kicked off with a two-hour conversation at Clatsop Community College on Tuesday, Oct. 20, involving about 50 people representing various private and public entities, including Providence Seaside Hospital and the college; state, county and local governments; businesses; building and contracting companies; banks and financing institutions and numerous other organizations and agencies.
While the problem is mutual, and has been identified as an economic barrier along the North Coast, each city has its own set of obstacles that has stunted new affordable housing.
Cannon Beach is somewhat land-locked and the available land is mostly considered oceanfront property, which inflates its value. Seaside has high system-development charges. Gearhart is facing an influx of short-term vacation rentals that appeal more to landowners than long-term rentals. Warrenton is filled with property classified as wetlands; and Astoria presents some topographical and geological challenges to development.
The housing shortfall
Don Lee, the U.S. Coast Guard’s housing supervisor for Sector Columbia River, said it is increasingly difficult for him to find places for Coast Guard families to rent, and that includes the officers, which seems to indicate the housing shortfall “is pretty much across the board.”
“There are just not enough multi-family rentals, or single rentals, in this area to accommodate the need,” he said, adding if private and public partnerships focused on the lower “end of the stick, it would give breathing room.”
Some said once more affordable housing is available, people staying in cheaper places, who could afford more, would be able to do so, and vice versa.
“Our market is not breathing,” Lee said. “It’s going up like a rocket.”
Ideally, occupancy rates should be at about 95 percent to allow landlords and management companies to do maintenance on rentals, “You have two people waiting for every one that comes open,” Steve Olstedt, president of Olstedt Construction, said.
Pinpointing the obstacles
The commonly accepted standard for affordable housing is families who pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty paying for other necessities, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Randy Stemper, a general contractor, said he is involved in a development underway in Seaside that will offer 26 two-bedroom units at a cost of about $1,000 to $1,150 per unit. That is what it takes for developers to make a return on their investment — at least in Seaside, he said.
Developers won’t build new facilities at a loss, he said, which leads to the question, “How do we lower the costs to the investors?” Olstedt agreed there is land available to develop, particularly in Warrenton, but securing a good interest rate is key because costs are ultimately passed to the end users — the renters.
Developers need to be able to “build cheaper, so we can offer (housing) for cheaper,” said Ben Johnson of Sunrise Homes.
Solutions around the state
Richard Krueger, of Krueger Property Management, shared viable solutions he has found in other Oregon cities. In Pendleton, the state backed a loan for the developer to get a better interest rate and the city helped provide land. For the trade, 30 percent of the units had to be low-income housing, and the rest could be rented at market value, Krueger said.
“That’s an example of the state and the city’s involvement with the private sector, which I think would be nice to have,” he said.
In Tigard, he is working on a 118-unit apartment complex with a 19-year tax abatement that must provide 40 percent of the units for low-income housing. Additionally, 1 percent of the development must be owned and operated by a nonprofit agency.
A number of potential solutions were proposed at the meeting, including:
• Identifying possible buildable lands on Clatsop Plains, between Seaside and Cannon Beach or Seaside and Warrenton;
• Cities offering relief from system-development charges, tax abatement and incremental financing;
• Communities collecting funds to use for gap financing;
• Local governments legislating and enforcing control mechanisms to limit short-term vacation rentals;
• Helping homeowners utilize garages and basements or build tiny homes to offer for rent;
• Finding areas for potential accessory or infill housing;
• Forming housing equity partnerships;
• Institutions and businesses helping to provide housing to their employees and
• Increasing mix-use structures, such as libraries or other public buildings that provide housing on upper stories, which might require cities to grant zoning variances.
“There are lots of tools out there, you just have to agree as a community what those tools are and see if those work,” Astoria Community Development Director Kevin Cronin said. “If they don’t work, you go back to the drawing board and try something else.” .
At the end of the meeting, participants were asked to sign up to participate on one of four unofficial committees.
One committee will take inventory of buildable lands in the region and quantify the need, or determine the true supply and demand. Another will research best practices or solutions being used in other cities, such as the examples Krueger provided.
The third committee will craft a model budget of what it would take for a developer to build a multi-family dwelling. The fourth group will research and generate ideas for nontraditional solutions, such as tiny houses or accessory housing.