Housing council

Attendees at a housing listening session at the Clatsop Community College South County Campus in Seaside.

How can the federal government help ease the North Coast’s housing crunch?

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici came to Seaside Tuesday as part of a series of visits along the Coast. The goal was to crack the code of the South County’s ongoing housing crisis, one which sees a dearth of affordable workforce housing — a problem hindering economic development, leading to a rise in homelessness and higher housing costs.

“Oregon and much of the nation is facing this affordability crisis,” Bonamici said. “There are so many issues that contribute: inadequate housing stock, new units are often unaffordable, especially for the middle and lower income households. The federal support for the cost burden is insufficient and frankly declining, and income growth has failed to keep pace with housing costs and other expenses.”

Her remarks were echoed by those in attendance, including Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer, Helping Hands Re-Entry and Outreach Center Executive Director Alan Evans and Clatsop County Commissioner Lianne Thompson. Kevin Leahy of Clatsop Economic Development Resources hosted the event.

Thompson suggested using federal and state forestlands to build housing throughout rural Oregon, adding value to forest projects and jobs. “It really gives structural stability to the rural economy,” she said.

Balensifer said cities should consider alternatives to traditional single-family dwellings, such as cottage clusters or tiny homes.

He sought more flexibility in the defining of wetlands, with a proposed rating system that could permit development on less critical lands. “There are a lot of wetlands in the city of Warrenton that are not high quality wetlands. They’re cow pastures.”

A more streamlined process could speed developments that can take years.

Others session participants sought incentives for developers, fee waivers or reduced system development charges.

Evans, whose Helping Hands served more than 1,300 people last year, said his organization was unable to secure access to federal funding, despite the growing need. “We have a growing need with no access to funding,” he said. “None whatsoever. We bark, we cry, we beg, we do all those things — but we still can’t meet the need. Our referrals exceed what we’re capable of providing.”

The listening session was part of a series of six discussions on the housing crisis in Northwest Oregon.

Bonamici anticipates legislation in Congress designed to create 3 million “deeply affordable homes” across the country. Other potential tools include housing vouchers; low-income tax-credits or raising the minimum wage.

With a voice in Washington, Bonamici said there’s a political will on both sides of the aisle. “People in communities across the country are experiencing this, it’s not red or blue, urban suburban. It’s an issue everywhere.”

“Government isn’t the answer to all things, but there truly is a role, and national policies and resources are going to be a vital part of addressing this crisis,” she added. “State, local, federal, public, private, nonprofit — everyone’s going to need to be working together.”

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