By editorial board • 

Small steps make some progress in addressing housing issue

The old saying goes, “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” In McMinnville’s case, city officials have broken out the candles, but are still stumbling around in the dark when it comes to affordable housing.

It’s not their fault. It is an overwhelming problem, not only in McMinnville but for countless cities where housing is too limited and too expensive for people with low and even moderate incomes.

Ultimately, the solution lies in building more housing at all income levels. In the meantime, there are candles to be lit.

Two of them are easing restrictions on secondary dwellings and raising the bar, if only slightly, for conversion of homes into vacation rentals. Both proposals will likely find their way before the city council, and they deserve serious consideration.

The idea of easing restrictions on so-called “accessory dwellings,” small homes located on the same property as the dominant structure, was first mentioned by the McMinnville Affordable Housing Task Force.

Compared with cities of similar size, McMinnville is more lenient on such dwellings in some ways, but more restrictive in others.

First, McMinnville requires a minimum of 300 square feet. Second, it requires utility connections separate from those of the main dwelling, a substantial barrier.

More accessory dwellings are not going to move homeless people off the street. But it’s a step the council can take immediately.

So is requiring neighborhood meetings before homeowners can convert their properties to vacation rentals, thus eliminate single-family residences from an already very tight inventory.

Such rentals are a volatile issue in McMinnville, as they are in many other communities, notably in tourist-oriented Central Oregon and Oregon Coast locales.

Homeowners often believe they should be able to do as they please with their properties. Critics argue that depletes the housing stock and erodes the spiritual essence of neighborhood and community.

There is very little city government can do to stem the tide of vacation rentals without running roughshod over property owners. Requiring a neighborhood meeting before applications for rentals are approved seems a modest and reasonable compromise, as the final decision would still rest with city hall

These extremely small measures may not put a perceptible dent in the stock of affordable housing. They are mostly feel-good measures.

But does that fact render the measures meaningless? Not all.

In the face of any problem, the worst thing to do is nothing at all.

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