By editorial board • 

Affordable housing cries for multi-pronged effort

On every level — city, county, state and nation — we are facing an acute shortage of affordable housing.

Several forces combined to create the problem, so several will have to be harnessed to fashion a solution. And it won’t be easy.

In Oregon, urban growth boundaries limit buildable land, introducing scarcity that drives prices up. That’s particularly true when it seems almost impossible to expand them. 

Meanwhile, planning and zoning force residential construction onto more costly terrain in the interest of preserving flat, fertile farmland. And systems development charges, imposed to shift some of the cost for new infrastructure onto those creating the need, heap on additional cost.

Employment and construction have begun a robust rebound, which has fueled a sharp rise in apartment rents and home prices. However, salaries have not come close to keeping pace, saddling us with this situation:

Oregon’s rental market is the nation’s third least affordable. More than half of Oregon renters devote at least 30 percent of income to housing, and more than a quarter at least 50 percent.

Habitat for Humanity notes, “There is not a single county in Oregon where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford even a one-bedroom apartment at ... fair market rent.” It says almost half of all job openings pay less than $10 an hour, and Latinos and children are disproportionately affected. In fact, it says, 20 percent of all Oregon children live in households falling below the federal poverty line.

Oregon’s minimum wage is $9.25, but on average, it takes $16.61 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment without committing more than 30 percent of total household income. A minimum-wage worker would have to put in 72 hours a week to meet that threshold, which the National Low Income Housing Coalition defines as the basic “housing wage.”

It’s even worse locally. In Yamhill County, the basic housing wage runs $18.15 an hour, and there are more than 1,300 families on the waiting list for Section 8 housing. In McMinnville, the poverty rate tops 20 percent, highest of the county’s 10 cities.

Elements of a potential solution include more emphasis on the state planning system’s affordable housing goal, easing of the UGB gridlock, selective SDC waiver or reduction, continued upward pressure on the minimum wage and more job-generating commercial and industrial development, which means protecting commercial and industrial zoning.

House Bill 2564 would allow cities to mandate an affordable component in major housing projects, which would help. And Gov. Kate Brown has called for issuance of $100 million in state bonds to subsidize affordable housing development.

Higher density is also a critical element, as it cuts land costs. But that takes political will, as it tends to provoke the kind of fierce opposition Habitat ran into with its common-wall Aspire Project.

We find it encouraging to see the city of McMinnville making affordable housing a top goal for the coming year, the county continuing with its push to end homelessness, and the governor embracing the cause on the state level. If we all pull together, we can make a real difference over time.


Don Dix

Oh sure! Since government of all types is so good with money, let's throw some at the city for parking .... maybe we end up with a bridge over Cozine!