Mark Davis: Creating more affordable housing

What is affordable housing?

The most of common definition stems from the guideline against spending more than 30 percent of your income on housing — rent or house payment plus utilities. This means what is affordable depends on your income level, not the market price of rentals or homes for sale. 

The accompanying graphic created by McMinnville Planning Director Heather Richards displays what is affordable at differing income levels in our area.

Area Median Income, known as AMI, currently stands at $55,440. The area in question is a statistical region defined by the federal government.

In the city of McMinnville, the median household income is even lower, at $47,500. The median home sale price is $317,000 and the average apartment rents for $1,113 per month, so a numerous residents can’t meet the 30 percent guideline. 

The affordable housing crisis in McMinnville is now affecting even middle-income residents. One-third of all homeowners and more than half of renters are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, placing them into the unaffordable category. 

In response, the city has asked its Affordable Housing Task Force to expand its mission to promote affordable housing for those earning up to 120 percent of AMI. There must be affordable housing solutions for everyone, from the RV dweller parked on city streets to the well-paid worker priced out of our current real estate market.

Guest Writer

Mark Davis helped develop or rehabilitate several hundred units of affordable housing over a 19-year career with the Housing Authority of Yamhill County, ending with his retirement in 2012. These days he spends his time working in the garden and walking around town or through the woods. He was recently appointed to the McMinnville Affordable Housing Task Force.

What needs to happen? First, we need to build more housing units.

This requires a two-pronged approach.

We need to examine underused land within city limits to create more housing.

McMinnville has recently made it easier to build accessory dwelling units and apartments above retail space. It has also been working to change the zoning on some parcels of land to allow more housing.

In addition, the Urban Renewal District should prioritize siting affordable housing into the recently upgraded Alpine Street area.

Second, more land will probably need to be included into the city to allow new development.

Because agriculture is a major industry in Oregon, state land use law permits the expansion of housing onto prime farmland only as a last resort. The city is currently starting on a multi-year process to quantify the need for additional residential land for the next 20 year. If more land is needed, identify the parcels that should eventually be annexed. 

There needs to be a significant financial investment by both public and private entities to create more housing units.

The marketplace will largely take care of middle-income residents, as they can afford typical rents and qualify for standard mortgage terms. They and the higher income homeowners also typically benefit from the federal government’s largest housing subsidy — a real estate income tax deduction worth $77 billion in 2016.

Families below 80 percent of AMI will need financial assistance, either through reduced housing costs or subsidized rent payments. McMinnville Area Habitat for Humanity and Community Home Builders both offer low-cost alternatives for home ownership that include a sweat equity component, and the Housing Authority of Yamhill County has a program to assist first-time homebuyers.

HAYC also provides rental help to about 1,700 families each month, primarily as a pass-through of the HUD Section 8 rental subsidy payment to landlords. In addition, there are several USDA Rural Development housing projects in the area that subsidize tenant rent. 

Both USDA programs limit the tenant’s rent payment to the recommended 30 percent of income. More than 2,000 families have signed up on the Section 8 waiting list in hopes of getting future assistance with their rent.

New housing is the most expensive form, so it is critical that we not only look toward new development, but we also take steps to preserve the affordable housing we currently have. Maintaining and rehabilitating older homes and apartments may not be as exciting as new construction, but it is typically much more cost-effective.

HAYC has a low or no-interest homeowner rehabilitation loan program that allows homeowners — often retired seniors with reduced incomes — to make critical home repairs serving to extend the life of the structure.

Finally, we need to scrutinize the other side of the housing affordability equation and add higher wage jobs in the community. Instead of determining ways to subsidize more housing costs, we can rely on well-paid employees to purchase or rent market-rate housing.

The city-owned fiber optic line circling the community has the capacity to serve more high-tech jobs than even the most optimistic projections.

The McMinnville Economic Development Partnership has set a goal of creating 1,500 high-paying jobs in the next 15 years.  Let’s make it happen!

While most government leaders understand the importance of affordable housing, don’t be bashful about letting them know you care and want them to spend more time and money to make it happen. The city, county and housing authority all hold public meetings you can attend and provide comments.

In addition, the city will be holding several public meetings for your opinion on how to increase land for housing over the coming years. Check the City website or the News-Register for when and where to comment.

If you have an unused garage or other space that could be converted into an income-producing accessory dwelling unit, contact the city planning department on how to proceed. The city is also seeking locations for its newly adopted car camping program.

If you have the financial capability, there are several nonprofits in the community that offer housing assistance to those needing our support, especially those who no longer have a house or apartment and are thus living on the streets. We need to continue to work to get people off the street, but we will only add to the homeless population if we don’t act now to increase our supply of affordable housing.

Finally, I ask you to accept the changes in the community and embrace those that are coming. 

Yes, there are too many stoplights and you can no longer drive from one side of town to the other in five minutes. Sure, we now have big box stores and parking lots where we once saw trees and fields. But none of this is going to change by complaining. 

We have a chance to make future growth something we can be proud of over the next 20 years. But that will be a hollow achievement if we don’t figure out how to build enough affordable housing so all our residents have a decent place to call home.



Looks like you attached the wrong graphic based on how Mark described it.

Racheal Winter

Leo, you're right. We've fixed it.

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