By editorial board • 

While tourism is important, so is having place to live

Jonathan Rouse appeared genuinely sympathetic last month when he was confronted by some of the low-income neighbors he will displace by building a 16-unit apartment complex on Northeast First Street.

He said his decision boils down to math. Coachman Manor’s existing seven mobile home lots are not financially sustainable. He must scuttle the mobile home park and build new market-rate apartments to make a living and feed his family.

We understand. However, some money from the city might just help Rouse and other developers with their math problems to the point where they can offer affordable housing.

The problem is the city has no money in the couch cushions to encourage affordable housing projects. Dedicated funds to the current cause would likely be at the expense of essential services. But Senate Bill 595 could change that situation.

Under state law, 70 percent of the revenue from lodging taxes must be used to promote tourism. Cities can place the remaining 30 percent in their general funds. The bill would allow cities to assess an additional 30 percent for affordable housing projects.

People connected with the tourism industry are, as one might predict, turning several shades of fuchsia over this idea.

Just because city officials can take the money doesn’t mean they will.

McMinnville suffers from a severe shortage of buildable land. Opportunities to contribute to affordable housing projects remain rare. Still, it would be wise to have the money available when such opportunities present themselves.

Plus, it should also be mentioned that the destination marketing organizations like Visit McMinnville that generally have dibs on the money can spare some. The state law that automatically gives them 70 percent of the pie passed when Oregon’s tourism industry needed much more help.

Many economic drivers, particularly the wine industry, have lightened the burden on the tourism organizations. It is also certainly in the long-term best interest of tourism to have homes where people who serve the visitors can live.

We endorse Senate Bill 595. We hope the McMinnville City Council will embrace the recommendation of the Affordable Housing Task Force and do the same.

The bill doesn’t unfairly afflict one segment of the business community with the responsibility for solving the housing crisis. Critics of the bill might suggest it does, but that argument amounts to nothing more than political hyperbole.

If anything, tourism organizations have been unfairly privileged with a cash cow they haven’t had to share with anyone. They need to take a broader view and realize the importance affordable housing plays in the overall economic vitality of the region.

One other point: City resources are perpetually stretched thin, but there are no prohibitions against officials from using some of the 30 percent they already receive for affordable housing.

Zero is spent now on such housing. More money needs to be spent, and it needs to originate from somewhere.

A community that cares more for the people who sip the wine than those who pick the grapes and pour the glasses creates a chasm between the haves and have nots which, sooner or later threatens everyone.

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