By editorial board • 

Housing crisis is not going to solve itself

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the 1932 commencement address at Oglethorpe University in Georgia, thousands of Americans were living in “Hoovervilles” — makeshift tent cities set up for the homeless.
With affordable housing weighing on his mind, FDR said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
Those words, “Above all, try something,” echo almost 90 years later as America finds itself again struggling to provide the basic necessity of shelter.
At first glance, a bill before the Legislature to authorize an affordable housing pilot project in McMinnville seems a weak brand of something.
Legislators passed a law in 2016 authorizing local units of government to require units for lower-income residents in new apartment complexes and other multifamily structures. However, it only applies to projects of 20 or more units; nothing built this century would qualify in McMinnville.
That gave city officials an idea. Why not expand the law to apply to smaller projects?
If statewide application seemed too great a leap, at least give it a test run in McMinnville. Let the city be the guinea pig. If the legislative elixir worked here, it could be expanded to other cities as well.
Of course, developers dislike governmental mandates. So the Oregon Homebuilders Association is fighting House Bill 2997 beak and talon.
McMinnville also faces a crippling shortage of buildable land. Another measure, House Bill 2336, might help.
In 2016, legislators passed a bill authorizing two cities, one of more than 25,000 population and the other with fewer, to expand their urban growth boundaries to take in additional land for affordable housing projects. But no city falling below the 25,000 threshold volunteered.
HB 2336 would remove the population limits. That could give a larger community, such as McMinnville, a chance.
It’s a long shot, but it could free up some land. As FDR admonished, “Above all, try something.”
While trying assorted somethings, local residents might also want to lower their expectations, or at least broaden their perspective, on what affordable housing means. They can no longer afford to limit their definition to apartment units, frowning on duplexes and looking down their noses at mobile home parks.
For McMinnville to expand its inventory of affordable housing, more affluent residents need to abandon fantasies of Lake Oswego Jr. and accept a broader mix of housing. As Roosevelt said in his commencement address, we need “the ability to face facts — even unpleasant ones — bravely.”

Comments

Bigfootlives

So you open the urban growth boundary for affordable housing... how does that make it any cheaper to build or live there? Are these going to be apartment complexes after apartment complexes? I think the damage has been done to the local housing prices. Are those new apartments going to be cheaper than the current ones? Subsidized? How many will need to be built before local prices come down?

I am very fortunate that I own a home now because I would likely not afford one today. The urban growth boundary and the limited supply of land within has driven up prices. Period.

As FDR said if it fails, try another.