By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
July 15, 2006
The Hood River County Commission is pursuing plans to have affordable housing built in its State Street parking lot.
On Monday the county board will interview applicants for a citizen panel to develop a vision for the project. The appointed group will work with a consultant to come up with a range of development options.
“We want to create housing for people who work in the service industry of this community but are having trouble paying the bill to live here,” said Dave Meriwether, county administrator.
Officials believe there is room for 8-10 condominiums or apartments at the northern end of the 16,000-square-foot lot. And development could be accommodated without losing more than nine or 10 parking spaces.
“One advantage of this project is that the prices can be controlled because there is no cost for the property,” said David Meriwether, county administrator.
He said it is unknown at this time whether the county would sell the land or just lease it out. If the parcel is sold, Meriwether said more land could be purchased elsewhere for another venture.
However, he is adamant that the county has no intention of getting into the housing business.
“We just aren’t going to go there,” said Meriwether.
He said the public will be provided with an opportunity to comment on the pros and cons of all plans under consideration.
“We want to have assurances that whatever is built there will continue to be affordable housing even when it’s sold,” Meriwether said.
In February, he was given a green light by the county commission to investigate options for the lot across from the administration building. The county decided to look into the project after the need for affordable housing became clear last year.
In the summer of 2005, the county split the bill for an affordable housing study with the two city and port agencies within its territory. The study was arranged by Bill Fashing, county economic development coordinator, through the state Downtown Development Association. The fieldwork and data collection were undertaken by Marketek, Inc., of Portland.
Local officials learned through that study that housing costs within Hood River were pushing even middle-income and professional employees to live elsewhere.
According to Marketek, the average cost of a residence within the city limits was almost $230,000. The price was slightly lower in Cascade Locks and other areas of the county, at about $190,500.
Fashing and other officials became worried that without a supply of homes that workers could afford, a major employer was unlikely to be drawn into the area. And a manufacturing base was necessary for family-wage jobs that paid the taxes needed to maintain essential services.
So the county, City of Hood River and Port of Hood River formed an affordable housing committee in January. That group has spent five months compiling data that will be presented to the city council on July 24, and to the other entities in the near future.