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County could site affordable housing at edge of parking lot

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

February 22, 2006

Hood River County could site affordable housing units at the edge of its State Street parking lot.

Dave Meriwether, county administrator, believes there is room for 8-10 condominiums or apartments at the north end of the lot. He said that even with 18,000 square feet used for some type of development, just nine parking spaces would be lost.

“We’re just at the beginning stages of exploring this idea. We know there is a need and we are looking at ways to meet it,” said Meriwether.

Last summer Hood River 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 field work and data collection was undertaken by Marketek, Inc., of Portland.

Local officials were subsequently advised 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 of Hood River was almost $230,000. The price was slightly lower in Cascade Locks and other areas of the county, at about $190,500. The consultants calculated that the county family of four median income was $50,600.

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 county. And a manufacturing base was necessary for family-wage jobs and pay the taxes needed to maintain essential services.

So, the three governmental bodies located in Hood River put together an affordable housing committee. The 10-member study group is chaired by Cindy Walbridge, city planning director. Serving on behalf of the county is Commissioner Maui Meyer, citizen Ruth Chausse, and Carl Perron, planning commissioner. From the port are Commissioner Kathy Watson and Mike Doke, marketing director, and Joella Dethman, director of Hood River County Commission on Children and Families. From the city: Councilor Paul Blackburn, Kate McBride, planning commissioner, and Richard Sassara, (HOusing for PEople). The advisory group meets the first and the third Tuesdays at noon in the Expo Center conference room.

In early February, the County Commission gave Meriwether a green light to investigate options for the property across from the administration building.

Meriwether said that once all of the necessary data is gathered, the county board will decide whether to pursue the project in the parking lot. At that time, he said, a decision is needed to sell the property or maintain ownership and rent or lease units. He said the county could bank the money from the sale for another property purchase. Since the State Street lot has a view of the Columbia River, Meriwether anticipates that it will carry a high market value. He said the profit from that sale could be used to provide still more affordable housing.

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