A foundation for affordability

Council to hear housing strategy Monday

The City of Hood River’s draft Housing Needs Analysis and the Hood River Housing Strategy gets its first public look on Monday.

The cost of renting or buying a home is increasingly out of reach for many of the residents of the Columbia Gorge, citizens and agency officials told the city council in January. Since then the city has been assembling a plan of action to address housing affordability, via the development of a comprehensive Housing Needs Analysis, Buildable Lands Inventory and Housing Strategy. It was developed with the input of a local Technical Advisory Committee and the consulting firm, ECONorthwest.

The recommendations will be presented to Hood River City Council June 22. Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

Addressing affordable housing was the city’s top goal for 2015, identified by council in its goal-setting session in November 2014; the city included $70,000 in the planning department budget for temporary staffing to work on the issue.

No decisions are scheduled to be made Monday; planning commission and city council members will be present, and this is first time the two bodies are seeing the strategy.

The ECONorthwest study found a variety of factors getting in the way of the supply of affordable housing in Hood River, including:

n Vacation and short-term rentals create market pressures and deplete attainable housing

n A recent study indicates that if you make less than $16.61 per hour, you can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment in Oregon

n For those who qualify for assistance programs, there is not enough housing to go around.

The needs and inventory study “provides Hood River with a factual basis to support future planning efforts related to housing and options for addressing unmet housing needs in Hood River,” according to Mid-Columbia Housing Authority Executive Director Joel Madsen, who is also a member of the advisory committee

“The TAC has been reviewing the recommendations, trying to poke holes in it, to get to a point where we have a base knowledge of the facts and data behind the facts to drive us to make policy recommendations,” Madsen said. “That’s what this document is all about: Looking at the data, here are the strategies that the city has come up to address the problems we have been looking at for a long time.”

He said the focus of the Housing Needs Analysis is an assessment of whether Hood River has enough land within the City’s Urban Growth Boundary to accommodate expected population growth. The report documents the inventory of vacant land in Hood River, based on tax lot data, data about development on each tax lot, and constraints to development (for example, steep slopes or wetlands).

“The cost of housing in communities throughout the Gorge has increased more rapidly than wages, and housing affordability is a challenge for people across the socio-economic spectrum. Those who work in our community are increasingly unable to live here. And employers are increasingly challenged by their ability to attract a talented work force due to the cost of housing,” Madsen said.

The report also includes a forecast of needed housing and land for housing in Hood River based on expected population growth.

The forecast of housing needs considers historical information about Hood River’s housing market, including recent development trends, homeownership trends, and trends in housing prices.

The forecast is based on Hood River’s forecast for population growth and considers information about the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of Hood River’s current residents and trends that may affect housing choice over the 2015 to 2035 period.

The draft Hood River Housing Strategy focuses on increasing residential land use efficiency, secondary housing and short-term rental housing policy, and the development of affordable housing. If Hood River adopts the proposed strategy it could serve as a model for other communities in the Gorge that seek attainable housing solutions.

Madsen said the document is based on three parameters: more efficient use of the land, the short-term rental market and vacation market, and affordable housing as a problem that affects many socio-economic levels.

“The basis is in the numbers,” he said. “If you look at the housing needs analysis, there is a deficit of available housing for people across the spectrum. There is an element of affordability and we need to keep that in mind, it is not just the low-wage workers, this is a big issue across the board.”

“I am so pleased that Hood River is taking action to address the challenge now —before the situation becomes worse — to foster the kind of diverse Gorge community we all want, and where we all have access to safe and affordable homes,” he said.

“It sets a good framework for what other localities could do the help address the challenge. In many ways Hood River leads our region and this is another example of how they’re kind of leading the charge. “I’m excited and pleased the city has taken seriously the affordability issue,” he said.

“This is huge, a move forward. I applaud the leadership of Mayor Paul Blackburn and (city manager) Steve Wheeler in moving this along. We’ve been talking about this issue for some time, and this is something that can really help move the needle.”

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