By Laura Swanson
On December 14th at the second meeting of the Tillamook County Housing Task Force, organizer/facilitator Erin Skaar announced that the effort had received two grants, totaling $90,000 – from Tillamook County Creamery Association and Meyer Memorial Trust housing advocacy.
These funds will provide a budget for the task force’s efforts to address a myriad of housing issues in Tillamook County, the primary concern being the lack of “affordable” housing.
During the initial meeting, the task force set its intentions to address two tracks in regards to housing: long-term planning and “low-hanging-fruit” as Skaar labels it, local short-term solutions. “This involves some creative planning, less red tape,” explained Skaar. “There is the possibility of a project here, so we are determining what that looks like, to identify the appropriate dirt, location, area, What does it look like? We need to get the word out about our needs.”
The task force focus is one three main areas including a housing assessment, project funding, and community listening.
“It is important that the process be a county wide, that we hear from everyone,” Skaar said. “All geographic areas, listen to developers, landlords, tenants and we need to hear all the voices, not just the loudest ones.” She continued, “We will be very thoughtful about how to spend the money to determine the most impactful solutions.”
The discussion turned toward the term “affordable” housing, and Mike Cohen, director of Tillamook County Economic Development and Small Business Development Center commented, “We need entry-level, professional housing as part of it, and what is affordable for some isn’t for others.” Housing, in general, any building, has positive impacts on economic development. “It’s awareness and what types of housing are needed,” Skaar said.
The task force’s first major identified project is a housing assessment which will provide a detailed, long-term road map for housing issues now and into the future.
As preparation for putting together a request for proposal to produce a housing assessment, the gathered task force members were asked to provide their input on what should be in the document, both qualiative and quantiative, such as the challenges faced by employers that have qualified applicants that can’t find a place to live.
The assessment would include demographic data, for example that 49 percent of the children in Tillamook County are in households at or below poverty level, and the percentage of households paying more than 50 percent income to rent or housing.
Surveys of employers, informaiton from contractors and developers to assess their attitudes about housing and the barriers. “The purpose of the housing assessment is to show the need,” Skaar explained. “To identify half dozen or so niches, where there’s demand and how it pencils out.”
Tillamook County faces unique challenges when it comes to housing development. According to Bryan Pohl, Tillamook County Community Development Director, “There is not a lot of available, buildable lands, and zoning restrictions within varied jurisdictions. This is a much more difficult place to build. My concern is about future generations, about trends in education and training being less accessible.” He continued, “It’s always going to be difficult and expensive to live here, and the work we do now will be positioning for the next generation.” Doing this work brings up the conversation, “Where are we headed?” said Skaar. “And, why is this so critical to plan and develop infrastructure, including capacity and the skilled labor for building. This is a model for Tillamook County’s future.”
Marci Hallock, owner/manager of several Tillamook County properties added, “There are all kinds of barriers for landlord and developers, besides zoning, including high system development fees, the difficult to upgrade and maintain old housing that can’t pass inspections to qualify for Section 8 designation.” Smaller houses and higher density were also mentioned by property owners as options to consider for developments.
Areas of interest as short term solutions will focus on rehab of existing housing and identifying foreclosed properties that could be made available as rentals. “A full inventory of all types of housing in the county and buildable lands inventory are the ultimate outcome of the assessment,” Skaar noted. “I’d like to have regional maps of the areas showing available land for housing on overlays, a visual tool that makes it easy to identify potential areas for development.”
Saving existing homes is a top priority and financially better investment. It takes say $20,000 to $30,000 to bring an existing home up to standards, where a new home can cost $200,000 or more. Another piece in the puzzle is determining where to center the knowledge and who carries it forward, a housing leader, such as a county mandated housing authority.
It may be necessary to have a local governmental agency to qualify for some of the grants and special funding opportunities for these projects. The housing assessment would look at the options, and gathering the information to serve as a clearinghouse for the various city requirements.
Another identifiable barrier is the requirement for flood insurance in some areas, looking at building above floodplains or raising homes and the costs involved with those options.
The task force touched on the issues of funding housing development projects, and the challenges to put together a cohesive, often creative, funding package to make these projects “pencil out.” ‘Housing is more than just providing four walls and a roof, that’s too narrow of a description of the issue,” said Pohl. “This is about all actual needs, infrastructure.”
The housing task force’s third priority, community listening will gather information to determine more details of the housing assessment. Through a variety of means, the task force will reach out to all stakeholders, demographics and regions utilizing a variety of ways to communicate including town hall style meetings, social media and online surveys, written surveys, presentations and Q&As at churches, with civic organizations, businesses, social service agencies.
Specific focus groups with real estate agents, builders and contractors, large employers and small businesses will capture their input as well.
The next meeting of the Tillamook County Housing Task Force will be held on January 11th at 3:30 pm at TBCC. For more information about the Housing Task Force, contact Erin Skaar at CARE 503-842-5361.