By Chelsea Yarnell and Julius Jortner
Where will we live?
As the economy continues to grow in Tillamook County, major employers are finding it difficult to staff their businesses? Why? Housing shortages.
The first two (of four) community Housing Task Force meetings have attracted leaders of major local businesses and locals alike to express their concerns, and possible solutions to the county’s housing epidemic.
While scarcity of low-cost housing was mentioned as a significant part of the problem at meetings held in Tillamook and Pacific City, there also appears to be an overall shortage of available housing in the county.
Several major businesses are contributing more than $100,000 to help the housing task force do its work, including $50,000 from Tillamook Creamery, $40,000 from Meyer Memorial Trust, $10,000 from Tillamook Hospital, and $1,000 from Oregon Coast Bank.
Some of these funds will go towards a consultant’s assessment of the housing situation in the county.
Housing Task Force Organizer Erin Skaar told the Headlight Herald that the request for proposal will be released to potential consultants in a few weeks, with granting of a contract projected to be issued in late spring. The task force hopes the study will take place during 2016 Fall with results returned by December.
“Word of mouth” as a common advertising practice, was point of discussion at the first Housing Task Force series meeting held at Tillamook Bay Community College on March 16.
One attendee questioned if there really was a housing shortage in the county, or if you just about having the right connections.
This method of advertising has created an environment of discriminator housing practices in Tillamook County, Skaar reported.
The lack of seasonal housing, absentee owners, housing for people with pets, and lack of buildable plan were also discussed.
Incentivizing second homeowners to rent out their vacant homes as a solution was suggested.
The Tillamook County Housing Task Force obtained public input regarding housing shortages in the county in a two-hour meeting held March 17 at Kiawanda Community Center in Pacific City.
Among the 17 attendees were county commissioner Bill Baertlein, the commission’s liaison to the task force, Skaar, (also executive director of CARE, the county’s non-profit social services agency), Melissa Carlson-Swanson, director of the Tillamook branch of Oregon Food Bank, Mike Cohen, director of Tillamook’s Economic Development Center, several residents of the Pacific City area including a couple realtors, and Kyle Kearns, assistant coordinator of the northwest region for Oregon’s Regional Assistance for Rural Environments.
Factors specific to the Pacific City area include the seasonal nature of the local economy, which combines peak demand for employees with peak scarcity of rental housing as visitors come to the coast in the warmer months. High real-estate prices drive investors towards developing expensive houses rather than affordable apartments. There is a shortage of apartments in the area.
The seasonal employment comprises mostly low-paying jobs that serve tourists. Thus, living far away from work makes cost of commuting a significant financial burden to low-income employees.
Other problems mentioned included:
- Mortgage lending on some inexpensive homes, such as manufactured homes, can be difficult to obtain.
- Individual families and businesses still bear “scars from the 2008 recession,” such as impaired credit, that make financing difficult.
- Statistics show many vacancies in the PC houses area, but that seems an artifact of the many part-time residences and seasonal rentals.
- Availability of lower cost rentals is decreasing as local trailer park spaces are being converted to other uses; also, rents are increasing for remaining spaces.
- Many people lack money for deposits on apartments.
- Developers of new construction focus on tourist accommodations and up-scale residences.
- Housing assistance via “Section 8” (through US Dept of Housing and Urban Development) is poorly understood
- Substance abuse is a factor: “staying clean” is a problem for some who seek residences
Potential solutions in addition those mentioned above, included:
- Build “tiny houses” to allow several to fit in available “nooks and crannies” of the local geography. There was talk of having a tiny house “off the grid” – however, someone pointed out that some connections to utilities are a requirement for most properties.
- Bigger employers and farmers perhaps could build housing for employees on their properties. Perhaps tiny houses? Zoning regulations may preclude some such uses, like building residences on agricultural lands.
- Because many people have a hard time dealing with the complexities of finding and securing housing and arranging financing, etc., Baertlein suggested making available “navigators” who would be able to guide people looking for housing or hoping to develop housing.
- Convert spaces above businesses to residential use in multi-story buildings; however, zoning rules may impede such uses.
Seated around one table, every one had a chance to express thoughts and suggestions relevant to housing issues. Kearns compiled lists of problems and solutions mentioned.
The lists will be typed up and distributed to those interested. Contact Kyle Kearns 513-240-4593.
The next meetings to be on March 30 6-8 p.m. (in Spanish) at Tillamook HS in Tillamook, and on April 5 from 6-8 p.m. at Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue main station, on Hwy 101 between Nehalem and Manzanita.
For more information, contact Erin Skaar at 503-842-5261.