Housing Commission meeting marks historic day for Tillamook County

The recent housing study of Tillamook County revealed that more than 70 percent of rental households with incomes less than $35,000 have unaffordable housing. – Courtesy Image

It’s a story Sarah Absher had never shared publicly.
“When my daughter was 9 years old in 2010, we lost our housing,” said Absher, director of Tillamook County Community Development. “I was a single mom, working professional. I always worked for the County with a good paying job. Yet, we could not find housing.”
By Chelsea Yarnell
Guest Contributor
After extensive searching with no luck, Absher and her daughter were forced to move in with her parents in Lincoln City.
“One day I got a call from South Prairie [Elementary] School that my daughter had mentioned that we were living in Lincoln City with grandma and grandpa; and I would need to enroll her in school in Lincoln City. It was the most devasting moment during that time.”
Luckily, after three months, Absher and her daughter were able to find housing in Tillamook County.
Their story is not uncommon.
Over the last ten years, housing in Tillamook County has grown scarce for people of all economic incomes.
So, what’s being done about it?
The forming of the Tillamook County Housing Commission.
“This is another milestone for housing in the County,” Tillamook County Commissioner Bill Baertlein said. “Six months into my first term I started, so we’re going on four or five years working on housing in Tillamook County.”
Dec. 6 was the first meeting.
“Today is a day I believe is of historic significance because we’ve never had a Housing Commission meeting in Tillamook County,” Baertlein said.
Commission members include: Erin Skaar, Mis Carlson-Swanson, Tim Borman, Gayle Ousele, Kari Fleisher, Barbara McClaughlin, Sarah Beauben, Kris Lachenmeier, Suzanne Weber, Ed Gallager, Sarah Absher, Cami Aufdermauer and Valerie Schumann.
The road to a Housing Commission has included the forming of a Housing Task Force and the attempt to pass the (now) defeated Construction Excise Tax.
From a county-wide study arranged by the Housing Task Force, it was found that 50 percent of all homes in the County are substandard for living conditions.
The limited housing options has also forced the median house price to jump $60,000 in just three years to $282,000 as of January 2018.
And second homes are a fast, growing trend.
“We used to be a kept secret, but know we’ve been found,” CARE Executive Director Erin Skaar said. “We live in a very desirable place to have a vacation home, a second home, which is great to grow our economy on the tourism side. But it has changed our community…which means we have a greater reliance on the service sector.”
From 2009-2014, a growth of 1,300 additional vacation homes were added to the housing demographic, whereas rental and residence homes saw no additional growth.
“[Vacation homes] in itself is not an issue; that’s economy driven. The issue is we are not backfilling on the other side…housing for those who are living and working here for those economies.”
It’s what is called: a “stuck housing market.”
So, how do we get a fluid market?
Recommendations made to the County were to: hire a housing coordinator, adopt the housing plan into local municipals plans, review housing types, explore employer assisted housing, and establish public/private partnerships
Consultant John Southgate will lead the Housing Commission in the first few months by assisting in writing the bylaws and also developing a vision and mission statement.
But ultimately, to make significant impact, the Commission will require funding.
And Baertlein has his eye on the Transient Lodging Tax.
“I have been working with Senator Betsy Johnson on a bill that will allow cities and counties to use up to 20 percent of the transient lodging tax dollars collected to fund workforce housing,” he said. “This work allows our new Housing Commission to have the funds to stimulate workforce housing for those working in the tourist industry.
According to Baertlein, the 20 percent of the TLT funds would bring $640,000 per year to be used by the Commission.
While the Commission hunts for funding, there’s another proposed housing study in the works that will evaluate what land in the County is suitable for development and what type of housing can be built on developable land.
The Commission hopes to meet the first Thursday of every month at 9 a.m. at the Tillamook County Library. The meetings are open to the public.

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