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Affordable Housing--February 18, 2021 LWVLC Meeting by Ruth Kistler

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Commissioner Claire Hall spoke with our February member meeting (via Zoom) about affordable housing in Lincoln County. This is a topic with which Ms. Hall is very familiar; she currently chairs the Oregon Housing Stability Council. (This article is based on my notes from the meeting; any errors are probably due to my notetaking.)

In the U.S., public housing was built for defense workers during World War II. In the 1950's large numbers of high-rise public housing projects were built. These projects conformed to and exacerbated existing residential racial segregation. They were often poorly maintained and the situation contributed to a backlash against public housing. In the last 40 years we have seen a steep decline in investment in public housing and more support for individual private homes.

Oregon will need over 580,000 new housing units over the next 20 years; a quarter of these are for the existing population. Half of these units will probably need some public support. We are not making enough progress toward providing this housing; last year saw only about 8,500 units in the pipeline.

Public support for the construction of less-than-market-cost rental housing for low-income residents includes local tax breaks, system development fee breaks, and zoning density bonuses. Some of our county's recent affordable-housing additions are Fisterra Gardens in Yachats, Surfview Village in Newport, and Blackberry Hill in Toledo. The Lincoln County Land Trust provides 10 permanently affordable homes; qualified buyers of Land Trust homes can still build limited equity and when they sell, the home will still be affordable.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the expected expiration of the eviction moratorium have made the affordable housing situation worse. The good news is that record resources have been made available; the bad news -- it's not enough.

The Echo Mountain wildfire destroyed 301 homes, 241 of which were manufactured homes. FEMA is providing rental assistance to victims for up to 18 months. Sixteen manufactured homes have been provided in a Logan Road RV park.

We asked about homelessness in Lincoln County. Ms. Hall says only 10% - 20% of homelessness is "visible" (i.e., people you see on the street). One big driver of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. Other drivers are domestic violence, youth aging out of foster care, mental illness, substance abuse, and PTSD among veterans. With regard to our large number of homeless students, Cynthia Jacobi explained that the McKinney-Vento Act counts as homeless all children in "unstable living conditions," and that less than 20% of these were actually without a roof (but, WOW, that's still so many).

On the issue of Short Term Rentals (STR) -- STRs are not a major driver of the lack of affordable housing; only 4% of houses in the county are in STR. Still, any reduction in housing available to residents drives up costs. Ms. Hall told us that about 590 houses are being used as STRs in the county (outside cities). This figure is based on the license count and is probably accurate because the county has been using software to identify unlicensed STRs. Newport has capped STRs at 6% and will probably restrict them to vacation / STR zones. Fourteen percent of Lincoln City houses are STRs. The county currently has a moratorium on new STRs and is considering further regulations to take effect on expiration of the moratorium.

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