Clatsop County’s housing crisis reverberates all the way to the halls of Congress.
This spring, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici addressed a roomful of local leaders to crack the code of the South County’s ongoing housing crisis, one which sees a dearth of affordable workforce housing — a problem hindering economic development, leading to a rise in homelessness and higher housing costs for everyone.
Bonamici is only one of the legislators at all levels of government seeking answers, along with housing officials, developers, business leaders and cities seeking to keep pace with population and economic growth.
In late April, Brendan Buckley of Johnson Economics and Matt Hastie of Angelo Planning Group returned to Seaside for an interpretation of their Clatsop County Housing Strategies Report.
Results of the housing report, delivered this spring, shine a light on each community, analyzing the countywide housing supply, housing and demographic trends. The study provides details on population growth, household characteristics and available land.
Along with broader findings, they offered a discussion of Seaside itself.
“The idea was to assess the current housing inventories,” Buckley said.
Authors sought to come up with projection of needed housing, the inventory of remaining buildable residential land and identify gaps and opportunities for housing throughout the county.
By the numbers
Seaside’s housing profile is a treasure trove of data.
There is an “acute estimated shortage of lower priced rental units,” the study, co-authored by Angelo Planning Group and Johnson Economics, states. “As in most markets there is a continuous need for units at the lowest levels, which usually requires subsidized rents.”
Seaside, they report, is constrained by land and housing unit capacity — with only 69 vacant potentially buildable acres, out of 5,200 vacant areas countywide. By comparison, Cannon Beach has 86 buildable acres and Gearhart 146 vacant buildable acres.
According to Portland State University data, Seaside will grow at the second highest rate in the county, behind Warrenton, at about 1% per year. Seaside has a 40% ownership rate among permanent ownership.
Seaside’s population of 6,644 is expected to increase to 7,739 in 2038, a growth of about 1,095 people. 12% of Seaside’s population is within the federal poverty rate.
Meanwhile, the median home sale in Clatsop County is $298,000; Gearhart $402,000. Countywide, the average is $310,000.
Average rent levels in Seaside, for a one-bedroom apartment are $825 per month, one-bedrooms $1,200 and three- bedroom $1,500. The estimated average of all units is $1,155, slightly more than the county average of $1,144.
In a comparison of current housing need and supply in Seaside, the greatest unmet need is within the $35,000-$49,999 income range, or houses priced at $190,000-$350,000. Those households with an income level of less than $90,000 have an unmet need of 295. The greatest unmet need for rental dwellings is in the $1,100-$1,500 range.
In Gearhart, Cannon Beach and Seaside, a large share of homes are used for vacation or second homes. Seaside will need an additional 637 units by 2038, a 33% increase, and a need for 151 new rental units by 2038, an increase of 21.8%. Overall Seaside is expected to see a 30.2% increase in total housing need by 2038.
Newly built housing supply will tend to be more expensive.
The middle class will have to work harder to get housing and the poor will be still further away.
“Your study is confirming, in some ways, our worst fears and concerns,” Mayor Jay Barber told consultants at a City Council presentation. “I think the big issue is what you’re going to be recommending as solutions.”
“My biggest takeaway is we have plenty of housing,” councilor Seth Morrisey added. “It’s just not being used efficiently.”
“Easy” — and not-so-easy — solutions have already been analyzed and utilized, when available: housing grants, federal funding, urban renewal, even a city code amendment designed to promote accessory dwelling units.
As the Portland area spreads outward, councilwoman Tita Montero said, the city could have an even greater need than projected by Portland State University data.
That could lead to a new look at the city’s urban growth boundary — a discussion tabled by the Planning Commission two years ago in advance of updated projections.
Reductions or waivers of system development charges could lower prices for developers of affordable or workforce units — but reduced charges on one end inevitably lead to higher costs for taxpayers, who would ultimately bear the costs of new utilities and roads.
Relaxing street parking rules — from two to 1.5, as the housing study’s authors propose— could make it easier for developers to build, but could crowd already overfilled streets.
Vacation rental units are already in the sights of the Planning Commission, which will be meeting with the City Council on the topic at a July work session. The proliferation of online services like Vacasa and Airbnb “have made it much easier for property owners to rent out and manage their properties remotely,” the housing report states.
Vacation rental dwellings represent a “commercial venture in a residential zone,” City Councilor Randy Frank said. “That’s coming at the expense of their neighbors.”
A look ahead
Solutions are tantalizing, and dizzying: zoning rules designed to promote multifamily housing, accessory dwelling units, incentives for development.
What-ifs include possible development of the high school and middle school as housing.
In the past councilors have mulled rezoning portions of downtown to allow loft or apartment living above the city’s historic buildings. There are undoubtedly many residents who would love to make their home in the swing of things.
One of my favorite ideas is to take a new look at the city’s “cottage clusters” — single-family dwellings with a courtyard or what the study’s authors call a “communal design,” ideally suited for the repertoire of homes from the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.
Without cooperation of neighbors and residents, even the best ideas may be destined to stall. What will be required is sensible low-impact solutions that work without degrading the quality of life for those of us who already live here.
Maybe it’s all a matter of vocabulary.
No one wants to live next to a “homeless shelter.”
But a subsidized cottage cluster with potential for homeowner equity? It could be a start.