Homes in Oregon are Out of Reach

Pam Phan & Christine Corrales

Housing affordability has become a focal concern for many Oregonians. Across communities, finding a place to live that fits within a family's budget has become much more challenging in recent years. Cities throughout Oregon have reported historically low vacancy rates, a common measure for the health of the housing market. Higher vacancy rates indicate more housing options – and often lower rents as a result. While those looking to buy a home are seeing the highest list prices on record in Oregon. 

Both renters and those looking to buy a home have experienced a tighter market year after year. While wages in Oregon have stagnated, housing and transportation costs continue to rise. 

What makes housing affordable?  
The generally accepted standard for housing affordability is that no more than 30 percent of your income is spent on your rent or mortgage. The National Low Income Housing Coalition calculates that in order to afford $864, which is the Fair Market Rent you could expect for a modest two bedroom apartment in Oregon, you would need to make at least $16.61 per hour or $32,700 per year. If you earn the current minimum wage at $9.25, you would have to work at least 72 hours per week to afford this rent (National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach Report, 2015).
 
Households that pay more than 30 percent of their income to housing are considered housing cost burdened, and those who spend more than 50 percent on both housing and daily transportation costs are considered housing/transportation cost burdened. Communities can begin to support residents by considering how to collocate affordable housing options near and around areas with a number of transportation options such as biking, walking, bus, and rail which can help relieve these expenses, especially for low and moderate income households. 
 
It is common for local jurisdictions to support the development of “subsidized” housing, In order to provide options for many families whose wages lag behind rents on the market. These developments are often income restricted to ensure households below the average median income (AMI) of an area have housing options available to them that meet state and county health and safety standards. Subsidized developments come in various designs, often blending into the neighborhoods in which they are built. 
 
Here are visual examples of different types of housing designed for affordability:

  1. Ruth’s Cottages, Portland, OR
    Ruth's Cottages, Portland, OR
     
  2. Woolsey Corner, Portland, OR

     
  3. Habitat for Humanity, Bend, OR
    Habitat for humanity
     
  4. Jackson County Housing Authority Snowberry Brook, Ashland, OR 
    Jackson

Subsidized developments can also be earmarked to serve specific households such as seniors, people with disabilities, or families with young children. Amenities in these buildings can often include playgrounds, indoor multi-purpose recreation space, bike parking, and common laundry space. Some developments even provide affordable homeownership opportunities. Subsidies most often come in the form of development incentives such as tax credits, waiving of development fees, or height bonuses when builders opt to include affordable units or build entire affordable developments.  

Why Oregonians should support affordable housing 
In Oregon, we benefit from a statewide planning program that values the stewardship of farmland and the natural spaces. Our 19 goals range from environmental preservation to housing to economic development. These goals provide guidelines for towns and cities throughout the state as they plan for current residents into the future. These goals help to preserve the natural resources, farmland and recreation many of us enjoy and benefit from in Oregon. In fact, many Oregonians can agree that our natural and wild places are what make our state special. As Oregon grows, a critical piece to preservation in the future will be Oregon Statewide Planning Goal 10. This goal states that towns and cities throughout Oregon must provide for the housing needs of all their current residents.  If we hope to keep our beautiful landscapes and productive farmlands, growth to accommodate residents must be focused in cities and towns. But what kind of future do we envision for Oregon? Who gets to live in our cities and towns now and into the future? 

As Oregon develops, affordability remains a priority issue. If housing affordability goes unaddressed, we risk losing the Oregon we know and love. Jurisdictions all around the country have responded using a number of tools that focus on the development of affordable housing options for residents. ‘Linkage fees’, a tool which has seen increasing success in other places around the country, bring the potential for communities in Oregon to address our current shortage of affordable housing, especially for low and modest income families. Traditionally local governments use the proceeds of such fees on development to fund basic infrastructure services such as sewers, sidewalks, schools, and parks – essential when developing new residential and commercial projects. The housing linkage tool has shown great potential in helping communities generate significant dollars to help support the construction of much needed new housing, by “linking” the dollars to neighborhoods found to have the most acute need of affordable options. Jurisdictions conduct a housing and community affordability study, which determines measurable variables of both an area’s housing and economic market, as well as the demographics and needs of the people who currently live in a study area. This type of linkage analysis becomes vital to ensuring that dollars can be allocated efficiently and effectively, especially where it is most needed. Check out some of their stories to learn how other cities and towns are working to ensure growth and development will benefit all residents of diverse income levels:

Across Oregon, from Medford to Bend to Hood River to Portland, the housing linkage tool presents a promising way to help realize our statewide goals to protect our farmlands and natural resources, while also preserving affordability and livability in our urbanized areas. Local governments throughout the country, like those presented here lead in their actions - including affordable housing as essential an part of new development. Similarly, in Oregon we need to recognize the ways people’s housing needs are connected to transportation, residential and commercial development. Implementing a successful housing linkage program requires a renewed commitment to Oregon’s 40 year strong land use program. We must ask ourselves how do we work together to encourage our towns and cities to ensure more affordable housing as a critical strategy in our broader goals to protect the Oregon we all love?

What can be done to encourage affordability in your town or city? 
1000 Friends of Oregon has several advocacy initiatives for communities to utilize land use tools which can tackle affordability, while also reducing our impact on the planet:

  • Support inclusionary zoning (IZ) at the local and state levels.  
  • Support development incentives that increase the number of high quality affordable units in areas that have rich transit options and walkable streets. 
  • Support practical infill policies that allow for more than one household on the same property, oftentimes without even changing the footprint of the existing structures.
  • Support the use of linkage fee programs to fund and prioritize the construction of affordable options
  • Encourage your community to consider the needs of current residents, and how they can grow along with new developments that may occur. 

For more information about these initiatives or specific land use tools, please contact staff at info@friends.org.