WEATHER IN LINCOLN COUNTY

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LC Commissioner Bill Hall: “We jumped the gun.” Council temporarily pulls its financial support for LCLT.

Site formerly under consideration for pricey condos and work force housing.

Next to Don Davis Park – Site formerly under consideration for pricey condos and work force housing.

Lincoln County Commissioner and board member of the Lincoln County Land Trust (LCLT) Bill Hall gave his apologies to the Newport City Council Monday evening. He confessed that he and the LCLT “jumped the gun” when they formulated a proposal to build pricey condos overlooking Don Davis Park with “affordably priced” housing units right behind them, which would have dramatically changed the look and character of the park – seen as ‘sacred ground’ for Newport area residents.

Hall told the council that the urgency to build affordable housing in Lincoln County (we’re 800 units behind by some accounts) prompted the LCLT to formulate a near complete proposal, ready to submit to the council, along with a financial plan to make it happen.

When the council found out about it, councilors were visibly taken a-back by LCLT’s intentions and certainly of the project’s location.

Hall told the council that, as a result, he met with City Manager Spencer Nebel and that a better way of doing business with the city was thoroughly explored. Nebel chimed in at that point, laying out a proposed procedure to be used when LCLT or any other housing advocacy group has an idea to bridge Newport’s affordable housing gap. Basically it’s the same approach as any other developer wanting to build homes or apartments within the city. They meet with planners, learn about limitations and restrictions according to city land use and development codes. Then it’s off to the city planning commission for their review and recommendation and then on to the city council for their review and decision.

However, Nebel pressed upon the city council that the council’s list of city-owned “affordable housing sites” (and there is more than just a few of them) be prioritized and that the list is made public and available to any housing developer.

So the homework for the city council is to prioritize those properties and wait to see who expresses an interest in them.

As a side note, the city council suspended its financial support of the Lincoln County Land Trust until both sides can agree on what a partnership between them should look like. Land Trust Chairman Bill Hall said the organization is fully prepared to turn over to the city council all minutes of past meetings and an invitation to have a liason sit on the board as a non-voting observer to stay up with the latest goals and tactics the LCLT is using to produce low to moderate income housing in Oregon, and especially Lincoln County. From the looks of it, the council seemed willing to go along with that approach.

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Editorial comment:

A longer view perspective involves acknowledging that the private sector, which can make enormous profits on larger homes are building….you guessed it!…larger homes! – which does nothing for Newport’s (or the country’s) affordable housing crisis.

In many ways, the Newport City Council’s hands are tied. They don’t have tall mounds of money available to subsidize affordable housing.

However, the answer may well rest with the state. Yes… you’re right… the state isn’t in much better shape than most Oregon cities. BUT! As the state supervises the planning, construction and maintenance of state roads and highways, it can also have an effect on affordable housing.

Oregon is but one of only two states that does not require some “give back” from housing developers when it comes to affordable housing. When you boil it down, those other 48 states empower state and local governments to “see what they see, know what they know and ACT ACCORDINGLY”…at least for affordable housing.

Here’s how it works: Any developer coming through the door at their local city or county planning department is expected to be there for more than just maximizing profits on a housing development. In those 48 states the city or county is allowed to SEE that affordable housing is getting scarcer and scarcer, KNOW that it’s a bad thing for the community, but ACT ACCORDINGLY to fix the problem.

One such corrective action was proposed in the last Oregon legislature – HB 2564. HB 2564 would have required developers to set aside a set percentage of their total units for affordable housing – built anywhere in the city with the appropriate zoning. In exchange, developers would get more units per square foot, forgiveness or deferral of costly system development charges (contributions for new schools, parks, roads and utilities), innovative designs that would make them more livable, expedited land use/building permit red tape and either property tax forgiveness or deferrals. It works, with varying degrees, in those 48 other states. But, as usual, the Oregon real estate lobbyists (which represent mountains of money) quashed it. HB 2564 was pigeon holed in the Senate Rules Committee. It never saw the light of day. Meanwhile, Governor Brown announced a $100 million dollar fund to help produce more affordable housing across the state. Based on the need, Governor Brown’s gesture cools off the problem like a thimble of water on a hot skillet.

HB 2564 was authored by Multnomah County Representative Jennifer Williamson. Rep. Williamson was recently chosen to be the new Majority Leader in the state House of Representatives. Only time and a raised level of awareness, coupled with Rep. Williamson’s enhanced political powers, will make it even possible to have an ADULT discussion about the massive growing housing plight of those who desperately need something affordable. At least that’s the way our democracy is supposed to work. Of course money from the opposition, like sugar down a gas pipe, can destroy even the finest V-8 on the lot.

Now to answer what HAS to be a question about the foregoing: “Who is going to make up for the tax revenues and fees not paid down at the county courthouse or city hall?” The answer is obviously “somebody else.” But that’s like telling a low income service worker that they can’t live near work – that they have to live “someplace else.”

The truth is, if lower paid workers play a vital role in any community, or any role for that matter, how is that work valued? How is their work honored and supported? Maybe like we knee-jerk support police and fire departments, schools, roads, highways and traffic lights. Each person or family pays according to the value of the service and one’s ability to pay.

It comes down to values. Unfortunately these days, we seem to have a lot of people at the top believing their being well-off makes them immune from having to meaningfully contribute to “The Commons of Society.” But it’s “The Commons” that made it even possible for the rich to get rich. They’ve got to pay it back as well as pay it forward. And affordable housing is part of the mix.

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