Local governments continue to try to figure out how to ease the country’s mind-numbing tightening of the housing market.
The Newport City Council, and their counterparts with Lincoln City and the Lincoln County Commission are still struggling to reach out to each other to try to figure a way forward, together, to pool resources, target which lots are owned by government agencies or non-profits and how to finance affordable homes to build on them. Due to a lack of federal or state subsidies, it’s a long slog.
At the Newport City Council meeting Monday night, councilors were STILL smarting from what they called heavy handedness in the way a Portland affordable housing group worked behind the scenes and then asked the council to go along with building affordable housing at Don Davis Park – a beautiful vista area that carries an iconic attraction for tourists as well as locals. When that got out, the roar of anger could be heard from one end of Newport to the other, and the mushroom cloud of protest was visible even farther away than THAT. It prompted the council to all but cancel their agreement with the Portland affordable housing entity called “Proud Ground” with whom they had contracted to form an affordable housing strategy for Newport. Newport financially cut back its contributions to the program and threatened to end all discussions with them on how Newport should provide affordable housing for its citizens.
But cooler heads prevailed Monday night. After a long and involved plea from a Proud Ground staffer that Newport remain in the partnership, councilors eventually voted “yes.” But in so doing they demanded clearer communications and transparency as a condition for staying involved for the long haul.
At the other end of the scale city staffers offered a list of ten talking points about how to gain some traction at attracting developers that know how to provide affordable housing. Staff recommended a lot of what has been suggested before: Offering up surplus city owned land to build on as well as flipping tax foreclosures. Offering developers breaks on system development fees, property tax reductions, construction density incentives, less costly street designs, access to federal funds and tax exemptions for multi-unit housing, among others. The councilors said they’ll carefully consider the list and provide their thought’s and “preferences” at the next city council meeting.
So this is the way the council left it. They’ll remain in the consortium with Lincoln County and Lincoln City and in so doing they’ll pay their past due membership fees but will withhold them for fiscal year 2017-18 if they don’t see what they consider adequate return on the city’s investment – the third and final $30,000 annual investment in the program.
On another front, there are new developments in alternative housing that are catching on across the country – steel frame homes that pencil out at just 35% of the cost of wood frame homes. They can be stacked 7 stories high for apartment buildings or one, two or three stories high for regular homes. And they meet all state building codes. Multi-units of this new technology are being built by the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority based in Lagrande. Affordable housing, for sale or for rent, doesn’t have to be so small because they’re not conventionally-built wood frame structures. They cost a lot less. And because they’re made of steel, they can ride out just about any earthquake.
Here’s a website that the council, and anyone else can review, to see how this new technology, with a 65% cost savings over wood frame dwellings, can produce for any community. www.SunshineNetwork.us is based in Oregon and they are building that affordable housing in Lagrande. It is but one company among many others across the country that are trying to transform what Americans consider affordable housing. These companies are fast at work to help change expectations of what is not only acceptable as inexpensive housing, but they’re also going after the upper-scale housing market as well, keeping in mind that such homes cost just 35% of wood frame retail.
True, the technology is new but it is adaptable and just as susceptible to rapid improvements as market demand rises. These and other affordable home developments can help any city council or county commission crawl out of their “housing box” that is expensive on its face and far more complex to build than it needs to be.
Obviously to be continued.