Although Newport’s stated city goals, as accepted by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission include providing adequate housing that is affordable to Newport workers at all wage levels and that the city will assess those housing needs and use specific action programs to meet those needs, the city council Tuesday night said no; not now. Each councilor had their own motive for saying no. The group consensus seemed to indicate that the city isn’t yet ready to launch any program or join with any group to help plan, fund, or have affordable workforce housing built.
Up for consideration was a contract with the Lincoln County Land Trust that offers assistance to city and county residents to partner in building affordable homes for those working at moderate to lower incomes. They include teachers, nurses, police officers and others who literally cannot afford to live in Newport where housing prices have always been high, despite the recession – and they’re back to rising again.
Land Trust President Bill Hall said the city would use surplus city land on which to build affordable homes. Right now there are four such lots available, according to Lincoln Land Trust Board member and city Community Development Director, Derrick Tokos. The city would establish a revolving home construction fund for each house to be built, six in all over the next five years. As each house is built, the sale of each house would replenish the fund in order to build the next one. The land under the house would remain in the ownership of the trust. When the house sold, it would be required to be awarded to another moderate to low income family. But if any family member inherits the house, but who has too high of an income, he or she would be forced to sell it in the prescribed price range as defined in the original sale restrictions signed by the now departed owner(s).
But the council balked. Councilor David Allen said he wants to wait and see what Lincoln City is going to do at providing workforce housing on “The Villages” land purchase it recently made, just northeast of Roads End. He said that Lincoln City and Newport should work somewhat in a coordinated fashion. Trouble is, he doesn’t know what Lincoln City’s workforce housing plans are for a portion of that recent land buy. Councilor Dean Sawyer seemed sympathetic to that view adding he wants to see a list and visit sites that might be suitable for workforce homes. Councilor Laura Swanson said she needs more information about the land trust’s program and wondered if there are other mechanisms available to accomplish the same thing, perhaps at lower cost. Councilor Dick Beemer said he’d like to see more information too and what Lincoln City’s up to on the subject. The council voted to table the matter until the first of the year and to gather more facts about the project and further evaluate the city’s role in the matter of helping to provide workforce housing. Councilor Ralph Busby said that the city has no business being in the housing industry. He said “When you add up all the expenses to the city connected with the program you get $300,000. Divide that between six families and it’s $50,000 each. And you haven’t even put a dent in the shortage of affordable housing. There’s just better ways the city should be spending it’s money.”
Outside the council chambers Bill Hall said he was a bit disappointed that the contract wasn’t signed, but that these issues take time to work through and that better coordination between cities and the county is always a good thing. He denied that the postponement by the Newport City Council blunts the workforce housing movement in the county. He said the need is great and makes sense for local cities to help make affordable workforce housing available. He pointed out that once a workforce house is built and the family moves in, the city starts collecting property taxes on a house that was not there before and the family is contributing to the local economy.
As a footnote, although Bill Hall is a County Commissioner and Derrick Tokos is the city’s Community Development Director, they both told the council that their roles are strictly volunteer. They are not paid for their involvement nor are they compensated in any way when deals are struck for the land trust to build homes.