Tackling the challenge of affordable housing

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Over the last decade or more, it sometimes felt like Portland was on a pathway toward Seattle real estate prices - with Boise salaries and wages. Which, of course, makes for some real affordability challenges.

And while the 2008 real estate crash brought some prices closer to earth, salaries and wages stopped growing. Now, as the real estate market starts to show signs of life, the big worry is that affordability will become an ever-more-distant mirage.

And our region's affordable housing troubles aren't just about the market for owner-occupied homes. It's also about affordable rental housing, too. Those are separate issues, but ones that are inextricably intertwined. The Oregonian recently did a fascinating multi-part series on affordable housing. Its author, Brad Schmidt, concluded that "taxpayer money meant to help break down segregation and poverty is instead reinforcing it."

Sam Chase has long been an affordable housing advocate, both inside and outside government - from serving as a housing policy advisor to City Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury to serving as the executive director of the Oregon Opportunity Network (a statewide association of community development organizations and housing providers.)

In May, Sam received 60% of the vote in a five-way race for the Metro Council seat currently held by Rex Burkholder. Metro, of course, is responsible for planning growth in the region such that it meets numerous goals - among them, affordable housing. In an op-ed published today by the Oregonian, Councilor-elect Chase suggested some solutions, writing that it is "time to hold me and other regional leaders accountable":

Reduce or eliminate system development charges on certain housing developments. System development charges are fees paid by new projects to cover the impact they have on city infrastructure, such as roads and sewers. The problem is that those fees are charged indiscriminately, even if the project provides important benefits -- such as housing that includes affordable units, housing located next to a MAX line or infill housing that reduces pressure to expand our urban growth boundary.

Consolidate permitting across jurisdictions. Builders of affordable housing currently face a complicated and costly set of regulations. With more than two dozen jurisdictions in the Portland area, a regional permitting strategy could make it easier to build affordable housing and save taxpayer money.

Create "inclusionary housing" incentives. Oregon's land-use system helps keep our air clean, water safe, and protects vital farm and forestland. But it shouldn't result in a livable region that is unaffordable to those working hard to make ends meet. Zoning, financial or permitting incentives to "include" affordable housing units in new development areas have proved successful from Maryland to California.

Read the rest. What do you think?

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    My vote? Repeal mandatory car parking minimums.

    They often add tens of thousands of dollars onto the cost of a residence (structured parking particularly, but driveways aren't free either).

    The region's already done some work on this (in high-frequency transit corridors, as I understand it) but could do even more.

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      I'm not saying you're wrong, but housing without parking is contentious even where it's now permitted.

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        Contentious, yup. Hard work ahead of us.

        But let's not bundle housing with required parking. Let each market work itself out, and the housing prices will be cheaper if not required to provide bunches of parking with each residence.

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    As a retired affordable housing advocate,Kari's thoughtful piece on housing costs set the juices to flowing again. It is rare that folks recognize the evil of system development charges. Many folks believe the builder/developer pays them...so what, they are rich. In reality those charges, typically several thousand dollars, are part of the housing cost. The owner or tenant in the unit pays higher property taxes and insurance EVERY YEAR because they paid more for the home.

    Another problem creating housing costs is the simple issue that building code requirements have expanded to require our middle class standards be incorporated in all housing built.

    Some folks think a family is better off homeless than in a sparse unit. A simple example is the code requirement for outlets in the attic and the exterior of the unit, but any builder can cite an almost endless list of nice but not necessary requirements in a new house or apartment.

    The effort to mandate low cost housing mixed into higher end units is counter productive and unlikely to be successful. The goal of course is to try to force the higher cost unit to subsidize the lower cost unit. It might work in a government subsidized project but I don't believe any level of government will have money for housing construction for a long time.

    It is unclear if the scarcity of buildable land in Oregon's larger communities will be solved by sites that become available because of homes abandon in recent difficult economic times.

    Of course the permitting and regulatory process creates costs and delays but those issues are the subject of much talk but no one ever improves the process.

    Maybe our future is to continue with the current multiple generations living in one house utilizing the extra square feet built into our housing supply in last couple of decades.

    Fred VanNatta

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      "It is rare that folks recognize the evil of system development charges."

      SDCs are important in removing subsidy for inappropriate growth, which is wasteful and inefficient. We should deal with the problem of unaffordable housing by reducing wealth and income inequality through tax and labor policy.

      Both smart growth and economic equity are necessary as the cheap energy era ends. We cannot afford sprawl. We cannot afford incentivizing new construction over conservation of existing housing stock. We cannot afford allowing a few people to control most of our wealth.

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    I think it should be possible to have a conversation about these types of ideas to help both for-profit and non-profit developers--if there is also support for a permanent source of funding for affordable housing.

    I generally support SDC waivers and property tax exemptions for compelling public purposes, but sometimes we hand them out too freely. And we certainly haven;t paid attention to the concentration of these types of waivers in places like East Portland that sorely need additional infrastructure to handle all of the growth.

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