There are a lot of affordable housing options on the city council table in Brookings, but picking the best ones will likely require more time, more studies and more research, councilors agreed at a workshop Wednesday.

The council acknowledges there’s a lack of workforce housing in the area; while homelessness is its own issue, the number of low-income residents — and those who can’t even find housing — is increasingly on the radar of cities throughout the nation.

Mayor Jake Pieper said he thinks development incentives might work best.

“It’s a possibility,” he said. “A lot of work needs to be done, and it’s going to be a long process.”

According to Bill Lovelace, the owner of the 48-unit subsidized Ocean Winds apartments on Lucky Lane, he has a waiting list of 200 people — which represents a five-year wait for housing.

Some of that is restricted by the maximum income qualifying people to rent apartments, which for one person is $19,850, and four people is $28,350.

Lovelace tried to buy a second lot to build another 38 units, but the Oregon Housing and Community Services denied him the loan or tax credits he needed; the agency said the need in Brookings wasn’t great enough.

Only two other places — Azalea Gardens and Heron Ridge — offer subsidized housing in town. Between them, they have 68 units, all full.

The housing assessment indicates 452 additional subsidized units are needed.

The housing need

The Brookings Housing Needs Assessment conducted last year says that’s not enough. It indicates 32 percent of the population in the 97415 ZIP code area earns less than the $24,999 income threshold; the median income level for renters here is $27,750.

And what little housing is available isn’t affordable. Random examples include two bedroom units renting for $1,700 a month — not including the last months’ rent and a security deposit.

“The current rental market is exceptionally tight,” the report reads. “All property management companies and apartment managers say vacancies — usually only a couple per month — are filled within days. Everyone has an extensive waiting list. And they are long indeed, with most applicants waiting up to two years or more for a unit.”

The tightening market became apparent about three years ago when home values began recovering from the Great Recession and were then put on the market for owners to capture the equity gained. Additionally, many homeowners have converted their units to short-term vacation rentals, thus removing them from the pool for year-round residents.

It’s further complicated by the sheer number of people — just over 1,000 — working at Pelican Bay Prison in California. That state’s housing market is also getting more expensive and driving workers to Brookings, the report indicates.

Landlords have made it harder for people to rent, too, the report reads. “Credit rating, rental history, income levels and criminal history all play a role, but they also are requiring larger security deposits and move-in fees.”

That’s further complicated for people with pets.

Legal requirements

The city has a legal requirement to “provide access to affordable housing,” City Manager Gary Milliman’s report reads. The state requires local government to provide “needed housing” and prohibits them from barring government-assisted housing.

Senate Bill 1051, which takes effect July 1, requires cities with more than 2,500 population to have at least one “accessory dwelling unit” for each detached single-family dwelling; the Brookings Municipal Code addresses that.

Other ideas in other cities have included allowing the increasingly popular “tiny houses,” which fit the needs of many single, older and veteran citizens, the report reads.

“It has sparked debate about whether to consider this type of housing,” Milliman’s report reads. “The municipal code already allows tiny homes in all residential neighborhoods, either within or as an accessory unit to the primary structure.”

The council discussed permitting tiny homes on wheels, or rezoning certain parcels in town as “Tiny Homes Residential Districts,: similar to manufactured home parks, an option that could attract artists and musicians to town, said Councilor Dennis Triglia.

“Several lots have been identified where this might be feasible, thus creating a cluster effect,” Milliman said.

There are property tax exemption programs, too, but all would involve enticing a developer to build here.

“Vertical Housing Zones” allow partial property tax exemptions for those who build or renovate multi-floor structures with businesses on the ground floor, a proposal that could work downtown.

The city of Tigard has two such projects, and a third in the works.

“There is a 10-year financial impact to the city with the property tax reduction,” Milliman said, “but in the long run, it’s a financial benefit because without it, the property might not have been built.”

Low-income rental housing projects can be tax exempt under a nonprofit’s tax designation, cities can waive or reduce rates for System Development Charges for projects with affordable housing units within them. Again, Tigard has implemented this program in hopes developers will save enough money to spur further development.

Triglia doesn’t like the idea of offering incentives to big developers like Borax, which is trying to find developers to build its massive Lone Ranch subdivision north of town.

“The idea that they should be granted some financial concessions to set aside a few homes for ‘low- to middle-income’ people is laughable,” he said of the giant firm. “Like they’re really interested in affordable housing. It’s mind-boggling.”

Community Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, DLCD Housing Planning Technical Assistance funds are all available to cities, although Brookings has difficulty qualifying for the first because it is not in a “Metropolitan Statistical Area” — a big city.

Funding programs for individuals or developers include the Neighborhoods LIFT program for down-payment assistance, the Oregon Individual Development Account Initiative, which provides matching funds to help people save money, and Rural Development home loans that help low- and very-low-income applicants obtain decent, safe and sanitary housing. Others, concerning increasing fees to pay for housing needs, income tax credits for developers and incentives to get tradesmen who left during the recession to return, are in the legislature.

All face daunting challenges.

The homeless

“The discussion cannot be complete without some consideration given to the consequences of enabling the transient population through free housing and board,” Milliman’s report reads. “There is a direct correlation between the influx of transients and an upswing in needed police response.

“The question is, does providing free necessities disable this population from pulling its own self up, bettering its situation? Would funding and efforts be better utilized through work training or educational programs? What, really, is the city’s responsibility in managing this? And what is truly within the city’s capability to effect?”

Beth Hidalgo of the Curry Homeless Coalition tries to create collaborative opportunities to address the issue, she said.

“Transients would benefit from street outreach using trained, experienced peer support specialists,” she suggested. “This may be the intervention needed to assist travelers along their journey through a “Homeward Bound” program. Other interventions could include steps to provide immediate basic human needs for people who have encountered barriers to continuing along their path of travel.

“By providing basic human needs for folks traveling through our community we may mitigate negative law enforcement contacts,” she continued. “Will we eliminate negative law enforcement contact? No. Can we reduce negative law enforcement contacts? Yes.

She believes offering free necessities does help people improve their situation in life.

“Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs indicates meeting basic human needs is key to a person’s ability to self-actualize,” Hidalgo said. “It is a rare person who can begin to self-actualize without the ability to meet basic human needs, clothing, food, shelter and water. How can we expect people to understand or even begin to interpret their direct impacts on our community when they are struggling to meet basic human needs? Is it possible to enable a person who does not have their basic human needs met? Some would argue it is not.”

Housing, she said, is part of that.

“Using a ‘housing first’ model when addressing homelessness in general can result in immediate relief for agencies whose mission it is to protect and serve,” Hidalgo said. “We ask an awful lot of our law enforcement agencies. Sometimes their role becomes a mission-drift.”

It’s possible trained volunteers could provide a real-time response to help people, she said.

She thinks a city’s responsibility to the homeless lies somewhere between protecting housed residents and supporting organizations that provide services for the homeless.

“The homeless coalition is pursuing programs, projects and services designed to provide basic human needs,” Hidalgo said. “It includes support services for people re-entering the community from incarceration, creating a low-barrier pipeline for people to access support services such as housing, SNAP, OHP, showers, laundry, employment-related services, skills-building, peer support, and mental and behavioral health services.”

People stranded in the county can benefit by receiving bus tickets home through the Homeward Bound program, for which the coalition plans to ask Gold Beach to help fund at its May 14 meeting.

“The Curry Homeless Coalition feels administering a homeward bound program and providing greater access to these resources will increase assistance opportunities for

the transient population,” she said. “If Brookings is interested in working with us to mitigate issues ... we are more than happy to meet and facilitate these discussions.”

Reach Jane Stebbins at jstebbins@currypilot.com .

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