By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Study data showed median household income in Curry County rose 22 percent from 2000 to 2016 while median house values rose 33 percent. This gap between wages and housing costs likely priced many county residents out of the market, according to the study.

Thomas Eddington of czb, the company contracted to create the Curry County Housing Study, presented data illustrating the economic and housing situation in the county and generally depicting negative trends.

Eddington held meetings with the Curry County Housing Task Force in Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford between July 9 and 13.

United Way of Southwestern Oregon Executive Director Marcia Hart said the meetings offered a quantitative analysis of the situation but encouraged community members to add qualitative and anecdotal evidence to complete the picture.

Hart previously touted the Coos County Housing Study by czb as the best type of analysis for current housing and economic trends and proposed a similar study for Curry County.

An urban planning and community development firm, czb reported the poverty rate rose in Curry County as well – from 12 percent to 15 percent over the same period – and the county’s workforce population – people from 25 to 54 – declined from 35 to 29 percent.

Eddington said it was the largest and fastest workforce decline he had seen and could portend economic problems because workers drive the economy.

The report indicates resident incomes are not keeping up with housing costs, more residents are living in poverty and fewer people in the county are working.

The housing task force and czb are seeking community input to increase their understanding of the housing shortage, related economic and employment issues and solutions.

AllCare Community Advisory Council Chair Georgia Nowlin, a housing task force member, said people from the housing industry and former contractors spoke of barriers such as the high costs of building in Brookings due to SDCs (system development charges) and onerous codes and regulations that need to be updated.

Eddington said Curry County built an average of 192 housing units per year from 1950 through 2010, but the average built per year from 2010 – 16 was 19. That coupled with the county losing 77 rental units in the same period created an even greater shortage of housing units.

The czb summary stated 130 new units of housing had been built in the county since 2010. It lso notes the loss of the 77 occupied rental units while the number of vacant or seasonal units — those often used as vacation rentals, AirBnB or Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) — increased by 237 units.

When comparing the three meetings, Nowlin said, “I was struck by the similarities in the need for rental housing at all levels, not just ‘affordable.’ Several comments from all three focus groups — Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford — pointed to newly hired people or traveling health care professionals ending up in RVs as temporary housing.”

Participants at the Port Orford meeting said this was not unusual and noted it was hard to hire or keep even well-paid professionals in the area due to housing issues.

“We have had representatives from the school districts and the hospitals here, and they told us directly that employees took jobs here and left because of housing issues,” Nowlin said.

According to Eddington, the county’s economy has been transitioning into a vacation/resort economy for more than 30 years.

Although median income in Curry County is $38,500, a severe shortage of ownership housing for anyone making less than $50,000 has resulted from these trends, as well as a shortage of long term rentals, the report stated.

Also, according to the report, most new homes are being built “for those who have the money,” and are primarily for households with annual incomes of more than $75,000.

Eddington reacted with a smile of disbelief when he was informed none of the municipalities or the county had a code enforcement officer.

Port Orford City Administrator Terrie Richards said the county had an officer at one time but it has not had the money since, and city budgets are tight as well.

The county can’t keep officers because the pay is low and they often feel threatened, according to other task force members.

Richards warned that talk of code enforcement and enforcing housing ordinances leads to accusations of “gentrification.”

Eddington said, while a balance is essential, municipalities need to enforce codes so properties retain value and communities remain attractive.

The principal broker of Siskiyou Coast Realty, Sandra Anderson, estimated a minimal move-in-ready house in most of the county would cost $200,000 or more, yet Eddington’s calculations found the median buyer in Curry County could spend only $110,000.

He said the other $100,000 has to come from somewhere “if you want to have workers in your community.”

Housing task force community liaison Beth Barker-Hidalgo thanked community members for attending the meetings.

“Without the local perspective provided by the people in the know, working in the trenches day to day,” she said, “our study would lack local flavor and become a cookie-cutter approach – exactly what we don’t want.”

The task force is comprised of representatives from the Curry Realtors Board, Beyond Rejection Ministries, Advanced Health, AllCare, Oregon Coast Community Action, NeighborWorks Umpqua, citizen representatives and the Curry Homeless Coalition.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com .

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