By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

The Curry County Housing Task Force recruited local help in Brookings at a meeting March 28. Moderator Rob Foster and some of the task force’s core team members — Beth Barker-Hidalgo, Georgia Nowlin, Jen Shafer and Summer Matteson — heard numerous residents, business owners and employers decry the state of workforce or affordable housing in the southern end of the county.

Listening with task force members were local politicians, who were encouraged to take steps to address the issues uncovered in the Curry County Housing Study and Action Plan.

County Commissioner Chris Paasch, Brookings City Councilor Ron Hedenskog and Mayor Jake Pieper, Brookings-Harbor school board member Jay Trost and Matteson, a Gold Beach city councilor, commented on the findings of the study and listened to constituents describe problems arising from the housing shortage.

Gold Beach councilors Beck Campbell and Tamie Kaufman collected information from previous task force meetings and the city’s own housing forum and have considered increasing the number of planned and self-governed manufactured home communities and limiting vacation rentals as ways to increase housing stock in Gold Beach. The city is working to increase the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as well.

ADUs are additions to dwellings such as mother-in-law apartments, apartments built over garages or stand-alone units such as tiny homes.

Brookings-Harbor School District (BHSD) Superintendent Sean Gallagher reported housing struggles had repeatedly cost the district hires over the last few years. He indicated the district might consider purchasing, building or subsidizing housing for teachers as a means to retain them.

The task force distributed a document calling for the creation of market-place workforce, subsidized workforce and supportive housing, with all three types filling a niche of specific needs.

Paasch said he was working to create housing for homeless veterans by designating land for a camper or mobile home park and then developing it for that use.

Another participant offered mobile home parks and campers as a means to address the shortage as well, but NeighborWorks Umpqua’s Brandy Haselden warned against using mobile homes or campers because government grants and subsidies often cannot be used to purchase, rent or maintain manufactured homes.

“The beauty of the area has ruined Park City, Utah,” Curry Homeless Coalition board member Teresa Lawson said, “and now it’s happening here.”

Park City began addressing its housing need as far back as 1995, and now provides a plethora of affordable housing options, even though the median home sells for nearly $800,000, according to Zillow.

Others agreed local wages are not sufficient to support rent and mortgages in the county. Hedenskog said the issue was national in scope, noting a national housing shortage was pushing prices to rise beyond what many people can afford.

A quarter of America’s most rural counties have witnessed a jump in severely cost-burdened households, according to a CBS report this week. Severely cost-burdened households are defined as those spending more than half their income on housing.

The report stated the numbers of such households have spiked in states from Maine to Oregon while incomes in many rural areas have stagnated or declined.

Data cited in the Curry County Housing Study and Action Plan indicates the county among those rural areas struggling with a shortage in housing and declining or stagnant wages. Curry County incomes when adjusted for inflation have declined 8.5 percent from 2000 to 2016 while the median home price rose from $148,000 to $222,000.

Housing development in Oregon is slowed, as sarcastically noted by Hedenskog, by the “most advanced land planning laws” in the nation. He said these laws and regulations made development in Oregon lag behind other states and add to a housing shortage.

“The wheels of government work slowly,” he said, “until the snake gets big enough to bite the right butt.”

He cited the city’s difficulty in developing the Borax tract as an example of the push-back politicians face when they move to develop an area.

“We offered some ideas on how to move forward there,” Hedenskog said, “and people said we were subsidizing a corporation.”

Former Curry Community Health (CCH) board member and BHSD board member Jay Trost said CCH could recruit from all over and draw talent, but “two out of three recruits didn’t stick,” due to housing issues, adding that housing issues make it difficult for all local health providers to hire medical professionals.

CCH recently lost its Assertive Community Treatment Program (ACT) “due to high staff turnover,” according to CCH Behavioral Health Director Erin Porter in a letter she sent to the Oregon Health Authority. She said turnover was an issue across the whole county, but added CCH would continue to provide care to those needing the ACT program with the previous members of the team.

ACT programs address mental health and substance abuse issues through a prescribed team of professionals and aim to keep those being treated in the community.

As a business owner, Trost said he has seen local employees with college degrees who are unable to find jobs where they can use their education, and even when they can, he added, that new job often doesn’t translate into economic advancement.

A new teacher in Brookings earns roughly $35,000 a year, according to Gallagher, and that limits new hires to a mortgage for a $135,000 house, but the Curry County Housing Study estimates the price of an entry-level house or new construction to cost between $200,000 and $226,000.

With a typical, local working income of $35,000, many in the group said subsidized housing and market-place workforce housing would be necessary to support a local workforce.

Matteson suggested investing in subsidized, supportive and market-place housing and working with people as they progressed through the levels of housing they could afford.

“If we stabilize them (with housing) and work with them,” she said, “they can progress from subsidized to market-place housing.”

Matteson also suggested cities and the county be more creative with zoning and deed restrictions as a way to encourage development.

Foster concurred, saying the action plan called for the task force to push for local governments to update their regulations, permitting, zoning and restrictions in ways that would encourage development of different types of housing and increase the affordable housing stock available for renters and buyers.

Participants suggested limiting short-term and vacation rentals as well because they deplete housing stock and raise rents by removing long-term rentals from the market.

Stakeholders should work to preserve existing housing stock, according to Haselden, who said grants were available for repairs and more should be offered.

The housing task force meets again April 25, 10 a.m. to noon at the Pacific Reef Resort conference room, 29362 Ellensburg Ave., Gold Beach

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com

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