By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

NeighborWorks Umpqua (NWU) Director of Community and Economic Development Michelle Martin characterizes Curry County’s housing market as stuck, weak, subsidy scarce and highly competitive.

Her presentation at the Curry County Housing Task Force meeting April 25 in Gold Beach further decried the lack of developers in the area and a lack of capacity for planning, coordination and development.

NWU has had success in other areas by providing land for affordable and workforce housing and then keeping the homes built on that land affordable by restricting their future sales price, according to Martin.

But, she said, “Larger developers with capital have better opportunities elsewhere (outside Curry County). Here the risks are higher and the returns lower.”

Task force moderator Rob Foster targeted solutions during the meeting, asking participants to concentrate on paths forward and pointing to suggestions in the study such as partnering with businesses that need employee housing and developers such as Borax, which plans to add housing in the area.

Martin noted people earning between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income do not qualify for housing assistance, yet are unable to purchase homes here and are often rent-burdened – paying more than a third and sometimes up to a half of their incomes on housing. She said retaining these people — the workers in the community — requires local solutions.

“Salem and D.C. are not going to help,” Martin said.

According to Martin, NWU’s goals are “to build the capacity of the local system to plan, align, attract and grow resources for housing development while reducing barriers to development and engaging in development. It plans to add 500 units on the coast by the mid 2020s.

She said NWU would work with other stakeholders to add 250 housing units along the coast of Southern Oregon and reinvest in 150 additional units so they can be maintained and offered as affordable but not substandard housing.

Additionally, NWU will work to add 100 units of supportive housing for those in need of services beyond housing, according to Martin.

Brookings City Manager Janell Howard laughed when Martin referred to the Borax development near Brookings as a possibility for additional housing in the county, saying, “That could be in two years or 20.” But Howard did say the city would likely negotiate for the inclusion of affordable units within that community, if and when it moves forward.

The county would need to hire people to accomplish the goals NWU set, the report noted, saying a planner/integrator and project manager were required.

The planner — employed by NWU — would earn $150,000 a year and be needed for four years, while the manager position would be staffed or dropped as needed. NWU offered to contribute $25,000 towards the planner’s salary over the first two years. It also offered to serve as the lead organization and hire or contract with the project managers as well.

Martin said NWU would encourage local government to increase development as well, and work with nonprofits, businesses and service providers to increase coordination.

Oregon Coast Community Action and Gold Beach were exploring a property on which to build a transitional housing center for those with special needs and a four-plex for health care workers, according to task force member Beth Barker-Hidalgo. The idea is for revenue from the four-plex to pay for the special-needs housing.

Curry County Commissioner Court Boice said the county was rebuilding its community development department and had “five or six possible projects” in the pipeline.

Gold Beach is promoting the addition of accessory dwelling units — such as apartments over garages or in other areas on a property — and the use of tiny homes to increase housing units, according to Gold Beach City Councilor Summer Matteson, but had not seen much success to date. She proposed bringing a tiny home show to the Curry County Fairgrounds as a way to promote their use.

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