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Oregon Coast Real Estate

Affordable Housing on the Coast
Is There Any Left?


Story by Barton Grover Howe

It’s a common sight on the Oregon Coast: Strolling down a scenic street, walkers casually stop to look in a real estate office window. They look over the listings, reflect on how great it would be to have a place that close to the beach, and chuckle at how much property sells for. They walk on, but not before asking: How does anyone afford to live here?

"They don’t," said Jack Green, project manager for Habitat for Humanity in Lincoln County. Having managed the construction of eight houses across Lincoln County including three in Lincoln City, he's become well acquainted with the people he's building for.

According to the Oregon Housing Alliance, in 2006, a median priced Lincoln County home was $222,161. With a median income in the private sector of $10.48 an hour, about $21,800 a year, it requires more than 10 incomes to buy a house. This in contrast to the national average of about 2.5 median incomes needed to buy a house.

Lincoln County isn't alone. In the past two years community and government groups from Clatsop County up north to Bandon down south have begun addressing what most define as a shortage of "workforce housing," housing that's targeted to even those with relatively high incomes who might never be able to afford a home because they live in
a high-priced real estate market.

Green said that’s an important distinction. "It's the school teachers, the firemen, the policemen. These are the people that can't afford to live here."

Employees of the city are a prime example: less than half the city's employees actually live inside the local 97367 zip code, down from two-thirds five years ago.

Bill Hall, Lincoln County Commissioner and one of the leaders in the effort to examine solutions to the lack of workforce housing, said the costs go far beyond financial.

With second-home owners increasingly buying up coastal properties, it’s getting harder to find workforce housing

Jack Green

Jack Green, project manager for Habitat for Humanity in Lincoln County, and other volunteers are close to wrapping up the 1400 volunteer hours it took to finish their eighth house in the county. He said the kindness of area developers, and homeowners' fickle tastes, allow him to put some of the best products into these homes.

"Businesses are having greater and greater trouble attracting and retaining workers," he said. "That certainly impacts the service industry, public safety, health care." It's a large reason why it can take so long to get a table, find a police officer, or see a nurse in the emergency room, he said.

"As for the human cost, you look at an overwhelming amount of documented evidence that shows people who are not in stable housing situations have greater evidence of physical illness, mental illness, and domestic violence," Hall said.

Developers, second homeowners are part of solution

The cause of all this is simple: people from outlying areas with far-greater incomes are buying up area properties. In Lincoln City, where even hillside homes several blocks inland have ocean views, more than 53 percent of the city's real estate is owned by people living outside the city, according to government officials.
But Green refuses to point his finger at visitors and second-homeowners. Instead, he chooses to look at how the area's part-time population has made his efforts for Habitat for Humanity easier.

"We had one family that was doing a remodel in Salishan," he remembers. "When the wife looked at the bathroom, she told them to get rid of all the toilets. I know the builder up there and he asked me if I could use them and I said, 'Of course!'"

Laminate floors from a doctor's house in Yachats, building supplies from the development in Olivia Beach, some (very) high-end toilets, all have come Green's way because of the building virtually always underway somewhere
in Lincoln County.

Rev. Ruth Miller, part of the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce's Affordable Housing Working Group, also thinks out-of-area property owners can be part of the solution. Now head of Unity By the Sea church in Gleneden Beach, she helped create the Portland Housing Center and has been working on affordable housing issues since the early 1990s.

Miller thinks homebuyers can encourage developers to build more than just the typical big house or wall of condominiums with a view. Homes with mother-in-law apartments where locals could live or developments with low-priced condos mixed in with the more expensive ones are just two possibilities, she said.

"One of the things I would love to see is if you own property in Lincoln City that you are using as an investment, run the numbers," she suggested. "It may be to your advantage to rent it to a local employee or family instead of partying vacationers."

She knows that makes some people uncomfortable. But she thinks if there was a good management company willing to list such homes, everyone could win, even the real estate agents.

"We now have more Realtors than we have houses to sell," she said, laughing. "Maybe some of them want to be property managers."

FYI: To help with workforce housing on the Coast, contact your area chamber of commerce or city planning department.

Oregon Coast September/October 2007

Barton Grover Howe is a journalism, drama and global studies teacher at Taft High School in Lincoln City.

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