Happy Valley is doing little for working poor
Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer used her Dec. 6 Community Soapbox primarily to condemn Metro's urban-growth boundary (UGB) and to make what might called a market argument for more housing. Although she started with a discussion of the need for affordable housing and homelessness, and though she acknowledged role of better pay for construction workers, property tax and infrastructure improvement, she quickly moved to accusing the UGB for causing the shortage of housing. This is a position easily seen in her use of language about the UGB "which impedes any development on sacred and agricultural land."
Ms. Chavez-DeRemer seems to believe that removing the UGB and allowing growth in currently undeveloped areas will solve the affordable-housing issue. That seems to me too narrow a view of the issue and seems unrelated to the actual actions Ms. Chavez-DeRemer as mayor of Happy Valley, and the Happy Valley City Council, have taken. Let's review some statistics for Happy Valley: The median sale price for a house in Happy Valley is about $520,000. Does anyone really believe that developers building new subdivisions are going to be looking to sell their new homes at a median price less than the median sale price for houses of equivalent size? New houses are priced partly by cost of land, construction including infrastructure, borrowing costs and profit, which sets the floor, and good part by competitive area market values. One way to reduce the developers' costs is to minimize off-site infrastructure costs.
Happy Valley has a history of favoring developers of large developments while allowing minimal transportation infrastructure needed to serve the developments; a recent example is the Scouters Mountain development. Another example is allowing large subdivisions on Mt. Scott without making improvements on Idleman. Neither example resulted in affordable housing if affordable is related to median income in either Happy Valley or Clackamas County. Sure the city requires streets and sidewalks inside the new developments, and improvements on the frontage of the developments, but the City Council seems reluctant to improve the narrow roads with no sidewalks or bike facilities to provide access to the development. Opening land outside the UGB to new development is just going to continue this practice; large housing developments of relatively unaffordable housing adding major traffic demand on narrow country roads with inadequate roadway and no pedestrian or bike access. Ms. Chavez-DeRemer says, "Since I want to talk supply and demand, I also recognize that the UGB expansions rely on the changing of other factors to work." However Ms. Chavez-DeRemer fails to recognize that expanding the UGB is the least of the issues related to affordable housing. There is plenty of land with constructed infrastructure within the UGB for housing, and plenty of land that could be used for affordable housing in some form other than very expensive single-family houses.
Reviewing the statistics, it seems to me that the city of Happy Valley has very little interest in affordable housing. Within the city only 4.2 percent of units are townhomes, and 10 percent are apartments, with 1.5 percent mobile homes. Since the median rent is about $2,445 per month, requiring an income of about $88,000 per year to stay within 33 percent housing cost, I can't imagine that these rentals are in the affordable category for most families; median income in Clackamas County, for example, is about $69,000.
While Ms. Chavez-DeRemer talks about affordable housing and homelessness, I don't see her statements as more that an attention getting lead-in to a discussion of her view of eliminating the UGB. Nothing in her Soapbox article would serve the working poor and homeless and nothing being done by city government in Happy Valley seems to provide any steps in that direction.
John Betonte is a resident of Happy Valley.