Clackamas County sets affordable housing goal
Clackamas County commissioners have set a goal of 2,000 new homes, affordable by low- and moderate-income families, to become available in the next five years.
They have added that goal to Performance Clackamas, a set of standards by which county government measures economic and social progress and how well county agencies are moving toward them.
Half of the 2,000 homes would be made available through the Housing Authority of Clackamas County — commissioners sit on its governing board, but the agency is separate from county government — to families earning less than 60 percent of median household income.
Median household income — the point at which half are above and half below — was $74,700 in 2017, so 60 percent is $44,820. The figure changes annually.
"Clackamas County is one of the richest counties in this state," board Chairman Jim Bernard said. "Yet we have some of the poorest people also."
Housing is deemed "affordable" under federal Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines if it costs no more than 30 percent of median household income. But like the other metro-area counties, Clackamas County has seen big increases in housing prices and rents the past few years — increases that far outpace growth in household incomes.
The county has approved property tax breaks for several developments near Clackamas Town Center. "But we have not spread that out," Bernard said. "We need to figure out a different way to do this."
Commissioners have conducted two of four workshop sessions on housing. The next session will focus on policies and financing options to move the county toward its goal.
"My belief is that the private sector is better positioned to keep up with the need for housing that is sustainable," Commissioner Paul Savas said.
At a recent workshop session, commissioners heard differing comments, but all panelists concluded there is no easy way to achieve the goal. Emily Lieb, manager of Metro's equitable housing initiative, defined the regional scope of the housing shortage.
She said between 2006 and 2017, renter income in the seven counties that the federal government defines as the Portland metro area — including two across the Columbia River in Washington state — rose 48 percent. But apartment rents went up 90 percent, and so did the cost of homeownership.
Lieb said the projected gap of homes is widest — 36,000 — for households earning less than 30 percent of median income. For households earning between 30 and 60 percent, the gap is 11,000.
'We know the biggest barrier to affordable housing is the lack of funding to fill the financial gap between what people can afford to pay, and how much it costs to build housing and what the market will bear," she said.
Portland voters approved a $258 million bond last year, and Lieb said Metro, the regional government that covers parts of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, is considering a measure for the 2018 general election.
Martha McLennan spoke for Northwest Housing Alternatives, based in Milwaukie, which has helped find 550 homes in the county for families with $15,000 or less in household income. Another 450 are in progress.
McLennan said her agency's task is tough, given that county rents have increased 11 percent within the past year. But she said there is hope. She said families with low household incomes have remained stable once they secure housing.
Developers offered more pessimism.
Homer Williams is a founder of Williams & Dame Development, a Portland company involved in development efforts in the Pearl District and the South Waterfront, and projects in the Los Angeles area.
In addition to current needs, Williams said, almost two-thirds of those who are turning age 65 have not saved money to supplement Social Security payments.
"There is not enough money in the system to build what we need," he said. "That need is enormous. We are going to be desperate for senior housing at a lower cost."
Williams said additional housing will require greater efforts to reduce per-home costs and more money for construction.
"We are going to need a Marshall Plan for ourselves," Williams said in reference to the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid that helped Western Europe's economy recover from the devastation of World War II 70 years ago.
Anna Geller agreed with Williams that housing costs add up when architects, engineers, contractors and supervising firms are involved. Geller is with Geller Silvis & Associates in Happy Valley, home to at least six large projects within blocks of the development company.
'We have all come to understand that income segregation created a lot of generational poverty," she said in advocating more emphasis on mixed-income housing.
She also said property tax exemptions as long as 60 years, intended to encourage development of such housing, are far too long for residential buildings. (Depending on the housing, local governments can grant breaks that are renewable annually. Some longer exemptions exist under state law, which set deadlines for developments to qualify.)
"You are setting up a ghetto situation" when breaks extend past 30 years, she said.