Milwaukie working to create affordable housing
According to our 2040 Vision, Milwaukie "is a flourishing city that is entirely equitable, delightfully livable, and completely sustainable. It is a safe and welcoming community whose residents enjoy secure and meaningful work, a comprehensive educational system and affordable housing." We aren't quite there.
Among other challenges, the housing affordability crisis has hit us hard, a problem that is not helped by exclusionary zoning laws that make it illegal (or prohibitively expensive) to build a diverse variety of housing options, including middle housing like the fourplex where I lived in college.
When I was a college student, I lived in a beautiful old two-story brick fourplex that was nestled in a charming neighborhood with tree-lined streets and easy access to a bus line that I used to commute to class every day. I waited tables nights and weekends, which gave me enough income to be able to afford rent in the small apartment building I shared with three other households. My neighbors were a young couple saving to buy their first home, a single mom and her teenage daughter who attended the excellent local public high school, and a woman in her 90s who was able to age in place because she had help or a conversation just a few steps away. None of us could have afforded the cost of one of the detached single-family homes that dominated the neighborhood, which ranged from modest Cape Cods to enormous mansions. Those single-family housing options didn't suit most of our needs anyway. Our landlord was a retired cop who lived nearby and kept the place well maintained. Laundry was onsite and payment for use was on the honor system (sometimes I only had spare change, other times I could contribute several dollars and extra detergent). I cherish that time and deeply appreciate all the advantages and opportunities that housing provided to me, my neighbors and landlord: the connections we all made with each other, the ability to live in a walkable neighborhood close to amenities, and the supplemental income that my relatively low rent provided to the retired landlord. Our diverse backgrounds and experiences enriched the community, and the smaller carbon footprint from sharing walls and not needing a car for most of my trips was good for the environment and meant there was one less car adding to our congested roads.
I've lived in other middle housing at different times in my life, and I consider myself very lucky to have had those options when I needed them, and I hope it will be available to me again when I've earned the wrinkles and gray hair of a 90-year-old woman.
The fourplex I shared with my neighbors is illegal in about 70% of Milwaukie's residential zones.
With challenges, come opportunities. Since our city declared a housing emergency, we've undergone a housing needs analysis, created a housing production strategy and we are in the process of updating our 30-year-old Comprehensive Plan, a set of policies that I believe will set us on a path toward that equitable, livable and sustainable place described in our 2040 Vision.
Angel Falconer is a Milwaukie city councilor.
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