Election: Wilsonville candidates talk about affordable housing and traffic
In a representative government, voters are tasked with identifying the politicians who they believe are not only suitable for the role and reflect their values but who also are committed to pushing the policies that will serve the community best.
With that in mind, and to complement profiles of individual candidates, Pamplin Media Group is beginning a Q&A series where candidates running for Wilsonville City Council will weigh in on some of the city's hot-button issues (For context, Councilor Ben West and former councilor Julie Fitzgerald are running for mayor while Council President Kristin Akervall, Councilor Joann Linville, John Budiao and Imran Haider are running for two open council seats).
In the first installment of our series, we asked candidates about their views on housing affordability, density and traffic. If a candidate's answers don't appear, it's because they didn't provide them. We also added parentheses in certain cases for context.
But first, here's a little background: According to the city's recently completed Equitable Housing Strategic Plan, the median renter household in Wilsonville can afford a home of $221,000 — but the average home in Wilsonville costs $454,000. Also, almost a quarter of households in the city spend at least 30% of their income on housing.
Based on the plan, the City Council will decide in the coming years what steps the city should take to increase housing affordability. Some ideas include constructing subsidized housing and reducing taxes to encourage development, among many others. At the same time, many Wilsonville residents view traffic as an ongoing concern, according to biannual community surveys, and the city soon will begin planning the Frog Pond East and South neighborhoods, which will sit on both sides of Advance Road near Wilsonville Road and Stafford Road.
According to city data, a high percentage of Wilsonville residents are burdened by housing costs. What should the council do to address this problem?
West: It was an honor to chair the city's Equitable Housing Strategic Task Force. As mayor, I will continue to promote and advocate for policies that allow more of our residents to become first-time homebuyers, achieve the dream of homeownership and begin then to create wealth for themselves and their families.
Through a multitude of policy mechanisms, we can accomplish these lofty goals. First, I support the city partnering with nonprofit organizations to establish a downpayment assistance program for first-time homeowners. Second, I support tax abatement programs for first-time homebuyers, which will assist in keeping a homeowner's monthly payment lower, and I will partner with builders and developers to provide first-time homebuyers with incentive packages.
It is my vision for Wilsonville that we lead the greater Portland area, by percentage, in new first-time homeowners. This three-pronged strategy will ensure well over 90% of funding reaches the people who need it. Compare that to Metro's tax where less than 50% of the funding (taxes) will find its way to people who need the assistance.
Haider: I would suggest looking into trying to lower the SDCs (system development charges) or at least defer part of the payment for a temporary period or both to help create more affordability by the developer.
Budiao: We can adhere to HB2002 and HB2003 (passed by the Legislature) by encouraging duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottages and townhouses in well-planned neighborhoods, hopefully for homeownership.
Fitzgerald: As mayor, I plan to involve citizens more than ever in thoughtful planning that includes a wide variety of housing types and diverse, attractive and safe neighborhoods. Housing cost burdens are a regionwide problem that, if not effectively addressed, will negatively affect quality of life, our natural environment, and our city's strong economic base.
Robust citizen involvement, specific tax incentives and high standards for developers will lead to a successful implementation of Wilsonville's unanimously adopted Equitable Housing Strategic Plan.
As mayor, I will lead our housing planning with a focus on clean, safe, attractive neighborhoods connected by natural spaces that welcome citizens of all ages at all stages of their lives.
Akervall: Housing needs and affordability is a giant topic for not only Wilsonville, but our region. As council president, I voted for the adoption of the Equitable Housing Strategic Plan, which includes suggested near-term and long-term actions such as identifying code-based strategies, building key partnerships, and targeting specific developments.
I'm interested in exploring different models that may be well-suited to our city, and am excited that the city recently received a few grants that will help us in incorporating equitable housing needs into middle housing planning and conducting outreach to better understand the details of our housing needs.
Overall, I am grateful for the support on tackling this issue that came from both task force members and our citizens. Moving the plan forward will take quite a bit of work and needs to continue to involve the community.
Linville: About half of new households in Wilsonville through 2039 are forecast to be low income and more diverse in race, ethnicity and age. The city adopted its Equitable Housing Strategic Plan in June 2020, which outlines goals and strategies to provide a variety of housing types, i
ncluding middle housing, cottage clusters and multifamily developments, with an emphasis on homeownership of affordable family-size housing. City Council goals and policies must focus on exploring new planning areas, variety in housing types and continuing to work closely with affordable housing developers through a lens of social equity and inclusion to meet the needs for affordable housing.
In the coming years, City Council will plan the Frog Pond South and East neighborhoods. What is your vision for those two developments?
Akervall: With the requirements of HB 2001, we need to have a mix of housing available in our newly developed neighborhoods. My vision does include a mix of housing that is responsive to the needs of the community. We need housing options that allow for a safe home for people in all life stages and circumstances — including everything from first-time homebuyers, single parents, to growing families, to empty-nesters.
I also see community parks, attractive open spaces, and safe bike/ped routes to the schools as being key.
Fitzgerald: The involvement of citizens committed to a vibrant future for Wilsonville is imperative as we plan Frog Pond South and East. My goals for Frog Pond South and East include a variety of housing types and prices. I want to ensure that these neighborhoods are loved for generations ahead for their ample green space, safe routes to school, parks, and trails.
For the quality of life and to reduce the need for car trips, we should have some shopping amenities and efficient transportation solutions such as biking, walking, and access to transit. And equally importantly, Frog Pond South and East should include some entry-level homeownership options.
I am committed to ensuring that our future neighborhoods are inclusive and welcoming to our diverse citizenship and people of all ages.
Linville: Development of the Comprehensive Plan for Frog Pond South and East will be accomplished during summer 2020. Consistent with the Frog Pond Area Plan approved by the City Council in 2015, these two areas will be integral components of three connected areas making a cohesive community including trails, walking paths, open spaces, retail and a variety of housing types.
Once completed, this area will significantly change the city's housing mix to a higher percentage of single-family rather than multifamily homes. These neighborhoods, not unlike other areas in Wilsonville, will include a variety of housing types, including middle housing, cottage clusters and detached affordable homes.
Haider: My vision for the Frog Pond developments would be mostly to try to concentrate on middle-class, single-family homes and go from there, hoping that increase in supply will help level out prices. At this point, Villebois has very few houses for sales week-to-week, which might be an explanation as to why they are still pretty expensive. Scarcity on the market allows (in a sought-after area) for prices to remain at a premium.
Budiao: When developing Frog Pond South and East, we have lessons learned from Villebois: no on alleys, enough parking, good wastewater systems, parks and pathways. Housing can be made less expensive by building smaller, starter homes with common spaces.
Smart growth to me means the city considers all infrastructure to handle the traffic: power, water, sewer and sidewalks.
West: I envision Frog Pond South and East to be a community that provides quality housing and offers housing options for a diverse group of people looking to call Wilsonville their home. The community must provide amenities to enhance livability, such as green spaces and parks that will incorporate seamlessly with residential development.
However, Frog Pond South and East sit on the edge of the city's boundaries, and we must be mindful of the country roads and infrastructure in place that will support these communities, and be sure to consider the impact these developments will have on traffic and parking. I favor placing denser and multihousing closer to the city center, closer to mass transit, new infrastructure and essential services.
Some have argued that housing density increases community diversity and lowers costs by adding supply to the market. However, the dense Villebois neighborhood still has fairly high housing costs and traffic has been a continuous frustration in the Wilsonville community since the city's population spike. How do you weigh these factors?
Budiao: Where feasible, accessory dwelling units are another way to help with affordable housing, often providing housing for additional family members. Wilsonville has the highest density of apartments of any city in Clackamas County so we can hold off building more apartments while we concentrate on other multifamily housing types. Space for adequate parking is a major concern that needs to be factored in all instances.
The council can encourage and welcome business, whether new or an expansion of a business already here, by promoting the filling of vacant storefronts and buildings.
With our economy suffering from being shut down, we are likely to see quite a few unused spaces, and we need to plan to fill those possibly by using decreasing tax incentives. A variety of businesses can bring part-time, entry or family-wage jobs, and provide the city with a larger tax base. Jobs will help lift the burden of housing costs by raising the level of the family income.
Fitzgerald: Wilsonville overall (not just the Villebois neighborhood) is a highly desirable place to live, both for its location near I-5 and its unique strengths, including beautiful communities and its diverse, strong economic base. The great diversity of housing types in Villebois is the driver of diversity among the neighbors.
I have lived in Villebois since 2007, so I have listened to many people express their reasons for living here. I hear neighbors value the bounty of open spaces, sidewalks, playgrounds, trails and parks. I appreciate a well-planned neighborhood with open space over urban sprawl.
I'm in favor of safe neighborhoods with easy access to amenities and transit with bike paths, open space, parks and trails. We are lucky in Wilsonville to have excellent schools and neighborhoods graced with trails and open space. The traffic topic is described more fully in question No. 4.
Haider: I would need to take a closer look at traffic flow options (what is allowed by city design), but trying to spread out and add retail options might help defer traffic from the Wilsonville road concentration. Ultimately, the freeway access could be part of that issue also because a city of 24,000-plus residents has just two routes to I-5.
Linville: Wilsonville, not unlike cities across the U.S., has seen housing costs rise faster than incomes. Additionally, Wilsonville community surveys attest to the desirability of our city as a place to live and raise families contributing to the projected growth by 14% over the next 20 years.
It is incumbent on our city leadership to use Smart Growth principles and policies to guide and plan long-range development. This includes planning for housing, roads, traffic control and patterns, multimodal transportation and locating retail and other services close to areas of higher population and anticipated growth.
West: When you look at the price per square foot, multi-unit housing is the most expensive, and this affects first-time homebuyers and those newly entering the housing market disparately. Additionally, the urban growth boundary reduces the supply of buildable land and increases the cost of housing. The urban growth boundary makes housing in our community more expensive, but the most we can do is to continue to advocate for urban growth policies with Metro (regional government) that support our community's housing needs as much as possible.
Denser housing always results in more traffic and less parking. Multi-unit housing must be a part of our housing stock. Still, we should be strategic where we place that housing and prioritize multi-unit housing where residents will not have to be as reliant on a vehicle, or where it will have the least impact possible on our roadways.
Akervall: The reality of our current landscape is that the Portland metro area is and will continue to be popular. We are a growing state, and a growing city. I understand why people want to live here — because I certainly do, too. While our whole region struggles with this issue, Wilsonville is unique in that it borders the urban growth boundary, meaning a lot of pressure is put on us to absorb that expansion.
We must be vigilant in looking for solutions to traffic needs and attentive in our residential planning. More diverse housing options can help spark more local job opportunities, which would allow residents to both live and work in the community, in turn alleviating some of the traffic. We should support both vehicle and bike/ped mobility to ease in-city commutes, recognizing that needed infrastructure is expensive and we need to be thoughtful in how we approach building.
I support system development charges whereby developers contribute to the improvement of roads, parks, water,and sewer facilities. We need to collaborate with developers in planning for building high-quality neighborhoods and business areas, but on council, I have always stood firm on the need for developers to contribute to these funds.
Do you have any other thoughts on what the city can do to reduce traffic?
Linville: The majority of people who live in Wilsonville do not work in Wilsonville and, conversely, many people who work in Wilsonville commute to homes in nearby cities. Those residents and workers must be accommodated.
Anticipating growth, the city should look for alternative traffic patterns, traffic technology solutions and service locations that do not require all citizens to shop, work and travel to the same locations especially at high-peak traffic times. Additionally, the city must continue to work with state leadership for alternatives to the current I-5 ramps including possible bypass roads, additional auxiliary southbound lane and widening of Boone Bridge.
West: The city must continue to lobby the Oregon Legislature to upgrade the Boone Bridge and to get the southbound auxiliary lane completed. Upgrades to the Boone Bridge will dramatically improve the livability of Wilsonville and make our community more attractive for job-producing businesses.
Furthermore, I stand in opposition to the plan to toll I-205 and I-5, which are federal highways already paid for by previous generations. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) acknowledges that toll diversion (exiting off the freeway to use backroads to avoid paying tolls) is a challenge that will disproportionately impact suburban communities near toll booths. The country roads in the West Linn-Wilsonville area are already beyond their reasonable capacity for daily driving of local residents without adding toll diversion traffic.
Moreover, toll diversion will adversely impact air quality and exacerbate already troubling traffic issues in Wilsonville. Tolling is bad for Wilsonville. It will intensify our traffic problems, and it will hurt our community's livability, property values and the local economy.
Akervall: During my time on council we partnered with ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) to complete the Southbound I-5 Congestion Study that looked at the effects of the Boone Bridge on I-5 traffic. This research ultimately produced the I-5 Wilsonville Facility Plan, which I fully support.
The city partnered with our state representative, Courtney Neron, who pushed for funding on the state level to scope the proposed Boone Bridge auxiliary lane and seismic improvement project. As I-5 traffic is closely intertwined with our city traffic, we need to keep moving this work forward. We also need to continue to look at bringing connectivity to our city through developing our surface streets, bike and pedestrian connections, and supporting the excellent work that SMART does to bring transit options both within the city and throughout surrounding areas.
Fitzgerald: Our proximity to I-5 is a double-edged sword: It attracts residents (85% of whom commute daily to other cities) and jobs, and it brings traffic congestion.
I will work with state and federal legislators to develop resources to address our overburdened freeway system and its effects on Wilsonville traffic. As mayor, I will work with neighboring jurisdictions to protect our city from increasing I-5 impacts as other cities and nearby industrial areas grow.
As a public transportation commuter myself and past liaison for our citizen-driven Transportation Master Plan update in 2016, I am well aware of the public transportation expectations and needs of our citizens. I am also committed to representing the local businesses that fund our mass transit options, and the importance of a cost-effective transit system that delivers good, reliable services.
Budiao: We need to increase SMART (Wilsonville's transit service) bus routes with schedules to allow more individual movement within the city. It now can take up to 90 minutes to go between the high school and Wood Middle School, which does not serve our students well.
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