Homeownership in Washington County is less affordable, study says
Homeownership is less affordable than its historic average for typical workers in Washington County, a new study finds.
ATTOM Data Solutions, a provider of nationwide property data, released its third-quarter 2020 U.S. home affordability report. The report says that median home prices of single-family homes and condos in the third quarter of 2020 are less affordable than historic averages in 63% of counties throughout the country.
Under the study's affordability index, Washington County is currently rated as a 96. Under 100 is deemed less affordable than historic average.
The study also showed home prices outpacing annualized wages in the county.
Alma Flores, the director of housing development for REACH Community Development, a Portland-based nonprofit, says too many area households have been struggling to make ends meet for too long. Flores puts that down to a combination of multiple factors, such as migration, housing supply and wages.
"When you have more people, but you don't have enough supply of housing, that only increases competition, but it increases the costs because there's less supply," Flores explained. "Then incomes have not increased for folks that are (considered) more locals (and) have been here for a longer period of time. Incomes haven't risen at the same speed at which housing costs have."
REACH serves the Portland metro area, as well as Washington County, as a nonprofit housing developer. The organization focuses on "transit-oriented developments" near grocery stores and amenities for people who don't rely on a car to get around.
Currently, REACH has three properties in Hillsboro and is developing another in downtown Beaverton. Flores says the nonprofit is also planning a large-scale affordable housing development project in Tigard, with between 300 to 400 units.
"We want to make sure we're doing what the report seems to be pointing out, which is how do we create resiliency withing communities by making sure that people have … jobs to be able to offset the cost of housing," she said. "One of the community benefits that we see in the Tigard site is a business incubator or commercial kitchen, to just bring attention and bring resources and tools to our future residents, so that they can become self-sufficient."
Affordable housing is defined as housing geared toward individuals and households that are making 60% or less of area median income, and tenants cannot be asked to spend more than 30% of their income on rent. To hew to these criteria, rents are kept lower — in some cases, much lower — than the going market rate.
"We provide subsidized housing to that effect ... to further ensure that people are not feeling stressed and overwhelmed by housing costs to the rental market," Flores explained.
According to ATTOM Data Solutions' report, the average wage earner in Washington County is not qualified to buy a house. The third-quarter median sales price for a house in the county is listed at $443,250.
An annual wage of more than $75,000 is needed in the third quarter of 2020 to afford a typical house in 23% of the markets in the report.
Flores says it's important to look at homeownership and affordable housing numbers because the problem will continue to compound year after year if "we don't try to come up with solutions today."
One of the solutions she's hopeful for the area is the Metro housing bond measure that voters approved in 2018. The $652.8 million affordable housing bond measure is paying for the construction of cost-controlled homes and apartments across Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties.
Clackamas and Multnomah counties are also less affordable than the historic average when it comes to homeownership, including home prices outpacing annualized wages, according to the report.
"The region and the state are doing what needs to happen. The state has been doing it for at least the last three (or) four years," said Flores. "What I would like to see is all of the cities and the region, particularly Washington County, put forth those tools and be proactive about the tools that are needed, government codes and regulations that create barriers for more housing to be developed, and start cracking that nut, if they haven't already."
As for the future, Flores wishes she had a "crystal ball" to know when the area might see some improvements with housing ownership and affordability but says there are plenty of advocates willing to put forth the time and effort to solve the problem.
"They're not just sitting silent, which is what I saw a lot when we first moved out here about 17 years ago," she added. "You're seeing a lot more participatory government happening (and) people of color participating as well, which brings diverse voices to the table and lived experiences to the table."
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