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City Council, staff need to develop strategy to support housing for next 20 years

St. Helens has no shortage of land within its urban growth boundary to accommodate housing needs and anticipated growth over the next 20 years, according to a recently completed housing needs analysis, but it does need to designate more land for high-density housing.

Todd Chase and Tim Wood, consultants from FCS Group, have been working with the city for months to complete a housing needs analysis to help the city assess its current status and how growth can be accommodated over the next 20 years.

Last year, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring cities with populations greater than 10,000 people who have at least 25% of the population categorized as severely rent-burdened, or paying more than half of their income on housing needs, to conduct housing needs studies and develop plans to address those needs.

According to 2016 census data, 27% of people in St. Helens qualify as severely rent-burdened. The state Department of Land Conservation and Development agreed to provide funding for seven cities to update housing needs analysis plans with the help of consultants from FCS Group, including St. Helens.

The analysis encapsulates a variety of information, including estimated population growth, the density and types of current housing, estimates of future housing, and an assessment of available developable lands within the city.

During the months-long process, Wood and Chase looked at a number of factors before compiling the data in to a draft analysis plan, which was presented at a forum Wednesday, May 1.

The document also outlines suggestions for topics for discussion about changing policies to accommodate housing growth in a manageable and responsible way. A second document accompanies it and outlines technical terms from the analysis.

City Planner Jacob Graichen explained that the high inventory of available land creates a prime opportunity for the city to establish policies that will allow for strategic planning.

"This is an opportunity. And I say opportunity because we have this surplus and we can look at policies and create policies to make land efficient for the next 20 years and beyond," Graichen said.

A final draft of the analysis is expected to be presented to the City Council for approval before June.

When adopted, the plan will become part of the city's comprehensive plan, and the council can look at needed policy changes to responsibly accommodate housing density needs.

A video of the public forum is available here.

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