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Officials explore preventative solutions to end homelessness in Clackamas County

COURTESY PHOTO: HARCOURTS REAL ESTATE NETWORK  - Sales prices for homes at Sandy Woods are estimated to be listed between $400,000 and $450,000.There are many factors that have pushed hundreds in Clackamas County residents out of stable housing. Among them are issues of unemployment, eviction, interpersonal conflict, mental or emotional health issues and unaffordable rent or housing.

"This is simply poverty, which can result from any sort of misfortune that is no fault of one's own," said Vahid Brown of Clackamas County Health, Housing and Human Services. "The leading cause of homelessness in Clackamas County is an inability to afford the rent. Period. The top four (reasons) have to do with economic conditions."

In recent years, affordable housing in particular has become a hot button issue at the state, county and city levels. Sandy City Council recently hosted a work session on the topic, looking at how accessible (or inaccessible) housing has become for would-be Sandy homeowners.

According to a presentation made to Sandy City Council in March by ECONorthwest, the median annual household income in Sandy in 2019 was $73,442. That's greater than the median for the state of $62,818 but still below the Clackamas County median of $80,484.

The median, however, does not show the full picture. According to the same data from 2019, about 15% of Sandy residents made $25,000 or less annually, about 17% made between $25,000 and $49,000 and 20% made between $50,000 and $74,000 a year.

Despite the fact that about half of Sandy's residents made less than $74,000 annually, the median sales price for homes in Sandy was around $414,500 and the median rental price was about $1,228. According to a February 2021 report by Apartments.com, a typical asking rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Sandy is $1,500. CoStar reports that new, market-rate housing at Sandyplace Apartment Homes on Sandy Heights Street costs between $1,200-$1,900 a month.

To view the Sandy ECONorthwest presentation and report from city development services, visit bit.ly/affordablesandy.

Burdening costs

While those represented are currently housed, the same ECONorthwest presentation also shows the breakdown of how cost-burdened the Sandy community is. To be cost-burdened means one is spending more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs, and to be severely cost-burdened means one spends more than 50% of their gross income on housing. In 2019, according to a U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, 11% of residents in Sandy were considered severely cost-burdened and 22% were considered cost-burdened.

The same survey showed renters to be more cost burdened than homeowners in Sandy, with 21% of renters considered severely cost-burdened, with 29% considered cost-burdened. For homeowners, 7% were considered severely cost-burdened and 19% considered cost-burdened.

Compared to the county as a whole, 14% of Clackamas County residents were considered severely cost-burdened and 18 % were considered cost-burdened.

Most rental properties require a renter to make a monthly income of at least three times the rent to qualify to live there. A person who makes $25,000 annually technically would only qualify to rent a space that costs about $694 per month while the average monthly rental cost in the is $1,295.

While Sandy Community Action Center Executive Director Kirsten Pitzer said she actually saw fewer houseless people come in for food pantry resources in 2020, the overall number of people coming for food boxes and assistance did increase.

This time last spring, the Sandy Community Action Center was serving an average of 48 people per week, one-third of whom were either new families or families the center hadn't served in quite some time, through a drive-thru food box program.

Who is the development for?

Twenty years ago, Sandy's population sat at just around 5,000. Now, the community edges toward 12,000 people, riding a wave of residential development.

According to Sandy Development Services Director Kelly O'Neill, 2019 was one of the biggest years for new residential development applications. As of December that year, the city had received applications for 117 shovel-ready lots for single-family houses and duplexes; 67 tentatively platted lots for single-family houses; and about 275 conceptually planned lots for single-family houses.

In terms of rentals, the city had approved 69 apartment units on Ruben Lane, which were shovel-ready, and about 330 proposed units were awaiting land-use approval. One developer new on the Sandy scene in 2019, Rosemont Development and partners at Harcourts Real Estate Network, built a new 43-unit subdivision on Olsen and Jewelberry, dubbed Sandy Woods.

Homes at Sandy Woods were priced to match the average new home being offered in Sandy that year — between $400,000 and $450,000.

In 2019, the city of Sandy saw more than a dozen new or proposed developments, and developers haven't gone away in the years since, even with the pandemic.

According to a map of development activity in Sandy, as of December 2020, there were 15 residential developments approved or under review, though several were marked tentative. These include multiple multi-family buildings as well as subdivisions.

Many of the houses in developments built since have been sold or plan to be sold in the same pricing ballpark as Sandy Woods.

According to the presentation by ECONorthwest, to buy a house at the median asking price in Sandy of $414,500, a family would have to make an annual income of at least $101,000 or 110% of the median family income.

In rentals, Sandy currently has four different places with spaces available, according to a search on Apartments.com. The least expensive is a 553-square-foot studio apartment starting at $1,205 a month and the most expensive is a three-bedroom, 1,922-square-foot house for $2,450 a month. While these are the prices listed on Apartments.com, it bears keeping in mind that rental properties can't always keep up with updating their listings and these prices may have fluctuated. COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF SANDY - According to this map of development activity in Sandy, as of December 2020, there were 15 residential developments approved or under review, including multiple multi-family buildings as well as subdivisions.

Supporting rural areas

At the county level, officials working with Health, Housing and Human Services see how disproportionate resources are for rural communities. People like Brown are working to change that.

Metro's Affordable Housing Services bond and the Supportive Housing Services measure may have an impact on bringing diverse housing to Estacada and other rural areas of the county. Though Estacada is outside of Metro's boundaries, the new programs may allow the county to free up funds to use in rural areas.

The Metro Affordable Housing Bond is expected to generate around $250 million a year to fund services aimed at getting people into and keeping people in housing, and the Supportive Housing Services measure, which is to raise money for "supportive housing services for people experiencing homelessness or at risk. It could generate around $51 million to $53 million a year.

These measures could free up the $8 million of federal money currently budgeted to address homelessness county-wide to help rural areas.

On Tuesday, April 13, the Housing Authority Board unanimously approved the Local Implementation Plan for the funds from the Supportive Housing Services Program. Next, the plan will move to the Regional Oversight Committee and Metro Council for review.

The County plans to launch the Supportive Housing Services Program in July 2021.

Brown added that busing unhoused people out of smaller communities to places with existing resources isn't the answer to supporting these community members.

"Folks who are needing health care — behavioral health care, mental health care, any kind of health care — really need to access their health care where they live," Brown explained.

"All the things that we love about rural communities and the things that people who choose to live in real communities love about them, they're the same reasons why people who are houseless choose to live there, too," said Stacy England with Clackamas County mental health services.

What is there to do?

While Clackamas County has several established means of helping unhoused folks get off of the street and receive care, cities like Sandy and Estacada are slowly trying to catch up.

Sandy Development Services Director Kelly O'Neill, staff and city council have been exploring how the city can influence public policy, land and infrastructure within the city limits. The city council has also formed a social services taskforce to address issues of homelessness, addiction, mental health challenges and domestic violence.

In July 2020, Sandy resident and Portland State University student Maggie Gilman Holm recommended the city create a task force to make Sandy a more "resilient" community and let them help shape the social services plan. The Social Services Taskforce has begun to meet but talks are still preliminary.

According to Kelly O'Neill's March 15 presentation to City Council, the next steps to address the need for affordable housing and homelessness is to "consider potential policies as part of House Bill 2001 implementation (and) to consider these types of policies for a Housing Production Strategy on the next update of the City's Housing Needs Analysis."

In Council's April 19 meeting, discussion continued around key HB 2001 requirements and policy change recommendations by staff, regarding ADUs and allowances for detached or attached duplexes to provide more middle housing in Sandy.

At this point in time in Sandy, the topics of homelessness and affordable housing are on the table, but solutions are far from found. Through collaborative efforts, the city and community leaders hope to move quickly to help those unhoused in their town.

As Pastor Paul Stone of Living Way Fellowship said when previously asked about the homelessness issue in Sandy: "We have people, and we have places. We need guidance in mobilizing people, educating those people and (creating) a framework to start with."

"It's just as indicting on us that when we do have conversations about this every year, it's almost always too late. We have to start asking those hard, inconvenient questions now, so we have an answer next year."

Maybe with more and more people and resources coming to a common table, those answers can be found in 2021.

"When we think about the issues of acute poverty in terms of 'them' and 'they should go elsewhere,' we're forgetting the fact that it's our neighbors who we're talking about, right?" added Brown. "These are residents and neighbors of Sandy and Estacada. These are vital members of your community."

This article is the final part of a series about the homelessness situation and related resources in the Sandy and Estacada areas. To view previous stories, visit estacadanews.com or sandypost.com.


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