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Wilsonville City Councilors say much work is needed to fulfill aspirations of the plan

PMG FILE PHOTO - The city of Wilsonville passed a plan Monday, June 15 to facilitate more affordable housing in town.

Wilsonville City Councilors acknowledged during a meeting Monday, June 15, that certain aspects of the government's Equitable Housing Strategic plan are vague. And, they seemed to consider the document to be a framework rather than a roadmap.

"I see the plan as working to identify where the gaps are for current and future residents and trying to figure out how to fill those gaps," Council President Kristin Akverall said. "There needs to be continued discussion on the details and the specifics, but this plan is our start in putting up a framework to work on."

After many months of analysis, task force discussions and review, the Wilsonville City Council approved its own plan to address housing unaffordability in town during the June 15 meeting.

Before crafting the plan, the city conducted an analysis of housing stock in town that showed a large percentage of residents are rent- or mortgage-burdened and that many people in town cannot afford homeownership.

In fact, according to the plan, "A median renter household could afford homes valued between $221,000 and $252,000 if they had sufficient down payment resources, but the median housing price in Wilsonville was $454,500."

This is despite the fact that Wilsonville has one of the highest levels of multifamily housing (which is generally more affordable than single-family housing) in the Portland metro area.

"We moved here because rents were more affordable here in 2017 than elsewhere, but as I look around, homeownership is not affordable," said Andrew Engle, who added that he has a fairly high-paying job yet can't afford to buy a home in town.

Some ideas identified in the plan included providing subsidies to developers who build affordable housing, collaborating with nonprofits and other organizations, building a housing development at the South Metro Area Regional Transit (SMART) station (the city owns this property), and purchasing land for the purpose of affordable housing, among other ideas.

Deb Meihoff, a moderator of the city's affordable housing task force, said cultivating partnerships would be especially important.

"The action around building partnerships and nurturing those partnerships is not light. It seems light but it's super important because they need to know those opportunities are available in your city and you're really welcoming there," she said.

Kimberly Rybold, a senior planner at the city, also said new neighborhoods in Frog Pond and Town Center are places that could incorporate affordable opportunities for renting and homeownership.

The council indicated during the meeting that it would like to have a more thorough discussion about system development charges (SDCs), one-time charges to developers for the cost of improving public infrastructure.

Developers say SDCs are one of the main prohibitors of building cheap housing. Wilsonville City Councilor Ben West wanted the city to place more of an emphasis on lowering SDC costs in the plan, whereas Mayor Tim Knapp was more skeptical of that idea.

"Subsidizing SDCs is a discussion to have if it leads to getting housing product we wouldn't otherwise get, but the money to subsidize it has to come from somewhere," Knapp said.

The Wilsonville Alliance for Inclusive Communities, recently formed to talk about ways to make Wilsonville a more equitable place for all, supports the plan.

"I feel like we started something here and would like to talk with the city about collaborating and maybe building upon efforts with the city, so we ask you to pass the plan," said Garet Prior, a member of the group, during public testimony.

Also, Villebois developer Rudy Kadlub and Roseann Johnson with the Homebuildings Association of Metro Portland testified in favor of the plan during the meeting. Kadlub stressed continued vigilance on the part of the council to make sure the plan progresses.

"Don't just wipe your hands and say, 'we've checked this off the list.' You have to look at this every day and every week," he said.

Also related, the City Council directed staff to explore the development of a committee that would not only monitor implementation of the plan, but also would talk about equity and inclusion more broadly. The council took this action based on a recommendation from the Wilsonville Planning Commission.

"They (the planning commission) emphasized the need to create an environment in which people of different cultures and backgrounds feel welcome. This could help community members build social resilience and better weather a crisis," the plan reads.

Overall, Knapp said there needs to be more discussion about implementation strategy, but he was glad to see the city take this step.

"That's a major milestone for us and it sets the stage for a lot more to do," he said.

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