By Boyd Allen | Original Article
Oct. 9, 2018

The Curry County Housing Study Task Force released its report Oct. 4 and warned of an upcoming workforce crisis if the county fails to address housing needs.

United Way of Southwestern Oregon Executive Director Marcia Hart, whose agency sponsored the study and acted as its non-profit fiscal agent, introduced Thomas Eddington of czb, the urban planning and community development firm contracted to create the study.

Eddington presented portions of the report outlining the economic and housing situation in the county and generally depicting negative trends.

The most serious of these point to a tipping point or crisis in the county when there will no longer be enough workers to provide services or spend wages and drive the economy, according to Eddington.

“We do not see housing as infrastructure,” he said, “and because of that we do not invest in people.”

He encouraged the county to invest in workers by investing in housing based on the calculations in the study.

Because an affordable home for a worker earning the county’s median income would exceed their housing budget by $96,000, according to the study, the solution requires raising that amount for each affordable home built.

Eddington noted the county budgets one-third of its revenues on roads —$11.5 million — and spends nothing on housing. But new times will demand new funding patterns, he added.

The study also showed a decline in available housing because new owners are using previously rented units as vacation rentals, removing them from the residential pool, and because builders and developers are adding fewer than 20 homes a year, many of those high-end units.

Vacation housing units increased from 2010 to 2016 by nearly 20 percent while owner-occupied houses declined.

The study proposed the county pay to support three new affordable homes and three rehabilitated homes per year for 10 years, a gain of 60 units.

 

Housing trap

The report indicates the county is caught in housing trap: the economy is driven by people who move into the county with equity and purchase the available housing, but this decreases the housing pool and drives prices up. These new residents come seeking amenities, are called amenity immigrants and generally do not work.

Overall, statistics show the county is aging and new residents are often retired. Without immigration, area population would be declining — with more people dying than being born here.

When workers cannot afford housing or pay more than one-third of their income for housing, the report reads, the economy risks losing workers, wages and the ability to provide services. Eventually, this trend could stop people from moving here — our current economic driver — and the economy could collapse.

The report shows the percent of residents in the workforce has declined by 7 percent from 2000 to 2016 — only 44.3 percent of residents over the age of 16 are in the labor force.

Fewer than half of Curry County residents work and fewer are working now than in 2000. These is the worst workforce participation rate for any county in Oregon

czb reported the poverty rate rose from 12 percent to 15 percent over the same period and the county’s workforce population, people from 25 to 54 who are likely to work, declined from 35 to 29 percent.

Eddington said it was the largest and fastest workforce decline he had seen and portends economic problems because workers drive the economy.

Fewer than 15 percent of Curry County’ young workers 25 to 35 hold at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the study.

Eddington said this indicates educated young people leave the area and take with them the abilities that drive a knowledge economy. The service jobs that remain reap the lowest pay.

The report states 40 percent of Curry’s workforce is in the retail, trade, accommodations and food services sectors, compared to 25 percent for Oregon. These workers earn $10 per hour, or $21,000 per year on average.

The report noted even well-paid, professionals were unable to afford a house in the county.

At an earlier meeting, AllCare Community Advisory Council Chair Georgia Nowlin, a housing task force member, said, “We have had representatives from the school districts and the hospitals here, and they told us directly that employees took jobs here and left because of housing issues.”

The hospitals and schools provided anecdotal evidence of people they hired who had left after being forced to live in an RV.

“We can address this now as an opportunity or later as a crisis,” Eddington said, “but it gets more expensive the longer you wait.”

 

Solutions

The housing study proposes the county take six steps to address the problem:

Create a county-level housing trust fund (HTF) or create local HTFs. The goal is to bridge the $96,000 gap between the cost to build a home in the county and the price a worker can pay.

Make a financial commitment to community housing infrastructure. Update governmental toolkits to encourage workforce housing and remove barriers such as development charges or unnecessary zoning regulations.

Add zoning with mixed-use areas and zoning that requires affordable housing.

Reduce or eliminate system development charges or allow them to be paid over time.

Encourage the building of accessory dwelling units and protect them from being used as vacation rentals.

Renegotiate with U.S. Borax to ensure workforce housing is a primary component at Lone Ranch, the development the company plans to build at the north end of Brookings.

The study asks the county to consider redirecting 1 to 2 percent of its budget — $570,000 to $1,140,000 — towards housing infrastructure, reallocate some of the existing funds dedicated for roads to housing, or consider pulling $500,000 to $1,000,000 per year from reserves to seed workforce housing.

 

Work groups

After czb’s presentation, task force community liaison Beth Barker-Hidalgo recruited new members to the task force and supervised work groups that listed community assets and created plans to accomplish the proposals in the study.

The groups focussed on working with area employers and stakeholders to raise and direct money for affordable housing and pointed to the hospitals, school districts, South Coast Lumber, city governments, real estate agents, property managers, coordinated care organizations and Fred Meyer as partners.

One group proposed a tax on phantom houses — houses that use services throughout the year but are seldom occupied.

Mixed-use zoning and vertical development areas were proposed, and one group suggested the county or cities donate land for housing projects.

The study is available at https://unitedwayswo.org.