Why Affordable Housing Is Critical For Lake Oswego’s Future
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that human beings need shelter, food, and water for survival. Nor does it take a great deal of discernment to understand that Lake Oswego is an affluent community where the average home price is $629,000. In 2018 dollars, the average income is $100,000. Home prices are continuing to trend upwards. According to a report from the real estate industry, the average price of the 44 homes sold in May of 2020 was $859,232.
In our march to build bigger and more expensive homes for the affluent, we have not been adhering to the state’s housing rule of providing 50% single-family and 50% balance of other housing types and the sound policy reasons for it. And we are less safe because of it.
Let’s look at some more data. The cost of housing here is so high that practically none of our fire and police first responders live in the city. This effect harms our citizen's safety in times of an emergency such as a major earthquake with or without a large encompassing fire and need for a speedy response. Reaching Lake Oswego from the outside will be exceedingly difficult as Lake Oswego is particularly susceptible given its seduction zone for a Cascadia event.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds that a household is “house burdened” if over 30% of its adjusted income is devoted to either rent or mortgage payments. As of March 2020, the average rent for a single bedroom apartment was $1,342 a month and $1,633 for a two-bedroom. Adjusted gross income to rent a one-bedroom would have to be $53,700 and for a two-bedroom, $65,320. Given the average home price and rental prices, living here is not affordable for even our first responders.
During the COVID crisis, the ability to shelter in place has placed a greater burden on those who lost their jobs and for those who have had their salaries cut back. A front-line worker at a grocery store who may earn $15.00 an hour translates to an annual salary of just $31,200. Clearly, for our workers and safe-keepers by not having sufficient affordable housing stock under the state’s housing rule, we have made our housing cost burdensome, if not outright prohibitive.
Lake Oswego business leaders must be a part of the housing crunch conversation. We are not on a sustainable course. Our vibrant business community cannot continue to attract a talented workforce without an adequate supply of affordable housing. Prior city leadership has failed to contend with this crisis but I will bring our citizens together to intelligently plan our future based on reality. Any scenario where a majority of workers are commuting into and out of Lake Oswego by vehicles because of our inadequate transit system contributes to global warming.
Again, I will bring our citizens together to responsibly deal with the future. In actuality, that is why transit-oriented development, with an affordable housing mix, should be paramount in our future planning of Foothills. I have taken the time to listen and learn and know that such housing mixes have proven very successful all over the country. Locally Orenco Station in Hillsboro is an excellent example as is Villebois in Wilsonville.
Aging in Place
But there is another group we must not forget. Almost 1/3 of our population is over 65. Many of the people in this group bought their current homes 20 to 30 years ago. But as costs to maintain go up and children have moved out, 65+ residents might confront a choice: age in place or simplify and downsize. Remaining in Lake Oswego is preferable for a good number of these folks who have spent decades building friendships, families, and church memberships, not to mention enjoying Lake Oswego’s amenities which they have helped pay for over the years.
The City does not have a continuing funding source for the construction of affordable housing or to provide low-cost loans or grants to help maintain one’s home as one ages in place. While there are state programs, these are extended to the max. However, in 2016 the State of Oregon established the authority for local governments to establish a (CET) construction excise tax to provide for affordable housing units.* In short, it authorized a way a city could meet its affordability needs through new and replacement construction. Communities that have adopted a CET have found it of great help.
I supported a Lake Oswego demolition tax for a fund to help with affordable construction or grant and loan funding for those aging in place. However, a Council majority directed the funds to be used for park maintenance, which, while important, does not address the urgent housing needs of our community.
Had we the leadership managed the building of balanced housing stock as opposed to short-sightedly promoting the building of only larger and more expensive single-family homes, we may have been better equipped to show by example why local government was better suited to plan for itself.
Confronting Oregon’s HB 2001
Instead, Lake Oswego, like many other Oregon cities, did not implement a plan to meet the state housing rule and address the housing supply shortage. In 2019, the Oregon legislature passed HB 2001 that allowed for more density in single-family residential areas.
While I support the bill’s aim to right historical and environmental wrongs***, I preferred our planning to meet the statewide requirements and not be preempted by HB 2001. Going forward, we need to take a holistic view of balanced housing and if so, lessen the need to disrupt our neighborhoods under HB 2001. We need to take opportunities that present themselves even if they individually are only an incremental part of the solution
One project that may be of help, but certainly not a panacea, is to use our existing mobilization site on Boones Ferry to leverage funding to provide for affordable housing to help meet our balanced housing requirements. I have been working hard with our staff, other council members, county government, and Metro staff and officials and the housing bond resources to make this happen.
I also work hard to establish relationships with other local government officials because, whether it is living up to state requirements, fighting against COVID, fighting for justice, obtaining our fair share of revenues, or simply being a good neighbor, we are in this together.
Data and sources for this position paper:
*Oregon Senate Bill 1533 https://www.oregon.gov/ohcs/APMD/03-27-2019-Residential-Construction-Excise-Tax.pdf
**Passed in 2019, Oregon’s House Bill 2001 “Requires cities with a population greater than 10,000 or within Metro to allow duplexes in lands zoned for single-family dwellings within urban growth boundary.” For more, see: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/HB2001
*** For an overview of the direct impact of HB 2001 on Lake Oswego and the bill’s goal of correcting past racial injustice, environmental damage, and landowner’s rights, see: https://pamplinmedia.com/lor/49-opinion/440017-352780-hb-2001-is-a-huge-win-will-lo-take-advantage-