Residents of Clackamas County, the Portland metropolitan area and all throughout Oregon have felt the crunch in recent years of skyrocketing housing costs. Rising rents add to the cost of living for families and individuals, and also make it more difficult to save enough money to buy a house.
Homeownership has long been a cornerstone of the American Dream and its middle class, and a way to create and generate equity and wealth. Too many of our residents are being denied these critical opportunities and are being relegated to paying someone else’s mortgage and staying stuck as perennial renters.
The suggested solutions that we’ve heard for years all involve more government. It is felt that if we give blank checks and unlimited authority to bureaucrats, they will somehow create housing and make it affordable. But it never quite works out that way in practice. Those projects, which should be done by those with expertise in homebuilding and not government agencies, often end up costing more than comparable projects done by those in the private sector. The number of available units is so limited that even those who are deemed eligible for assistance often end up on waiting lists indefinitely.
There are practical solutions available to help solve these problems. An obvious one is to increase the amount of land on which houses can be built. For over 40 years, Oregon has had the most stringent land-use laws in the entire country. While some of the stated intentions behind them were good—preventing sprawl, preserving farmland, the consequences have been devastating. Local governments that rely on property taxes to fund essential services are deprived of revenue every time someone is denied the opportunity to invest in and add value to their land.
Another huge cost is in permitting. Government agencies that are responsible for conducting inspections and issuing permits obviously want to cover the costs they incur in those duties. However, homebuilders often find themselves with huge costs throughout the permitting process. They must ultimately pass those on to whoever buys that house. That can sometimes be just enough to put it out of reach for a family that could otherwise afford it.
There are ways to reduce those fees to a reasonable amount that can help lower the cost of housing.
One area in which the legislature has been proactive in promoting housing affordability involves encouraging the use of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). They can be built as a supplement to residents’ existing houses. The owners can rent them out for extra income, and it helps provide more housing opportunities for renters.
As your Clackamas County Commissioner, my duties include soliciting your input on challenging issues and providing solutions. Are there any ideas you have for making housing more affordable for our residents? If so, feel free to reach out and let me know your ideas. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to represent and serve you.