A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Mission impossible: ‘Affordable housing’

Written August 11th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

These apartments were under construction on Timber Ridge Street N.E. in March 2020. They’ve long been finished.

The city government in Albany is going to try to do something about “affordable housing.” Good luck.

The city council agreed last month to launch what the planning staff called a “public involvement process for evaluating housing affordability options.” This may or may not involve hiring a consultant. It depends on whether Albany gets a state grant, for which it has applied. But it certainly will involve a committee, a “task force” of a dozen or fewer members including residents from each of the three council wards.

The idea is to find ways in which the city could help make housing less expensive.

So they’ll look at city fees, such as systems development charges on new construction. Lowering those might make houses cost a few thousand dollars less, but only if everything else stays the same, which it won’t. In the meantime, where would the city get the money for growth-related street projects?

They’ll also look at regulations in the development code. More density would be the goal, on the theory that if people lived in less space their housing costs would be less.

The supply of available land is another item. Widening the urban growth boundary might be one option.

And they may look at things the city does, such as how long it takes to get a land use application reviewed and approved.

All this echoes what Gov. Vic Atiyeh said in October 1979, when he told a housing conference in Portland that government barriers to housing construction were the main reason that housing was becoming so expensive.

The Democrat-Herald story that reported Atiyeh’s remarks also mentioned that Oregon’s two largest banks had announced raises in their prime interest rates that day, from 14.5 percent to 15 percent. Remember those astronomical rates?

Speaking of old news, the phrase “affordable housing” appears not once, not a single time, in Albany newspapers for most of the 20th century. It starts popping up in 1976, in a few news stories like the one quoting Atiyeh in ’79 but mostly in ads for mobile homes.

Policy makers have been talking about affordable housing for the last 40 years. And yet, as the city staff says in a memo, “Like many cities across Oregon, Albany is facing a housing crisis. … Albany’s housing needs for more diverse sizes, styles, price, and ownership opportunities far exceed the community’s supply.”

The reason is that people are moving in, partly because elsewhere housing costs even more. The result: Two- or three-bedroom apartments in Albany rent for around $1,400 a month plus utilities, and two big complexes report online that none of their units are available. For buyers, one real estate service on Tuesday was promoting eight Albany houses costing from $315,000 to $465,000. The average listing price was $388,000.

There’s nothing the council can do about people wanting to move in, or about other big factors like the cost of materials and labor. So for this new Albany task force, “affordable housing” is likely to remain a goal it can talk about but cannot reach. Just as it was for the Oregon governor in 1979. (hh)

15 responses to “Mission impossible: ‘Affordable housing’”

  1. Jan Shea says:

    I am curious about the photo of the apartments. You say they were finished in 2020. Are they occupied? They don’t look it. Are they affordable? Just wondering about the inclusion of the photo that you don’t refer to in the text.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      Everything you want to know.

      Look at the sidebar. $1300 and up. Some variety of sizes. They mention AirBnB studios (hmm…). Almost entirely 5-star and 1-star reviews (should I be suspicious?). Except for the lucky few in the back of two of the buildings, you’re surrounded by asphalt and cars. This whole area is a sacrifice zone for the American car culture.

  2. John Klock says:

    We do not try to achieve a public service goal simply because of past history or because one person has a bias against it. Intent is every bit as important as action and in fact intent becomes action, but we have to start somewhere. I wonder what the critics of the John F Kennedy Space Program of 1961 would have said when he articulated his intent to put a man on the moon.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Maybe the first thing that needs to change is the attitude of city government.

    Back in 2011 CARA turned down a $10 million project to turn the St. Francis into apartments for workforce housing. Evidently CARA preferred “boutique” units for the wealthy.

    Exclusionary zoning and local government arrogance stand in the way of “affordable housing.”

    It’s like musical chairs – if you don’t allow enough “affordable” homes/apartments to be built, people with the least amount of money get pushed away.

  4. Mike Patrick says:

    You are spot on HH.

  5. Abe Cee says:

    Funny, I’d argue that increasing development fees is actually needed…for things like roads, street lights, sewer and water treatment/processing needs, police/fire/city services. More housing means increased costs for all of those things and more, cutting the fees collected by the city for new developments just pushes the increased costs to the rest of the tax payers in the city.

    What we need is a combination of higher paying jobs for those already here and less people moving into the area.

  6. Richard Vannice says:

    Your “Policy Makers” aka politicians seem to be able to identify a problem (affordable housing) then they talk, talk, talk, talk and talk some more.
    Does that mean the problem has no solution? If so admit it and quit beating a dean horse.
    If it does have a solution quit talking and take some action.
    I have no solution other than reduce the cost of construction (fees, site costs, building materials, labor, etc) and that’s not going to happen.

  7. James Engel says:

    I don’t think you’ll get much in the way of “affordable housing” until the astronomical profit margin of development is dealt with. Investors/promoters are in it for the $$$, not out of the goodness of their hearts to help the less fortunate. I sure don’t want those crime riddled “projects” that Chicago/New York, etc. have to give affordable housing to the masses.

  8. Tracy foote says:

    I rented a 2 bedroom apartment in 1985 for 295.00 a month at was then called Casa Villa.
    In 1997 i rented a 2 bedroom apartment (same place just different name) for 665.00 a month.
    Now a days you cant get into any place for less than 1200.00
    a month. Sure the minimum wages go up to accommodate living cost.. but even 14.00 an hour wont cover rent!!
    No wonder so many adult kids still live at home..
    First time home buyer program would be a smarter choice than renting..

  9. Scott Bruslind says:

    Seems that housing and cars follow the same trend- bigger, more feature rich and more expensive. Trim our expectations, perhaps? Can we live without some kind of air conditioning as we look into the future (not to mention the rest of this week)? How about square footage, and every room wired for interconnectivity?
    As with all things, the trends are captured by the U.S. Census Bureau:

  10. MK says:

    Without deep subsidies, it is difficult to make housing affordable to low-income households. Instead of individual houses, I think a complex that is on a compact site to conserve energy and increase efficiency is more sensible. Instead of new construction, how about existing building acquisition with an emphasis on reuse of materials as much as possible?

    Is our local government prepared to be long-term owners and/or property managers, or is the goal to transfer ownership to non-public-sector owners (either nonprofit or for-profit)?

    Are there opportunities to utilize alternative ownership models, such as community land trusts and limited equity cooperatives?

    I wonder what the Section 8 housing voucher backlog looks like and if we should first focus on the creation of housing to meet that need?

  11. H. R. Richner says:

    One sure way to lower housing costs is obvious. Cut the property taxes by as much as required to get to your goal. There are many other ways to raise tax money, e.g. value-added taxes which may well be much less painful.

  12. HowlingCicada says:

    Abe Cee: “””What we need is a combination of higher paying jobs for those already here and less people moving into the area.”””

    H. R. Richner: “””Cut the property taxes by as much as required to get to your goal.”””

    Simple economics in a time of high demand, low supply, and perhaps inadequate competition:

    The maximum price of real estate, like almost everything else, is whatever the market will bear.* For buyers with a mortgage, affordability depends on the total of monthly payments (mostly interest), tax, and other expenses, in relation to income. If monthly expenses for the average buyer go down (lower property tax, lower interest rates), or when average income rises (higher paying jobs), then the price will increase — because it can.

    Bottom line: be careful what you ask for.

    *Building costs only affect the minimum price. Land cost is just another whatever-the-market-will-bear component (govt.-haters can complain about this one, but probably not as much as they think).

  13. thomas cordier says:

    The whole idea that there is a solution defies the basics of capitalism.
    All the hot breath expended does nothing but increase global warming.
    Waste of my time and everybody else’s too.

  14. Bob Bush says:

    Affordable…….Affordable……..Affordable……..Had a multi-millionaire tell me one time that we are all broke……just on a different level……..It’s the same with affordable…..everything is affordable……..just on a different level.


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