With high costs for materials and skyrocketing demand, more and more Columbia County residents are scrambling to find affordable housing.
Many would-be renters with full-time jobs have shared their struggles finding housing over social media, citing one of two issues: They either cannot afford a property, or none are available.
"Ted & I are about to be homeless," one St. Helens resident wrote in a social media post. "We got told (in) October they demand us out now, so if anyone knows of any openings, I have called every single apartment in St. Helens, and they are all full."
And the problem appears to be getting worse. According to Community Action Team's Heather Johnson, 157 of the 5,078 people who sought housing assistance from CAT since March 2020 did so within the past month.
State, county challenge
Damon Runberg, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department, shared his assessment of the Oregon housing market heading into 2022 in a guest column published in the May 27 edition of The Chief.
According to Runberg, home prices in Oregon were up "a blistering 10%" from the previous year for the first quarter of 2022.
"Before the pandemic, the statewide housing market was seeing annualized gains of closer to 3%," he wrote. "The fast growth in home prices the past two years has pushed real (inflation-adjusted) housing prices in most markets across the state higher than levels in 2007 during the housing bubble."
Johnson said the number of people seeking housing assistance in Columbia County has "increased for sure."
"One caveat to our past month numbers as well as the overall last year, (is) in December of 2021 OHCS contracted with an agency in Washington State to deliver OERAP 2 and 3 for the state," Johnson said. "There are a number of people who would normally be accessing housing services through CAT who are accessing assistance through the OERAP portal. As a result, our in-house numbers are a bit skewed and not entirely reflective of the current need in our county."
The Chief asked Johnson whether she sees affordable housing as a challenge, and she answered, "Absolutely. It is a challenge throughout our entire county."
Rainier City Administrator Scott Jorgensen concurred. “It is a challenge everywhere in Oregon,” he said.
The Chief spoke with Peggy Howell, a principal broker at John L. Scott Real Estate in Scappoose, to gain insight into the housing shortage and affordability crisis.
Howell told The Chief that there are no vacant units in any of the 20 rental properties she manages.
Howell also said fewer people are leaving.
"I don't have a lot of turnover," Howell said. "I've got some renters that have been in 20 years."
According to Howell, many brokers also raised their rates, several up to 9%, to compensate for the rising costs of materials and services.
"Between property taxes going up and water going up and insurance going up, if you don't raise your prices every year, you're making less every year," she said. "So it's a problem, and of course, there's a moratorium on you cannot raise any more than 10%."
Mick Taylor, a principal broker in Oregon, said that while the supply and demand imbalance is a major factor driving the rental prices up, "we have to talk about materials and supply chains, which are also continuing to keep prices high because materials are more expensive."
Windows and air conditioning units are facing the largest share of shortages and delays, according to Taylor.
"If you can sell your windows for more money, then that's what you do, and I have no problem with that," he said. "But then the ability to make more windows and be competitive with your prices, all of a sudden it wasn't just about increasing your profits a little bit, it was the fact that hey, we can't make enough product. So, of course, it's going to be more expensive, and we're still struggling with that."
Columbia County's housing market has seen a 21.5% year-over-year increase, according to the real estate website redfin.com.
While securing affordable housing in Columbia County still poses a challenge to residents, new developments are taking shape.
Jorgensen said the Rainier Planning Commission is looking at the possibility land swap within the city’s urban growth boundary (UGB) for more developable land outside the UGB.
Other Columbia County officials have pledged to address the housing problem by "working closely with developers to facilitate the permitting process so that permits can be issued as quickly as possible," according to St. Helens Communications Officer Crystal King.
"We need to ensure that we can meet the growing demands for water, sewer, roads, parks, sidewalks, etcetera," King said.
In their efforts to increase affordable housing access, Clatskanie City Council members unanimously approved a rezone ordinance to classify an 8.1-acre property along Canyon Road from R-10 (10,000 sq. ft. lots) to R-5 (5,000 sq. ft lots) and a portion to MFR (multi-family residential).
The Chief reached out to Clatskanie City Manager Greg Hinkelman for more specifics on how the city will address the affordable housing shortage. We had not received a response at press time.
Community Action Team helps connect people with affordable housing in their community. For more information, go to their website: https://cat-team.org.