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Team focuses on regional housing

A Mid-Columbia team is working to address what it says is one of the region’s main economic development barriers: a shortage of quality housing stock at purchase and rental costs that match financial capabilities of workers and their households.

County Commissioner Rod Runyon temporarily left his place beside his fellow commission members to assist Mayor Steve Lawrence present on behalf of the North Central Regional Solutions Advisory Team at the Wasco County Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 19.

“Our region, comprised of Sherman, Wasco and Hood River counties,” Lawrence said, “wishes to address the shortage of attainable housing, a priority issue in each of the counties. We hope to bring a team focus to the issue and to engage the support of local agencies to improve upon the current situation.”

Runyon said the advisory team is seeking $2 million from the state to create a housing loan fund that could help spur efforts to “remove barriers to acquiring attainable housing in the area” and make a “positive impact” on the local economy.

According to both presenters, the function of the Regional Solutions Advisory Team is to “address county-wide problems” such as attainable housing, and serves as a means by which representatives from across the three counties can work together to find solutions.

The attainable housing initiative, as stated in the team’s drafted letter of support, “seeks to address one of the region’s primary economic development barriers: a shortage of quality housing stock at price ranges and rental levels which are commensurate with the financial capabilities of worker and households in the region.”

“The fact that we cannot provide enough quality housing in Wasco County is an important issue that needs to be addressed,” Runyon said. “The regional issue is that there’s an overall shortage of quality housing stock, and that it’s severe enough to hamper the ability of employers to both maintain their current workforce as well as attract newcomers.”

Lawrence said that the shortage of affordable housing can act as a “deterrent” to businesses that seek to employ local workers.

“A lady from Insitu told me that the lack of multi-bedroom apartments for young families and high costs price a lot of people out of both the rental and purchased markets,” he said, “And it just isn’t good for our communities.”

“Another example,” Lawrence said, “is that in Hood River County, there’s not enough opportunity for people to live where they work, as the housing that is available is often priced well out of the range of many of the workers in the county. The impact of the vacation rental market they have on the people that work there is huge.”

The main goal of the advisory team’s initiative, Lawrence added, is to not only provide the counties with new and improved housing options, but to “rehabilitate” the existing stock.

Addressing the commission, Lawrence said that the advisory teams needed the commissioners to sign and approve a letter of support in order to apply for the $2 million funding currently on offer from the state, and which they believe will help considerably in the effort to improve the region’s current housing situation.

“As members of the Regional Advisory Team, we’re looking at the counties under our jurisdiction as a collective to seek housing-related solutions for people of all income levels,” Runyon said. “This is a $10 million lottery reserve that’s already there for the people that need it, with all the different regions competing for it. We’ve identified housing as a priority issue, and removing the financial barriers we now face will allow us to really do something about it.”

The Board of Commissioners agreed to affix their names to the letter of support drafted by the Regional Advisory Team so it can could move forward in pursuing the state funding, as well as to continue the discussion on the issue of attainable housing across the counties in future meetings.

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