June Mailbag: Unpacking the LGAP and Affordable Housing

Each month, Affordable Oregon will post select questions or comments it receives and our responses to readers, haters and friends.  If you have a question, comment or just want to call us names, emails us at info@affordableoregon.org

(The first section of this mailbag focuses on the Local Government Accountability Project produced by Affordable Oregon and released publicly 10 days ago.)

 

“Thank you for doing this (LGAP) and taking the time to get all the information together!  How do you possibly get all this information and then come up with an accurate ranking system?  The list seems pretty accurate.”

“Where did you find all this information and how do you possibly make a ranking out of it?  I can’t imagine the jurisdictions are happy about this and I bet they pick it to pieces.  I am still working through it but I am having a hard time working out the numbers.  It’s a good thing, but I hope you are ready to be assaulted…”

“This is F*cking stupid.  The numbers don’t seem right and there is no way you are accurate.  How does this help if it just pisses every local government off?  What was the point of doing this?”

 

We have received about three dozen comments on the LGAP just in the first week since its release. As we released the LGAP, we braced for impact, knowing full well it would receive a great deal of scrutiny.  As far as we can tell, no one has ever put together a report that attempts to aggregate and analyze the full cost of local government on a per house basis.  Many organizations have taken a piece of the information and done great work showing the impact.  The LGAP attempts to take expenses associated with each phase of the development process, rank them and spit out a rating for each jurisdiction.

Taking it a step farther, we also worked in an “industry opinion” factor from a survey we conducted in March and attempted to factor in the cost of “time to market” or the carrying cost of the project as it works through the government process.  Both factors are subjective, which will give haters and doubters plenty to attack.

Here is what we tried to do:

 

  • Find and calculate every charge or fee assessed by 19 different local governments from planning, through engineering, final platting process and permitting. Where a fee was based on a percentage or hours, we used a constant, theoretical project based on a real example and applied it to each jurisdiction to get a comparative cost.

 

  • We then took the totals in each category and ranked each jurisdiction from lowest to highest, assigning them a ranking.

 

  • We broke those rankings into quintiles and assigned a rating of “1 (terrible) to 5 (Excellent) for each jurisdiction in each category. We put all that together and a final LGAP score was determined, with the jurisdictions re-ranked.

 

The results are what they are and we published them.  Our goal was to be as accurate as possible and we welcome feedback and proposed tweaks to the system for the next LGAP in 2019.

Because we were not 100% confident with the results, we decided to “weight” the categories based on our level of confidence in them.  We feel very confident in the SDC’s and permit fees being very close to correct for each jurisdiction.  So those categories received greater value.  We know the survey and our time to market estimates are based on compiled anecdotal evidence, so they received lesser weight.  This was our attempt to mitigate for error.

In the next go around for the LGAP, we hope to add some additional categories and broaden our scope.  We sincerely want to create a document that is accurate and shows the reality of government’s cost to affordability.  Love the idea or hate it, there it is.

For those of you who don’t like the study or think building the study is detrimental to the process and only angers jurisdictions, ask yourself this:  If what you were doing brought you to a point in time where the average Oregonian can no longer afford a home, was that path worth the time and effort?  It’s time to try something different.  Local government isn’t getting the message, maybe angering them will lead to change because working with them isn’t getting us anywhere right now.

 

“I love the articles and the way they are written!  Someone needed to say this.  The city of Portland is out of control and the media never calls them out for it.  Keep up the good work!”

“You guys write good articles but they are kind of snarky sometimes.  Do you think that’s the best way to get your message across?”

“Nobody cares about this stuff.  You are just embarrassing yourselves and your writing is juvenile.  I read it just to see what stupid thing you are going to say next…”

 

Since starting Affordable Oregon in March, we consistently receive an email a week that is some form or variation of these three major themes.  They are all fair comments and no one can say for certain who is right.  We tend to just be happy someone is noticing what we are writing and taking the time to comment.

From Affordable Oregon’s perspective, we are writing our point of view and putting it out there for you to consider. Like it, tolerate it or hate it, we try to make the point of view informed and we try to get a good base of facts for each of our articles.  We generally don’t make outrageous claims without substantiation, but we are also not a hard news outlet for anyone.  We have an opinion, we created a forum and at this point, just over 1,000 people are following and reading it.

If what we are saying has no impact, is boring, or is not of interest, our numbers will suffer.  In the meantime, at least we are talking about housing affordability in a way people can relate to and understand the problem.  We have a point of view that you might not agree with, but it’s not an uninformed opinion and we are enjoying it.  Just like a TV program you don’t want to watch, you can always turn the channel.

 

Why do you guys have a problem with affordable housing projects?  You bag on Portland’s public housing and you are clearly against Metro’s proposal.  Isn’t affordability good?  These people need help and it just seems cruel…

 

Affordable Oregon is 100% in favor of developing affordable housing options for those who are making less than the median income.  We believe there are many great non-profit organizations and private developers who specialize in this type of work and that what they do is valuable and critical to our community.

We also believe that government probably must be involved in the process as well.  Where we differ with other more traditional affordable housing advocates is that we do not believe local governments have proven to be efficient with the money they receive and when they ask voters for funds they typically ask for too much and getting too little for the money.

At a time when housing affordability has reached a critical point in our region, we believe local governments need to be addressing their direct role in the price of housing before asking voters for more money.  It’s unfortunate this debate hasn’t happened before now, but we can’t just keep throwing money at this problem without being sure we are spending the money we have available efficiently.

 

Affordable Oregon wants affordability at every level for every person.