Q. What is Affordable Oregon? Why does it exist?
A. Affordable Oregon is a group of passionate advocates for housing affordability that believe the State of Oregon and local governments throughout Oregon are not doing enough to solve Oregon’s ongoing housing affordability crisis. Our membership is made up of long-time residents, housing industry professionals, low income housing advocates and Oregonians from all walks of life. We all share a desire to see affordable housing for everyone in Oregon and we believe government at the local and state level is not doing enough or addressing the issues appropriately.
Q. So, you are another advocacy organization for low income residents and renters? Isn’t that what affordable housing is?
A. There is general confusion between the terms “housing affordability” and “affordable housing.” Most affordability advocates focus on creating affordable, low cost housing options for those who meet a certain income level or have become disabled, which is frequently determined by preset government standards. Affordable Oregon supports the efforts of “low income housing” advocates generally, but it is not our primary focus.
Instead, Affordable Oregon is focused on housing affordability for everyone. First time home buyers, retirees, low income households, renters etc. We intend to focus on cost of housing factors that have a wide-ranging effect on affordability. By doing so, we believe the price of a home for everyone will fall or at least rise at a slower rate. At a minimum, Oregonians should have confidence that money and services earmarked for housing delivery are utilized properly by local government.
Q. Why is there a need for Affordable Oregon? What precipitated its creation?
A. For most people, the purchase of a home is the largest transaction they will ever make. Homes generally appreciate and become an asset the homeowner can draw on for retirement, medical expenses, college etc. Without the ability to purchase a home, our future generations will have a difficult time investing enough of their income to be able to retire responsibly.
Additionally, an affordable home is crucial for improved livability. Whether you own a single family detached home in the suburbs, a condominium in the city or rent a townhome, having an affordable place to live provides the owner/renter with peace of mind, a sense of belonging and additional disposable income for spending or investment. When your mortgage is eating up 50% of your income or your rent is exceeding one third of total annual earnings, it’s difficult to argue you are living a better life here than you could elsewhere.
Affordable Oregon exists because the debate over housing affordability regularly ignores several major factors affecting prices in Oregon:
- The extreme cost of land in areas designated for urban development
- A lack of infrastructure financing options beyond system development charges
- The ever-increasing cost (fees, taxes and time to market) of developing and building housing in Oregon
- A lack of accountability at the local government level for timelines, application of designated funds and general spending.
Individually, these factors create a significant increase to the cost of housing in Oregon and there is little to no action to address them. Affordable Oregon will work to expose how these factors are affecting the price of housing and to create accountability at the local and state level.
Q. OH, so you see government as the sole reason housing in Oregon is so expensive? Isn’t it more complicated than that? Why focus so much attention on the role of government in housing?
A. Government is not the sole reason housing is expensive in Oregon, but it is a major contributing factor. Housing affordability is a complicated issue with several contributing factors, but there is no denying government regulation is a part of the process and at times, a part of the problem. Affordable Oregon does not see government as the “enemy” of affordability. Rather, we see current state and local policies and practices that have developed over the years choking the housing supply line and hindering the time to market as a major issue that needs to be addressed.
Q. Is the solution for everyone to have the same type of house on the same type of lot in the same type of neighborhood? Or just to flood the market with available land?
A. Affordable Oregon doesn’t agree with either of those ideas. We are in favor of a wide variety of housing types, ranging from the typical single-family home to attached communities, mixed use developments and innovative micro housing options. We also don’t subscribe to the theory that all land should be available for immediate development. Rather, we are a proponent of reasonable expansion of an area’s urban growth boundary as prescribed by Oregon State Statute.
What we do believe is that zoning should be flexible enough in each jurisdiction to meet the needs of the existing marketplace to keep up with growth. We believe housing professionals, land development experts and builders have a better grasp of the marketplace than government employees charged with regulating the safety and quality of the products built by the housing industry. Too often, local government has strayed into the business side of housing, prescribing aesthetic design changes and housing options without any knowledge of what the consumer is seeking. We also believe that a reasonable, market based approach to expansion of urban growth boundaries would better serve Oregonians than the current system employed by Metro Regional Government and local cities throughout Oregon.
Q. It sounds like you are an advocate for the home building and development community. Is that your goal, to put the decision making in the hands of industry rather than government or the people?
A. It may seem like Affordable Oregon favors an industry viewpoint of the affordability crisis, but our goal is not to make any one entity additional money or to curry favor with industry. Rather, we see the factors cited above as significant impediments to affordability. The housing industry, whether we are talking about high rise developers or small-scale home builders and subcontractors, has long held that government regulation and intervention, along with NIMBYism is causing higher prices and choking affordability. Affordable Oregon believes these factors have been ignored, therefore, its advocating change in those areas.
The State of Oregon and its landmark land use system have long enjoyed a reputation for being inclusive of all points of view and opinions. We would argue the balance our system was seeking by allowing multiple points of input from the public and strict land use planning has in part led to this housing crisis. The need for clear timelines, reasonably fixed costs and a reasonable time to market is under represented in the process. Too often, one individual with an ax to grind or a group of NIMBY’s can hijack the process because so many opportunities are provided for recourse.
Affordable Oregon is looking for solutions that re-balance this equation. Every participant in the process should have an equal voice.
Q. What is the plan then? How does Affordable Oregon go about advocating for change on these issues? How will Affordable Oregon be different than everyone else?
A. Like other advocacy organizations, Affordable Oregon intends to spend significant time and resource following and commenting on local, regional and state legislation. We will keep our focus narrow, working to improve affordability in accordance with our mission.
Through our Local Government Accountability Project (LGAP), we will cultivate testimony from individuals and businesses that highlights the inherent inefficiency of local government in the housing process. We will expose these inefficiencies via our website and lobby local elected officials for change.
In the event change is not forthcoming, we will aggressively pursue change via the political/election process. Recalls, local initiatives, and state legislation pre-empting local government from certain housing processes are all on the table. It is our goal to create change amicably where possible, but Affordable Oregon will not shy away from political action if necessary to achieve our goals.
For more information or to become a member of Affordable Oregon, click here.