Creative Housing Solutions Pop Up Across Oregon

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By David J. Petersen

Across the nation, residential rents continue to outpace wage growth, making housing less affordable for many. In 2022, the national median rent increased by 17%. Oregon is no exception. Oregon renters spend, on average, 25% of their income on rent, the ninth-highest percentage in the nation. To pay the average rent in Portland, one would need a salary of $101,171 to meet federal housing affordability thresholds, almost $40,000 more than the Portland median household salary. With investors gobbling up homes that might otherwise be affordable to first-time homebuyers, and continued in migration to the state, rents surge even higher due to supply and demand imbalances.

In the face of these daunting statistics, some Oregonians are getting creative. CareOregon, a managed care provider in Clatsop County, has lost hires due to the unavailability of housing they can afford in this popular tourist community. To address this problem, CareOregon recently purchased a vacant Red Lion Hotel in Seaside, which it will convert to 50-60 housing units. Two-thirds of those units will be reserved for health care workers, with the balance providing supportive housing for people with behavioral health needs. While 60 units may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the 17,000-unit shortage Clatsop County faces by 2040, housing advocates hope this idea will spur others towards affordable housing development in the community.

Governor Tina Kotek has also made increased housing production a major theme of her new administration. She recently announced ambitious goals to produce 36,000 new homes per year, and has appointed a group to look into possible conversions of unused office space to housing. In this vein, Governor Kotek recently announced a “community triumph” in the redevelopment of a former NE Portland strip club site with 142 affordable homes. Named after Las Adelitas, female soldiers from the Mexican Revolution, the new facility provides units ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments, a preschool classroom, event space, and car and bike parking. Like CareOregon’s project, some of the units are reserved for services to those with behavioral health issues.

Last but not least, creative solutions abound for people in need of more transitional housing. Not without controversy, the City of Portland recently announced the first City-sanctioned camping site on SE Powell near 13th Avenue. A San Francisco-based nonprofit will manage the site to help houseless people in transition. The camp will accommodate up to 150 people and will include toilets, showers, electricity and personal storage space for residents.

As these housing pioneers are demonstrating, creativity and experimentation are the path to success when it comes to addressing the need for housing in our state. Both private and public entities have a role to play in finding economically viable solutions. Hopefully, these examples will spark new ideas among other housing innovators.