The $385,000 question


News staff writer

October 7, 2006

Single-family homes in Hood River are now selling for an average of $385,000 — placing the American Dream of ownership beyond the reach of even middle-income professionals.

“It’s obvious that the workforce of Hood River can’t afford to live here if they are just buying a house now,” said Cindy Walbridge, city planning director.

Last year, when local governments began researching the issue, the average selling price in Hood River was $229,921. A multi-agency task force headed by Walbridge was then put together to compile data and scout out solutions.

She recently delivered the findings of the Affordable Housing Committee to the Hood River City Council. And she will carry the same report to the Hood River County Commission at 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20. A meeting with the Port of Hood River is also being scheduled for the near future.

Walbridge said it has become clear that, without some type of government intervention, more and more workers in Hood River will have to become commuters to buy a home. She said that trend deprives the community of nurses, firefighters, teachers and others in careers that provide valuable services.

According to Walbridge, an individual earning a $60,000 annual salary can only afford a $245,000 house to avoid becoming “mortgage poor.” And the price in Hood River makes it difficult for most homeowners to meet the financial recommendation that 30-35 percent of an income be spent on house payments.

“The number one outcry that we heard in our recent visioning process was, ‘Where are our children going to live and where are we going to live when we get older?’” said Walbridge.

She said the high cost of land, at $90,000-$100,000 on a 7,500 square foot lot, is contributing to the problem. In addition, development fees run about $10,000 per house. Walbridge said many builders find it difficult to make a profit without setting a high price on new homes.

The grim scenario in Hood River is being played out to a lesser degree in outlying areas of the county. According to recent stats compiled by local realtors, a buyer can pick up a home in Cascade Locks for about $164,875; in Odell for $198,083 and in Parkdale for $316,606.

Walbridge said, while home values may have spiked, the median household income in Hood River County is $38,531 — not enough to cover the necessary payment.

HOPE (Housing for People) Director Richard Sassara recently calculated that 85 percent of the county’s population can no longer afford to buy a dwelling in today’s market.

“We have reached the point where we need to make affordable housing an objective or accept workers living elsewhere,” said Walbridge.

Her committee is recommending that local officials take the following actions:

* Seek out state and federal grants to offset infrastructure costs for new middle-income subdivisions.

* Adopt a second tier of fees to lower the construction costs for affordable housing plans.

* Set up a community land bank from surplused public parcels or those donated by private parties.

* Levy some type of additional fee on second homes that are used only part of the year to raise money for full-time needs.

In addition, the committee wants local governments to ask for the following legislative changes at the state level:

* Have Oregon follow Washington state’s example and adopt a real estate excise tax that would open up a revenue source for more housing.

* Legalize inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to dedicate a certain number of lots in a subdivision for lower-income dwellings. These models would appear the same architecturally as the more expensive residences nearby but would sell for less money.

Both the city council and county commission have taken the first step toward overcoming the housing challenge.

The council recently granted property owners the right to build a small accessory dwelling on their lots. The unit cannot be larger than 800 square feet and must be used as a long-term rental or inhabited by an elderly or needy family member.

In order to streamline the building process for accessory dwellings, the elected body refrained from setting design standards that would require a lengthy review process.

Meanwhile, the county is moving ahead on plans to turn its State Street parking lot into a residential center.

Officials believe there is room for eight to 10 condominiums in the lot across from the county administration building. The 16,000-square-foot space can either be leased or sold, a decision that will be made once all of the development options are thoroughly investigated.

“We can control the prices on this piece of property because the land is already owned,” said David Meriwether, county administrator.

One challenge that officials expect to encounter in the development of more affordable housing is “NIMBY-ism,” which means Not In My Back Yard.

Walbridge is hopeful that, through an educational outreach, the Hood River community can come to a better understanding of the situation.

“It’s important to have a town comprised of many mixed incomes to avoid the ‘gated-community syndrome’ where everybody is the same. And people lose perspective over what our world is about,” she said.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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