This is not a problem that the market can solve

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Dec. 17—An emerging voice in the housing discussion in Clatsop County comes from an unlikely place.

Jeff Adams is the Cannon Beach community development director. He has been a key member of a regional housing taskforce. Cannon Beach, one of the most wealthy resort areas on the North Coast, has been working to keep the issue alive.

“It’s not about the guy nextdoor. It’s not about the police officers. It’s all about your nurses. It’s about firefighters. Adams, who was a panelist on the North Coast Housing Summit held in Seaside in December, said that each one of them requires a place to call home. “They cannot afford to live in the community and thrive based on their current income.”

Adams, who was hired in Cannon Beach in 2018 has more than 20 years of planning experience. Adams was previously a Bryan County planning and zoning director and a St. Marys community development director.

Adams discussed the difficulties in housing and the possible solutions in an interview.

Q: Cannon Beach seems like the best place to tackle the North Coast’s workforce and affordable housing issues. Why is this important?

A: I believe that there are more people in our community and citizens who want to make this a priority. It has been one since I arrived, and it has been four years.

It’s an ongoing problem. This is a serious problem for all of our workers, not just in Cannon Beach. It also affects Clatsop County. And so we’ve prioritized it because we know that our citizens — and then through the entire community — need this kind of housing and each jurisdiction is going to have to step up.

Q: Over the last several years, North Coast housing has been the dominant public policy topic. Although there were several steps that could have been taken in the countywide housing study, little progress has been made. Astoria’s recent code changes regarding middle housing were largely driven by state law, which was directed more at cities with over 10,000 residents than local initiative. This is why you believe it?

A: I believe it is a multifaceted problem. It’s difficult to find solutions when people realize they must come from their own backyard. These facts are often not faced by many people.

This is why we need to use many tools. It is not possible to stick with one solution. I’ve tried to address it in a tiered fashion, where you have to look at the policies — because the policies drive the programs — and then the programs drive the projects in the ground.

However, policies are essential if you want to be able to receive the programs.

Q: What do you hope for the regional housing taskforce?

A: Regional solutions. We want to drive — or help drive — that agenda. We also recognize that Clatsop County and the unincorporated areas of Astoria Warrenton Seaside all have a part to play in this.

We can’t continue to push and point fingers at other jurisdictions. This problem must be solved together. Each of us will have to take part.

If we can help in that department — the city of Cannon Beach — whether it’s the construction excise tax, the funds that we’re collecting, and if that can help build infrastructure elsewhere to build workforce housing in a more profitable, easier-to-build area, that’s part of that solution.

We want everyone to be at the table. Everyone should be there.

This is a public/private process and all parties must be involved. This includes large employers such as hospitals and school districts, and all other stakeholders. This requires partners to join the table, not only the governments.

Q: What steps would you take if you had all the power?

A: I believe that you spoke to it before. Begin with the policies.

But the first thing I would do, you look at that housing needs approach — assessment — that just went to the Legislature. They stated that the market will not solve this problem. It hasn’t solved the problem in 20 years. It’s just getting worse.

We can start by looking at what we can accomplish, including tax abatements, funds for infrastructure, and waivers on SDCs (system design charges). These funding mechanisms can be used. You can see that it is done across the region. Warrenton doesn’t, Seaside does, and we don’t.

Let’s create a comprehensive approach to ensure that developers who come to our community know the script, their partners and what solutions they have. This is it, I believe.

We can look to Tillamook and Lincoln County, who are also facing the same challenges, and collaborate with them. This was something we learned at the (housing summit). This is where I think we are headed in the right direction.

Q: There are many obstacles that have created the current environment, but which one do you consider the most important?

A: Immediacy. It is not obvious to me that people are aware of how dire the situation right now.

Like you, I feel like the jurisdictions wait for the state. We cannot wait for the state’s help to do anything. These are problems that must be solved.

I have an excellent article that I can send you about it from NPR. It covers the last election cycle and shows how all these places, from Kansas to Austin, Florida to LA, Colorado to Colorado, are finding new solutions. We need new tools, whether it’s affordable housing or bonds, or taking from the tourism taxes. This problem must be solved.

We have to take the initiative. We cannot wait for the state’s success.

Q: What would you do to reframe the discussion about North Coast housing?

A: It’s the guy next door. It’s all about the police officers. It’s all about your nurses. It’s about firefighters. Every one of them must have a place where they can live.

They cannot, at the moment, afford to live in the community and be successful.

Derrick DePledge serves as editor for The Astorian.

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