From The Wheelhouse

The central coast has a problem and it isn’t going to be an easy one to tackle.

It’s amazing we could get to a point where professionals trying to relocate here are actually having to live out of their cars. The rental situation has gotten just that bad.

Look on Craigslist and you see families posting photos of themselves with their children and often dogs, complete with a heartfelt plea for someone — anyone — to help them get a home.

Relocating with kids and a pet? You’re at the back of the line.

I’ve had my own experiences with the housing crisis, relocating my children and pets from Hawaii Island. The Aloha State itself has such a lack of affordable housing that the state legislature this year considered banning certain types of vacation rentals altogether. The measure didn’t pass this time but it’ll be back.

Let’s hope Oregon doesn’t end up there too.

Hawaii has a huge problem with homelessness as well, but now that I’m back in Oregon I’ve been struck by the number of vehicles I’ve seen packed with suitcases, duffel bags and pets, the driver bearing that look of someone determined to hang on despite everything. It’s a little like scenes out of The Grapes of Wrath.

My wife just learned a new word from a homeless man who described these folks: Rubber Tramps. I’d had no idea.

Homelessness isn’t just for the bums anymore.

But there are encouraging signs.

Newport and Lincoln City deserve kudos for trying to address the problem rather than sticking their collective heads in the sand as other municipalities have done. But they need to keep at. We all need to keep knocking on the doors of our local, state and federal elected officials, making sure they don’t lose focus in favor of problems that are easier to solve.

State money is out there for workforce housing initiatives, but contractors, especially the smaller ones, don’t always know how to access it, state Rep. David Gomberg has told us. Newport last year adopted a construction excise tax to pipe money into affordable housing initiatives and Lincoln City has approved a cap on vacation rentals.

Newport city officials have acknowledged the problem of homes being taken up for vacation rentals, and they're discussing measures that could limit the use of homes for that purpose and tighten up regulation of problem rentals. Pacific Seafood wants to rezone some areas of the city to make it easier to create affordable housing for seafood industry workers. Lincoln City has urged employers to build dormitories for workers and has pushed ahead on efforts to get housing built on land the city owns.

The fate of these projects always hangs on money and whether they can be profitable. In a land of free enterprise that I think we all value, no landowner can be coerced to take on a financial losing bet. So we need get serious about incentives that can compete with high home values  and also take a hard look at ways to streamline our regulations while also safeguarding the environment — like examining current restrictions on the number of dwelling allowed on a particular piece of land.

We need to make sure our regulations take into account our new reality.

I’d like to see a serious discussion about ways that increasingly popular tiny homes can be grouped affordably not just in cities but out in the county, giving people with pets and children a place with some room to roam. Maybe we could put the hundred of families of homeless Lincoln County School District students under roofs like these.  

Don’t like my ideas? Write a letter to the paper and your lawmakers proposing some of your own.

This problem can be fixed, and it’s good to see people are worked up about it. Newport and Lincoln City could be an example of how to tackle the shortage head on.

Tackle it we must. In my travels, I’ve spoken with a lot of people from other places about my home state, and they get misty-eyed when Oregon comes up. People love the wilderness here, and as far as the coast is concerned, humans have always been drawn to water. The visitors will keep coming — more every year. So will the folks trying to carve out a life here.

We have to balance the safeguarding of our land with the right of people to be here.

Without housing that is affordable for our workers, we have no economy. Without an economy we don’t have much of a future. There’s nothing sustainable about our workforce living out of cars parked along our gravel byways. But that’s where we have arrived.

We’ll either figure out how to ride this wave or be swamped by it.

Bret Yager


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