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Wallowa County bypassed for Workforce Housing Pilot Project

Kathleen Ellyn

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on May 15, 2018 3:48PM

It’s a miss this time, but Wallowa County will soon know what is needed to qualify for state Workforce Housing Initiative money — or know how to create workforce housing on its own.

The state has selected five housing pilot projects from 31 applications in its first round of awards. The pilot projects will be launched in the next few months and are intended to strengthen and develop partnerships between local communities and business sector and private developers.

The pilot projects will not only provide more than 115 workforce housing units but will help agencies and investors learn how to bring stakeholders together to address the housing problem. The Regional Solutions Cabinet, which oversees the Workforce Housing Initiative, includes directors of six agencies including Oregon Housing and Community Services.

“These pilot projects will ... inform our plans for accelerating the growth of Oregon’s housing market to match that of the state’s economy,” said Gov. Brown.

Wallowa County could not offer the Regional Solutions Cabinet what it was looking for this time around, said Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts.

“Only part of Wallowa County was eligible under this program,” Roberts said. “Based on population and other things, the upper valley was way too rich for what they were looking for. The portion that met the criteria was west of Lostine to the county line and all of the north end, and we did apply for that area with the assistance of the North East Oregon Economic Development District.”

The winning cities and counties by comparison had industry established, older housing available for remodeling, exploding population growth or financial partners already identified.

“There were questions about available land and whether or not industrial could move in,” Roberts said. “There were opportunities for industry in Wallowa County and in the area that would have qualified for the program, but there is a lot of preliminary work to do even if an industry were interested.”

That preliminary work may also include giving agencies a better understanding of the economic realities of the county that might not be grasped with a quick look at bottom-line numbers. Income levels of a minority may be driving up average income level numbers and disguising the real need.

“Revenue in the county (when the mills were in operation) was predominantly created by jobs,” said real estate and housing management professional Diane Daggett. “Then, there was this point in time when revenue in the county was coming from outside the county in the form of transfer payments; everything from pension incomes to Medicaid subsidies. For quite some time, we’ve not been creating the (majority of) revenue in this county from jobs, we’re bringing it in from transfer payments. (Knowing) that information will help us identify more potential solutions.”

Collaboration of stakeholders is also key.

“There are just so many pieces to this issue that there is no easy answer,” Daggett said.


Pilot programs established by the state

Donald: The local agricultural equipment manufacturer GK Machine and the city of Donald have partnered to propose expanding the community. The first phase of the pilot will include upgrading the city’s wastewater and water treatment plants to support 95 new homes, with an eventual planned total of 465 new homes.

Pacific City: Nestucca Ridge Development, the locally-owned parent company of Pelican Brewing Co., will construct 12 homes on several acres they currently own. They will pre-lease six of those to their local employees, over half of whom currently commute from outside of Tillamook County.

Warm Springs: The Jefferson County School District currently owns eight small homes built in the ‘50s that surround the former elementary school. The pilot project will rehabilitate these existing properties and build one new home, making all of them available for local elementary and middle school teachers at the Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

Harney County: Local officials will run a study to assess local workforce housing needs. The study will inventory existing housing, identify gaps, and create a strategic implementation and business plan to leverage investments, engage employers and create job opportunities.

Lincoln County: New income-qualified homebuyers will have opportunities to purchase a home through Proud Ground. Proud Ground uses a land trust model to combine a subsidy to lower the purchase price of homes on the open market with land lease and affordability covenants. Lincoln County, Newport and Lincoln City will invest matching funds as well as partner with the local school district and other employers.


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