If our economy is a house, then housing is the foundation.
Every new job added at a data center or RV manufacturer or local hospital is one more person looking for a home, and depending on the profession, those housing needs will look different.
In Umatilla County there is a narrow 1.4 percent vacancy rate for apartments and low-income housing, which is good news for landlords but not for newly hired workers hoping to move into the area. They’re often forced to settle for either a higher price than they hoped to pay or a lower quality living arrangement. The common rule is that a vacancy rate under 5 percent is considered slanted toward the landlord and anything higher is a renter’s market.
We’re making some progress, with new developments in Pendleton and Boardman, and an ever-growing housing stock in Hermiston, though often in the form of single-family homes, which are a quicker return on investment for a developer. In this week’s story about housing on the west end, Jade McDowell reported that all else being equal, developers are more likely to build in a larger urban area because the costs are the same but they can charge more for rent.
To help the process along, Pendleton has given developer Saj Jivanjee incentives including land and infrastructure investments to build his Pendleton Heights development. Hermiston has loosened up its rules on setbacks to make oddly-shaped lots more attractive to developers. And in Boardman, PROffutt, the real estate division of the R.D. Offutt company that owns RDO Equipment and Threemile Farms, broke ground this week on a 240-unit apartment complex. The city also offers a $5,000 grant for people who buy homes in Boardman.
We know it’s important to employers. Not only do businesses like Costco look at population sizes before deciding whether to locate in a community, but employers make their decisions based on potential workforce, and the ability of that workforce to live happily nearby. We know good jobs have gone elsewhere because employers fear it would be a struggle to keep their payrolls full in Eastern Oregon.
We also know that many of those good workers have decided to put down roots in the Tri-Cities, keeping our communities from growing at a natural pace with the economy and creating challenges for cities to figure out how to pay for increased strain on roads and other services by workers who are paying property taxes and gas taxes in a different state. Studies have shown that long commutes also have a negative impact on workers’ health and productivity, and puts them at greater risk for being involved in a crash. Those drawbacks become particularly apparent during a harsh winter like last year’s, when interstate closures and dangerous conditions kept employees from reporting to work.
At the risk of mixing metaphors, it’s been described as a chicken and an egg scenario. Housing relies on jobs, jobs rely on housing.
Hopefully we can add enough bulk and strength to the housing foundation to continue adding to our economy while building up communities and neighborhoods.