As lawmakers in Salem work to tackle the state’s housing shortage, Eastern Oregon cities seem to have found some solutions.
Cities in Umatilla and Morrow counties have seen housing starts increase in recent years. In Hermiston, building permits were issued for 69 new homes and one duplex in 2018. That was up from 60 permits in 2017, 46 in 2016, 43 houses plus two duplexes in 2015 and 47 homes in 2014. It does not include manufactured homes.
City planner Clint Spencer said the new homes are being built “almost entirely in subdivisions,” although the city has had a couple of applications for its new infill program, which eases some rules on empty lots with barriers, such as an irregular shape or uneven terrain.
While some housing growth in Hermiston is linked to the city’s continued growth in general, Spencer said some of the city’s recent initiatives have also helped projects pencil out for developers. For example, in September 2017 the city decreased the required size of lots, increased the percentage of the property a home is allowed to cover and decreased how far houses are required to be set back from the sidewalk.
“Almost every house (built since) is taking advantage of that,” Spencer said.
He expects new housing to blossom even more after the city brings additional water infrastructure and boosts water pressure to the northeast part of town. The joint project between the city of Hermiston and Umatilla County, headed for bid later this year, will include new pipes and a 1 million gallon water tank off Punkin Center.
“That opens up about 200 acres for development, and yes, it has absolutely generated interest,” Spencer said.
While Hermiston’s housing growth has increased steadily in recent years, Umatilla saw a dramatic spike in 2018.
The city issued nine permits for new homes in 2014, 11 in 2015, 14 in 2016, 17 in 2017 and 56 permits in 2018. No permits for multi-family dwellings have been issued in the past five years.
City manager David Stockdale said based on the current market and conversations with developers, he believes 2018’s boom is only the beginning. He predicts Umatilla will issue twice as many permits in 2019 and that 2020 and 2021 will see similar numbers to 2019.
While Umatilla hasn’t made the same adjustments to its code as Hermiston, Stockdale said the city has become proactive in encouraging developers to ask the planning commission for a variance when they run into barriers. Several developers, who built homes in Umatilla in 2018, received variances.
“The planning commission has been very good to work with,” he said.
The city also rezoned a long-empty section of McNary from commercial to residential, paving the way for the Virginia’s Place subdivision. They have also been willing to help developers out by allowing them to delay fee payments to the city if needed to help with cash flow.
Stockdale said city leaders know Umatilla needs housing at “all economic levels” and are planning to look into what has prevented developers from building any apartments in the last five years.
“We don’t know specifically what those hurdles are, so we need to do our homework and figure that out and take it to the planning commission,” he said.
Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo are partnering for a west Umatilla County housing study, made possible by a federal grant, that will help them prepare for future growth. The community is invited to an open house that will feature a draft inventory of buildable residential land and a residential land needs assessment on March 13 at 7 p.m. at the Stafford Hansell Government Center in Hermiston.
On the east side of the county, Pendleton has also seen a boost in new housing after a two-year dip. The city issued 47 single-family dwelling permits in 2014, 10 in 2015 and 15 permits in 2016, but jumped back up to 55 in 2017 and another 55 in 2018.
Like Umatilla County’s west end cities, Morrow County is also embarking on a major housing study to inform its future strategies for attracting needed housing.
Boardman has issued about 10 permits per year for new, stick-built single-family homes the past five years, but that doesn’t count several subdivisions building new homes outside city limits.
The city also got a major boon for would-be renters as Port View Apartments opened on Columbia Avenue in the second half of 2018. The first phase of 120 apartments is open and the second 120 units is still under construction.
Karen Pettigrew, Boardman city manager, said the city has been progressive in its efforts to attract new housing, using a combination of strategies, including cash incentives and policy initiatives. The city waived system development charges for the first four houses a person builds, for example.
In nearby Irrigon, city manager Aaron Palmquist said there have been an estimated four to six new homes built in Irrigon each year since he became city manager six years ago. He predicts that number will go up soon.
“We haven’t seen a whole lot, but I believe we’re going to see some things starting to shake loose,” he said.
Irrigon offers $2,000 to people who buy existing homes in order to both live and work in Morrow County. New manufactured homes bring $3,000 and people who build a new home get $5,000. Property owners can also get grants for beautification of their property.
The city is also interested in public-private partnerships modeled after local improvement districts, meaning the city could loan developers money for running infrastructure to the property and get paid back after the project is built.
Palmquist said livability is an important part of attracting people to build homes in a city. In the next couple of years Irrigon will complete several livability projects including a sewer conversion from effluent to conventional systems, street improvements, installing a sidewalk along 14 blocks of Highway 730 and adding a walking trail that will get students off the roads on their way to school.
Single-family dwelling building permits issued:
2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 Hermiston 69 60 46 43 47 Pendleton 55 55 15 10 47 Umatilla 56 17 14 11 9