Have you ever lost your keys? It seems like such a small thing, but yet so crucial to everyday life.
A key can be symbolic as well. It unlocks doors of opportunities. It unlocks the possibility of having a stable, secure place, where you are most comfortable and at ease — a home to call your own.
About two years ago, after a Westside Economic Alliance (WEA) Land Use and Housing Committee meeting, a member asked me what was WEA's mission when it came to housing? It was something we had never really thought about or addressed, yet "housing" is in the title of the committee. Most of the time the Land Use and Housing Committee has focused on land use, which also translates into urban growth expansion issues. We hadn't really focused on housing, yet it was becoming obvious that it's a crucial issue in our region, and it's a complex one, too.
When it comes to housing, you have the basic supply-and-demand issue, but when you get into it there is so much more. There is the cost of infrastructure, and the question of who is going to pay for it? There are the types of housing for different seasons of life: affordable, workforce housing, single-family dwellings, multi-family, senior housing and executive housing. Then there are the locations of resources and equity issues — mass transit, education, health services, parks and such. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned financing yet.
This is why we declared June WEA Housing Month. After convening a group of WEA members who are well versed in housing, also known as the WEA Housing Advisory Group, we kicked off the month by hosting a Housing Summit, which focused on the economics of housing. The event was held at the Beaverton Building and featured U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, economist Jerry Johnson and several panelists, including Alison Anderson of CREA (formerly City Real Estate Advisors Inc.), Holland Group's Brenner Daniels, Otak's Don Hanson, Proud Ground's Diane Linn, the Meyer Memorial Trust's Michael Parkhurst, the City of Hillsboro's Colin Cooper, TriMet's Tom Mills, Greater Portland Inc.'s Matt Miller, Worksystem Inc.'s Stacey Triplett, the City of Beaverton's Mike Williams, Community Action's Renee Bruce, Metro Councilor Sam Chase, Portland Community College President Mark Mitsui, Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center's Chief Executive Officer Gil Muñoz and Enterprise Community Partners' Amanda Saul.
Sen. Merkley talked about the lack of funding in President Donald Trump's budget for programs that would support housing. These included housing vouchers for veterans, community development block grants and other programs. The senator articulated that housing is not a red or blue issue or even an urban versus rural issue. It's an issue that affects us all.
The Portland region has continued to grow both in population and in jobs. It's difficult, though, to attract employees if housing in the area is too expensive for the workers. If they live farther away from work, then there is an added weight to the transportation system. Tualatin is one place that is home to more jobs than people, so the workforce often drives in and out of the city each day. The opposite is true in communities like Cornelius where there are more residents than jobs, so more people leave Cornelius to go to work. Fortunately, Cornelius does have more industrial land coming available and is looking to add more jobs to its city limits.
During the Housing Summit, Economist Jerry Johnson talked not only about the lack of supply when it comes to housing, but about the lack of trained construction workers who are needed to build homes.
Panelists at the summit discussed the cost of developing housing, the effects on employment and the social aspects involved with housing.
The discussions thus far have been robust, and the WEA housing month still has a couple of weeks left. Next week our Land Use and Housing Committee will be looking at housing in the area of the Southwest Corridor.
We will also be hosting a forum with the former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ron Sims.
I cannot wait to learn more about housing in our region and to find some action items WEA can advocate for in the near future. As I said, housing is a complex issue, but a home is key to many aspects of our region's economic vitality.
Pamela Treece is the executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance. Her column appears monthly, addressing issues that are critical to the economic health of the Westside. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org