I am encouraged to see the call to action articles about solving our housing crisis (Affordable Housing Proves Elusive, May 5). It is a crisis, impacting all facets of our local economy and the resilience of our community. To solve this, we need rental and for sale housing units that are affordable to low and middle income earners, and we need them yesterday.
This article will focus on “missing middle housing” and one way to get it built.
First, let’s agree on terms. If you pay less than 30 percent of your gross income on housing, it’s affordable for you. “Affordable” housing is typically for people that make less than 80 percent of area median income (i.e., dental assistant, teacher’s aid, full time minimum wage workers). “Attainable” or “Missing Middle and Workforce” housing focuses on housing that is affordable to those making between 80 and120 percent of the area median income (i.e., police officer, registered nurse, electrician). “Market rate” housing is sold or rented for the highest amount that will be paid in the local market. In Hood River and Klickitat counties the difference between “market rate” and “attainable” housing is around $200,000 for a home purchase.
There are very limited funds available to subsidize this gap. Federal and State dollars are allocated to low income projects, not attainable projects.
So how does “missing middle” housing get built and how do we keep it affordable for the long term?
In the Gorge, Big River Community Land Trust was recently formed to address the missing middle issue (www.bigriverclt.org). CLTs are nonprofits that own and develop land for permanently affordable housing. The land trust owns land and then sells the houses on top of the land to low and middle income earners (80-120 percent AMI). The land is leased to the homeowner on a 99 year land lease that is renewable. When the homeowner sells the house it is sold below market rate to another qualified low to middle income buyer. CLTs have been around for 40 years and are an important tool that communities can use to develop and sustain permanently affordable housing for sale. They provide an essential step between renting and homeownership; however, they lack funding because they serve the missing middle and are not eligible for most available public funds.
The reality is that if we want attainable housing, it will need to be partially subsidized with local public and private money. Local tax increment financing like urban renewal and bonds are great choices and being considered for both affordable and attainable housing. This funding needs to be available and also needs to be publicly and vocally supported. In addition, private donations of land and money are a big component of getting missing middle housing built.
In return for subsidy and support, the public needs security that the housing will remain perpetually affordable. That means nonprofit ownership through a CLT or housing authority. Deed restrictions will not work as they are difficult to monitor and enforce and easy to ignore.
We have a chance right now to make a big impact on long term affordability in our communities. Stepping up to fund perpetually affordable housing is the biggest long-term investment we can make to keep our communities resilient and vibrant, just as we all want them to be. As citizens we can demand that land available for such development is protected into perpetuity and maximized for affordability. We can all learn more about this issues and support solutions as opportunities arise.