Precarious: The story and statistics behind Florence’s struggling housing and jobs market


A Siuslaw News Special Report

“Most of their money is going to rent they cannot afford.”

“They cannot supply food for their family, they cannot have their kids do any extracurricular activities.”

“People live in substandard housing.”

“People who are considered to be a decent paid salary, teachers and even entry level firefighters, cannot afford to buy a house.”

“We have a lot of families that are unhoused in Florence.”

“We just don’t seem to have enough low-income properties that can offer these people a better quality of life.”

These were just some of the comments made on April 28 from members of the City of Florence Housing Implementation Plan Stakeholder Advisory Team (SAT), when asked what they see happening in the community regarding housing.

Subsequent interviews with SAT members found a host of other issues related the housing and economic problems:

  • Higher rates of sexual violence and dramatic increases in sheltering from domestic violence
  • Record use of donation services
  • Dwindling workforces and overworked employees
  • Rising divorce rates
  • Increases in youth drug and alcohol use
  • Decreases in critical volunteer sectors
  • A general withdrawing from the community

The causes vary, from global issues like increased gas prices, inflation and pandemic fallout, to Oregon specific issues, such as an impending increase in rent. The lack of childcare was frequently mentioned, as were employment issues.

Over the next few months, Siuslaw News will examine all of these issues with a variety of stakeholders, but will begin with a review on what all participants said was the biggest contributing factor to Florence residents: Housing.

With stakes high, every SAT member we spoke with stressed the importance of the community coming together to help alleviate these issues.

The process has been described as hopeful — but precarious.

Analysis

In 2018, the City of Florence adopted the Housing Needs Analysis (HNA), which gave statistics, projections, and goals on creating more housing opportunities.

One of those goals, updating residential codes to allow more workforce housing, was completed in 2019. Since then, new laws in Oregon have been passed and clarified on a host of issues, from affordable housing to environmental concerns.

To address these issues, the city created the Housing Implementation Plan Project (HIP), whose goal is to update city housing codes, but also look for recommendations on other issues. This includes complicated issues like transitional housing, which was originally barred from residential areas in the 2019 codes, and short-term housing, including the possibility of putting caps on what's allowed.

Because the issues can be sensitive, SAT is looking to create as broad an umbrella as possible, holding its first open house on Sept. 29, both in-person and online, and they’re asking all community members to participate.

“We need to make sure that it’s a good political sell,” City Councilor Bill Meyer said during the first HIP meeting. “Whatever solutions we come up with, we have to make sure that it maintains the characteristic and quality of life in Florence.”

SAT already includes 16 local organizations and taxing districts, along with individual developers, transitional housing organizations, tribal council members, health care professionals, and multiple city departments.

“The success of this project will come, in large part, from public involvement,” the city stated in announcing the September open house.

And the input comes at a critical time for Florence.

MIG/APG, a city planning group that is working with the city through grant funding on updating code and identifying housing issues, provided a report to the city that laid out the difficulties in the current housing climate.

This, along with other statistics provided by City of Florence staff and SAT members, show a community struggling, particularly its workforce.

“We don’t have any homes…”

Homes are being built.

Between 2015 and 2021, after a dormant period following the 2008 housing crash, life began to breathe back in the sector as the city processed 318 housing units to be built.

However, when MIG/APG looked at the HNA projections made in 2018, they found growth “slightly lower than the projected growth in demand.”

At the same time, the population increased at a higher rate.

Within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), which is buildable land surrounding and including Florence city limits, population was expected to increase from 10,486 to 12,544 between 2018 and 2036, an average of 114 people a year.

But in two years, the population grew by 696 people.

“Portland State University estimates the 2020 population within the UGB at 11,182, while the 2020 US Census estimated a population of just under 9,400 within city limits,” MIG/APG reported.

At the same time, the types of housing built were unattainable by many local workers.

In 2018, the city projected that of new homes built, 62% needed to be single-family, mobile homes or manufactured homes, 22% multifamily units, and 16% townhomes and duplexes.

The city considers all housing “needed housing,” and all types are necessary for a healthy economy. But it was the multifamily units, which include apartments, that were especially important to low-wage earners.

But of the 318 units the city approved for construction between 2015 and 2021, MIG/APG reported 76% were for single-family homes, while 20% were townhomes and duplexes.

MIG/APG did not report on any multifamily approved.

Also in 2018, the city estimated that 40 units were needed for special needs populations, including homeless individuals or families. In 2020, an analysis by ECONorthwest estimated the need at 87 units.

However, MIG/APG did not report that these units were built.

“We built a lot of homes in the last several years,” Ron Mann said in the April meeting. “And yet when we go to the inventory base, we don’t have any homes that are sitting on the market for a reasonable amount of money.”

At the same time, home prices, old and new, skyrocketed.

 

“...Suddenly they’re all in trouble.”

In 2016, the average price of a home in Florence was $212,000.

But in 2021, it was $370,000 — an increase of 42%, according to MIG/APG.

New homes have been reaching these heights, and higher. Homes in the new development Three Mile Prairie start at $350,000, and those homes won’t be available till 2023.

This year, Three Mile’s home style offerings average $410,000.

A townhome in Oak Commons built in 2020 originally sold for $279,000. Today, it’s being listed at $350,000 — after a price reduction.

The prices are too high for the workforce.

According to Workforce Oregon, Florence’s median household income is below Lane County as a whole, $42,356 to $52,426 respectively.

“People are working full time, but their wages are between $1,400 and $1,800 a month,” Suzanne Mann-Heintz said at SAT.

But those wages cannot fully cover a mortgage.

In 2020, a $250,000 home calculated at a 3.5% interest rate for 30 years, taking into account mortgage insurances and taxes, would leave a monthly mortgage payment of $1,596.66 a month. Since then, the average home price rose $100,000, as well as interest rates.

Rents are high as well, with the average rent for a two bedroom in West Lane County and Florence being $1,250, according to the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce.

To pay for rent or a mortgage, “there’s a lot of double-up families, so you have the young family with the grandparents,” Mann-Heintz said.

But any deviations in finances, from job cuts to medical bills can have catastrophic effects.

“Grandma has a stroke, and suddenly they’re all in trouble,” Mann-Heintz said.

Sometimes these families live in difficult circumstances. One SAT member spoke of a trailer that had a hole in the kitchen, no insulation, and no electricity in the home.

Some landlords fix issues, others don't, and some decide to get out of the game all together.

“Rentals in the rental market are being sold, and folks from [all over] are buying them. They are now owner-occupied,” one property manager said. “They’re buying today to get out of [states like] California, diminishing the rental supply. And I mean considerably.”

At other times, the workforce rentals are sold for part-time use.

The 2020 US census found that 13% of homes in Florence were considered “vacant,” nearly 700 units.

“This mostly includes on-primary residences like second homes and vacation rentals,” MIG/APG reported.

City of Florence Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell estimated that her office receives at least one inquiry a week for short-term rentals.

Two years ago, the city found that there was a “pent up” demand for 143 workforce and special needs housing units. That is, if 143 of these units were built, there would be enough housing to alleviate workforce housing needs.

In 2022, even with the housing that’s been built so far, the pent up demand has more than doubled to 300 units, according to FarleyCampbell.

But there are bright spots.

This year, construction has begun on two projects geared toward the workforce — Shore Pines, which will have two complexes totaling 68 units, and Oak Manor, which will have 24 units.

The rents for some of these units are expected to be as low as $400, while others are fixed at 30% of area median income. The city has worked closely with these developments and has enacted Multi-Unit Property Exemption (MUPTE) tax reductions for the projects.

But the projects, which are expected to be completed in 2023 and 2024, are also expected to be rented out quickly, with Oak Manor projecting availability to last just weeks.

FarleyCampbell has also reported that the majority of units received this year are expected to cost more than $300,000, in a July conversation with Coast Radio.

At the same time, rents are expected to increase dramatically. While the state did pass rental control laws in 2019 with yearly rate caps, rates were tied to inflation, which has soared.

This year, landlords are allowed to increase rents by 9.9%. In 2023, it will be 14.6%.

Florence renters who pay $1,250 a month could see monthly rent increases as high as $182.50.

The balance is delicate. Developers' profits are often razor thin, as building supplies remain in short demand. Landlords have to contend with sometimes difficult tenants, complicated eviction laws, and rising costs of their own.

But renters are also facing challenges beyond housing.

 “Stick together”

“It’s very expensive to survive here. A lot of people have to have multiple jobs, but then have no life,” Mobile Crisis Response (MCR) Program Manager Camille Griswold said when asked what people are calling her unit about. “Navigating work, school, personal life, or the nonexistence thereof, or just figuring out where they fit in life. There’s a lot of youth that are into drugs and alcohol. We’re all just trying to figure out what to do.”

As the housing market shrank, so too did the workforce. In 2019, Workforce Oregon reported that Florence had 1,950 people employed in the region's tourism industry. In 2021, it had shrunk to 1,450 employees.

Workers have faced burnout due to short staffing, on top of low wages, inflation, higher gas prices, lack of childcare, continued fallout from the pandemic — and housing instability.

“Without question, housing,” said Florence Food Share Executive Director Colin Morgan. “If the decision you’re making is, ‘Do I skip meals, or pay rent or a mortgage to have a roof over my head,’ the answer is ‘yes,’ you’re going to skip meals.”

And other social issues rise. Siuslaw Outreach Services (SOS) Director Bob Teter spoke of increases in sexual assault in 2022, while “the Oregon Law Center has said we probably have some of the most severe domestic violence cases in the state.”

The increase in violence is tied to economic hardships.

“People find a way to lash out; they don’t know how to handle it, and people just snap,” Teter said. “We turn on each other. We’ve just lost the ability to handle adversity — and we don’t know how to support each other.”

But that doesn’t mean people aren’t.

Teter talked about some of the transitional housing ideas he and HIP had brought to county candidates on both sides of the aisle.

“Both said of all the communities in the county, they see Florence as actually moving forward, and looking to solve problems. They have not seen that in the rest of the county,” Teter said.

He also reported that there are up to 500 workforce housing units in the pipeline, while other trends, like high housing rates, could be headed toward a downturn as early as next year, along with gas prices and inflation.

Things will stabilize, Teter said, but it could take time — years, possibly. In the interim, the community has to work together.

“I always thought that a litmus test for a community was how it responded to disasters,” Teter said. “The communities that tore each other apart, that’s not healthy. The communities that banned together, that’s the healthy community.” 

****

The HIP virtual open house with the option to view in-person will be held at the Florence Events Center on Thursday, Sept. 29. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the presentation will begin at 5:45 p.m. The online option, where community members can weigh in on issues, will be available until Oct. 17.

 For more information on HIP, visit ci.florence.or.us/boardsandcommissions/florence-housing-implementation-plan-stakeholder-advisory-team. To view HIP materials, including video from the meetings, visit

ci.florence.or.us/planning/housing-implementation-plan-project.

Online now, read Morgan’s view of the issue from Florence Food Share’s point of view. Read it here: https://thesiuslawnews.com/article/a-real-linchpin-to-the-entire-economy

Next week, hear from Bob Teter on domestic violence and SOS, along with a special report on the workforce with comments by the Florence Chamber of Commerce, MRC, and Florence Food Share.

 

The HIP virtual open house with the option to view in-person will be held at the Florence Events Center on Thursday, Sept. 29. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the presentation will begin at 5:45 p.m. The online option, where community members can weigh in on issues, will be available until Oct. 17.

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