Sept. 30, 2022 - “We are asking you to gather around your kitchen, break room and meeting room tables and talk about housing — talk about housing,” Wendy FarleyCampbell, City of Florence Planning Director, said Thursday night at the first open house of the Housing Implementation Project Plan (HIP), held at the Florence Events Center.
HIP unveiled a limited-time survey that the city encourages all Florence residents and those affected by housing in Florence to participate in. The results of the survey will help guide and inform city policy regarding housing for years, and possibly generations, to come.
“Florence area citizens, business owners and workers are key to setting the course for Florence,” she said.
The survey can be found at https://bit.ly/HIPHousingSurvey, and contains five sections on a variety of issues from transitional housing and short-term rentals, to affordable housing and community opinions on housing in general.
The format ranges from ranking questions — such as, “Which of the following do you think are the greatest challenges to developing housing in Florence?” — to free-form sections where respondents can write their thoughts freely.
The survey is also confidential. While only available online, both Florence City Hall and the Siuslaw Public Library District are ready to help improve accessibility by providing computer access and assistance to anyone who needs assistance in taking the survey.
“The clock is ticking,” FarleyCampbell said, stressing the survey is only open for a few weeks. The survey will close on Monday, Oct. 17.
On Nov. 10, HIP will hold a meeting where it will hear information presented on transitional and short-term housing, and then later hold another open house at the Florence Events Center. There, the results of the survey will be shared.
Afterwards, HIP, in conjunction with various partners, including grant-funded consultants, will work out recommendations for city code changes, with the goal of the city council voting on them in Spring, 2023.
Cross section of representation
“We represent all walks of life from countless organizations and districts and businesses throughout our community,” Sally Wantz, city council liaison to HIP, told the large open house audience. This included online participants, as well as HIP members, political leaders and candidates, community and business leaders, and members of the public interested in the city’s response to housing.
HIP’s goal is to identify affordable housing strategies, programs and funding opportunities that will guide future housing development programs and projects in the Florence community.
To achieve that, HIP created the Stakeholders Advisory Team (SAT), which is made up of more than 30 volunteer members representing taxing districts, businesses, social services nonprofits, education and the general public.
“It's critical that we have such a cross section of volunteers to participate in these important discussions and future decisions,” Wantz said, asking members of SAT to stand. “Look around you — you recognize your neighbors and recognize your friends. These citizens, with your help, will shape Florence's housing, and associated codes and policies, for years to come.”
The entire project comes at a critical time in Florence.
FarleyCampbell stated the Tanglewood Apartment complex located on 16th street had a waiting list for 70 households.
“70 — and that’s just one place. There's several of those places right along that corridor,” she said.
In 2017, Florence projected 1,664 additional housing units were needed over a 20 year period to accommodate growing and existing population needs
“Well guess what, folks? We're five years into that 20 years,” FarleyCampbell said. “Since then, Florence has issued permits for 290 residential units. So for those of you doing the math, we need 83 units a year. And right now we're behind 126 units. We are two years behind already.”
At the same time, rental properties decreased, creating pent-up demand for residents.
“So it's no wonder that there's waiting lists, families doubled and tripled up. People living in offices, stores, backyards, streets or under the bushes,” FarleyCampbell said.
According to FarleyCampbell, “The city has done a lot since 2017.”
She pointed out the MUPTE plan, a multi-unit tax exemption program for affordable housing, as well as code updates, selling land and two approved projects that could bring almost 100 new units to Florence in the next two years.
“But it's not enough,” she said. “What else can we do?”
The first answer is to start talking about housing.
“We're around the table, what are we supposed to talk about?” FarleyCampbell asked. She listed three main topics.
First, the Housing Implementation Plan.
“It's going to be a document that says, ‘Here are the policies that Florence will endeavor to make housing more affordable, make more of it, and then also some policies to help keep people in the moment,’” FarleyCampbell said.
Possible policies could include building incentives for certain homes, education programs for home ownership and programs to support special needs communities — mental health, drug and alcohol, and the unhoused.
Second, changes to state law that have been made since Florence’s housing code was last updated, including opening up more types of housing in certain areas, as well as clarifications on “clear and objective” standards, some of which involve the interaction between state required environmental laws and the communities' need for housing.
Finally, FarleyCampbell said people need to talk about two sensitive issues in an open and productive way.
Transitional and short-term housing
“This is obviously a very sensitive subject, but let me kind of put this into perspective,” said Bob Teter, Executive Director of Siuslaw Outreach Services (SOS). He, along with a host of other programs and leaders in the local transitional housing in the community, have been gathering information on a host of different viewpoints on these issues.
Currently, city codes drafted in 2019 do not allow transitional housing in the city, though First Step Florence, which was established in 2017, has been serving those in transition for years, offering both shelter, education and support.
“A lot of times we think we see someone on the street and we start to kind of create our own story of why they're living the way they are,” Teter said. “Often we hear the comment, ‘Well, why don’t they go get a job? Well, it's really difficult to hold a job if you're unhoused.”
Employers generally require a physical address to be hired for legal reasons, and may hesitate “taking a chance” on someone who is unhoused.
“It's not as simple a thing as just ‘Go out and get a job.’ They need some help,” Teter said.
He said the conversation is not about people who refuse to be an active member of the community — “This is addressing the need of those people that have a mind to work.”
There’s two definitions that HIP is looking at.
“We have emergency housing,” Teter said. “Addressing when there's a sudden unexpected crisis that's occurred, whether it's a natural disaster catastrophe, or, someone who has just lost their job and they do have a place to go — they just need a little short term transition.”
Second is the more complicated transitional housing.
“How can we responsibly, thoughtfully, respectfully get someone out of homelessness, and into stable housing, and be a productive member of our community?” Teter asked.
Finally, HIP is focusing on avenues the city can find to regulate, but also create an avenue for, organizations that create transitional housing.
FarleyCampbell also wanted the community to talk about short-term rentals, which do play an important role in Florence’s tourism economy. One of HIP’s subcommittee is looking into these rentals.
Discussions with a variety of stakeholders have included attempting to define what actually constitutes a short-term rental, which cities across the country sometimes struggle with, as well as what the current impact has been on local services.
“We had folks who run short-term rentals, folks who were less than enthused with short-term rentals,” subcommittee member and Florence Food Share Executive Director Colin Morgan told the audience. “We really wanted all that input so that we can make sure that the surveys that we're talking about are relevant, accurate and pertinent to how short term rentals are — and we're asking the right questions.”
To broaden their scope, the subcommittee is counting on public input.
“One of the cool parts about democracy is getting all of that input from the public and making sure that that input influences actual policy change,” said Morgan.
Talk about it
FarleyCampbell concluded the meeting, saying “I hope you see the importance of and value of your participation in this project.” She asked everyone in attendance to do two things.
One: Take the survey themselves.
Two: “Share it with folks,” she said. “Share it with your neighbors, your colleagues, your congregation. Share it with people that you know and that you don’t know.”
She challenged everyone who takes the survey to ask five others to take it.
But most importantly —
“Let's all gather around our tables and talk about housing in Florence.”
For more information about HIP, visit www.ci.florence.or.us/planning/housing-implementation-plan-project.