Last Thursday, The Corvallis Advocate held a CitySpeak at the public library on affordable housing in Corvallis. About 80 people attended.
Panelists included Kent Weiss, Housing & Neighborhood Services Manager for the City of Corvallis, Mike Rodriguez, a member of the Coalition of Graduate Employees, Samantha Alley, Listing Specialist and Principal Broker for the Home Team of RE/MAX Integrity, Dawn Duerksen, Property Manager of Duerksen & Associates, Tom Gerding, owner and operator of Gerding Construction, Karen Rockwell, Executive Director of Benton County Habitat for Humanity, and Brigetta Olson, COO of DevNW.
Impacts of Unaffordability
Weiss started the conversation with some unsettling statistics: 36.9 percent of the population of Corvallis are under severe rent burden, more than anywhere else in Oregon, and the number of low income households with severe rent burden has gone up by 1,600 since 2008. Under current prices, an hourly wage of $20.50 is needed to afford a two bedroom unit.
Next to speak was Rodriguez, who is currently studying for a PhD in chemical engineering. As a grad student employee he makes $1,800 per month, $875 of which goes into renting a single bed apartment and he reported that housing is one of the most common complaints for the GSE union. To get by, some students move into cheaper housing with more roommates, others live out of town and commute to school. He also said that there is a homeless population among OSU’s grad students, who live in their vehicles.
Duerksen and Alley then addressed the topic from the perspective of real estate. “Everyone in Corvallis has a limited budget,” Alley said, and yet the least expensive, livable house she could identify was a $266,000 condo.
Many panelists observed a longtime pattern of workers having to move out of the area, and noted they then become commuters, which increases both infrastructure needs, and environmental impacts.
Impacts of Building Costs
The final panel consisted of Gerding, Rockwell and Olson, who talked about the actual construction of housing. Olson said that it’s hard to be a developer right now, whether for-profit or non-profit. Gerding supported that, stating that the cost of construction was at an all-time high. Rockwell cited Habitat’s unique position as the exclusive builders of homes under $200,000 in Benton County, since they don’t have to worry about labor costs.
Gerding cited the need for an increased construction workforce, pointing out that the industry pays wages a family can live on, without the need of taking on college debt. Rockwell noted that her organization can build homes for less than $200,000 because prospective owners and volunteers do much of the labor, but that city fees on one recent project amounted to $29,000. Olson and Rockwell agreed that city fee waivers for low income housing would help.
“We are in a housing crisis,” Olson said, “and housing is a right.”
By Brandon Urey
Photo by Brandon Urey