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City's housing stock may be sufficient, report says

Single-family homes in the first phase of the Forest Rim development. (Cindy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, February 28, 2019

Warrenton’s population is growing faster than any other Clatsop County community and yet, surprisingly, the city’s housing stock is keeping pace.

Warrenton has grown by 340 new households since 2010 and 358 new housing units, according to census data. The production of new housing is keeping pace with the growth.

That’s according to the “Housing and Residential Land Needs Assessment,” a study prepared for the city by Johnson Economics and funded by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

While it may seem counterintuitive in this era of housing crisis claims, city leaders are cautious.

“Warrenton is doing OK, but the problem is that Warrenton is not doing OK at the same time,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said.

The city is running out of buildable land unencumbered by wetlands.

“When the rest of the county is not doing its share in the housing market, it puts more pressure on us. The city of Warrenton is doing all it can to meet the housing crisis, but Astoria, obviously, hasn’t been,” he said. “There’s a double standard. There’s a lot of NIMBY-ism (not in my back yard) in housing development.”

The 25-page housing assessment, which was reviewed at the Feb. 14 Planning Commission meeting, must be revised or accepted by the City Commission by June.

“It looks pretty solid based on the methodology they’re required to use by the state,” Community Development Director Kevin Cronin said.

The next step is for planners and commissioners to do a parcel-by-parcel review, seeing how much property really is available and not subject to restraints.

“Overall, we’re in pretty good shape,” Cronin said. “We have quite a bit of land and we are building quite a few units. But other cities in our county have to take more responsibility.”

Balensifer is chairman of the county’s housing task force, which includes leaders from every community in Clatsop County. The group is looking at available land in every area, even on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

“I’ve been fighting this since I’ve been on the committee,” Balensifer said, “this mentality of ‘we’ll just pass it on to Warrenton.’ It’s not a solution to say everything is going into Warrenton because we have the developable land.”

Other communities have large swaths of undeveloped property. Warrenton’s top priority is to serve the residents who already live here, Balensifer said.

“Warrenton is not the savior of the county. We’re struggling to keep up with the infrastructure needs that come with that growth.”

Among the findings in the housing assessment study:

** Warrenton had an estimated 1,987 households in 2018 and an estimated housing stock of 2,456 units. While that appears to be a lot of empty dwelling units, many are vacation homes and investment properties. The estimated vacancy rate is about 19 percent.

** Warrenton has a good balance of employment and housing. There are an estimated 2,550 jobs in the city of Warrenton and an estimated 2,525 residents in the labor force. Clearly, the city is no bedroom community.

** Since 2000, Warrenton has added 1,250 people, a 30 percent growth rate. The county’s growth rate was 9 percent overall; the state average was 21 percent.

** Warrenton’s poverty rate is estimated at 12 percent, which is on par with the rest of the county. The state’s average poverty rate is 17 percent.

** The housing stock is varied in both value and characteristics. About 75 percent of the housing stock was built before 2000. A quarter was built in the 1990s, another quarter was built in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and another quarter was built in the 1960s or earlier.

The new Pacific Rim apartments off Ensign Lane are now for rent. (Cindy Yingst)

Many old-timers refer to the development several blocks west of downtown as 'new housing' even though it was built in the last millennium. (Cindy Yingst)

Many of the city's newest families are moving into the Forest Rim neighborhood, adjacent to property the school district is purchasing for a new middle school campus. (Cindy Yingst)

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