Coastal crisis: Tillamook County eyes affordable housing

Oregon Coast
Coastal crisis: Tillamook County eyes affordable housing

TILLAMOOK, Ore. (KOIN) — In Wheeler, a small town in Tillamook County, there’s a crisis, a problem its mayor, Stevie Stephens Burden, says has reached its worst.

“I was born and raised around here,” Burden said, “and we’ve never seen such a lack of housing.”

But Wheeler, according to Burden, isn’t the only town in the county facing this issue.

Tillamook is a coastal county in transition, according to Burden, turning from a place filled with mill and dairy jobs to a destination town, requiring hospitality and tourism positions. That transition has also attracted developers who’d rather build a $2 million palace than $200,000 homes, creating an affordable-housing crisis that 80 percent of people living there agree needs to be fixed, according to newly developed task force. 

“How do you keep true to your workingmen’s culture because we were a mill town,” said Burden, “we were just folks, and how do you keep up with that in a time where everybody wants a piece of the beach?”

One woman, who didn’t want to be identified, lives Tillamook County. She’s seen the direct effect of the need for affordable housing. She says finding a place to live has become very difficult. 

“It’s very bleak,” she said, “very few and far between and extremely expensive.”

The woman lives in one of the few apartment complexes in Tillamook County. She’s on a fixed income and gets some help paying for a home that would cost $725 a month. She doesn’t know how much longer she can live there, but for now, she makes it work. 

“The jobs here in Tillamook are labor type jobs mostly, they don’t pay well … and in my case that’s what I did most of the life now my disability check is not really that high but i’m making it.”

Burden hopes to fix the issue. Recently, she said two affordable-housing complexes were created in Garibaldi. She said there’s a wait list, but she hopes to get more complexes built in the county. She said a lack of lots, zoning restrictions and an urban growth boundary make it difficult to make that happen.

And along with that, towns need to convince developers, something Burden said she’s committed to doing.

“I think we have to educate the contractors and developers that there’s a way for them to make money and still build houses that people can afford to buy,” Burden said. 

It won’t be easy, Burden said, but it’s a fight the county has to take on. 

“It’s not as simple as it might sound,” Burden said, “you just can’t go out and build things.”

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