PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A proposal in Clatsop County to tackle the housing crisis along the Oregon coast is drawing criticism from residents after reports that leaders are considering giving acres of public land away for free to develop affordable housing.
On Wednesday evening, county officials spoke publicly for the first time about the potential land use, while residents also had one of the first opportunities to speak directly to commissioners.
Many of those who spoke out say while housing is needed, they don’t think this particular plot of land is the right location and more research needs to be done.
“Only sites that are first determined to be suitable for housing should be considered for an expression of interest,” one resident, Bill Campbell, told commissioners.
The county is considering giving around a dozen acres of public forested land in Arch Cape away for free to a newly formed non-profit interested in building low-income housing there.
As it stands now, the steep and heavily-forested landscape has no roads or utilities, adding in further needs for a developer to bring in water, sewer, power, broadband and stormwater systems that would all be needed for sufficient housing — a lengthy and expensive process.
All residents who spoke during public comment voiced concerns over the proposal, rather than praise. Some concerns focused on the condition of the coastal land and how it could hold up during a natural disaster.
“Like a tsunami zone, there are reasons we should not devote public resources to house people where their lives are knowingly put at risk,” said resident Chris Mastrandrea.
Others were worried about the development’s intentions.
“The land may be given to someone with no building experience. The build plan may not actually be for low-income housing as required by the state statute,” said resident Sharon Chaitt.
County leaders say it’s just one of the first steps in a long process, as they work to identify surplus tracts of land within the county where affordable housing could go.
“One of the biggest barriers I think we all understand is the acquisition cost of property to build affordable housing,” said Mark Kujala, commission chair. “It’s going to involve a lot of department heads, stakeholders, agencies and address a lot of the concerns.”
With additional affordable housing factors like transportation and bus lines, food and more, they say no decision will be made anytime soon.
“It takes a while with the staffing level we have, because of the tax dollars we have, to actually process and get information out to you,” said Commissioner Lianne Thompson. “It will be legal, it will be ethical, it will be fiscally prudent, it will be the best public policy possible to care for the people and the place.”
Clatsop Co. officials are expected to have a board work session about the public land proposal on Feb. 1.