Your voice is essential at housing needs forum

You might have established your home in Keizer because no other place would do. You might have arrived in the city because circumstances led you here. You might even view Keizer as a waypoint in bigger plans or dreams. 

Whatever brought you to Keizer – and regardless of how long you are planning to stay – you should be part of the conversation about how Keizer will grow. There will be many opportunities to make your voice heard over the coming months and years, but a big one is slated for Wednesday, May 29, and Keizer residents shouldn’t let it pass them by. 

Beginning at 6 p.m., at the Keizer Civic Center, the city’s planning department will host the final public input meeting related to housing needs in the city.  

The heart of the issue is this: Keizer is out of room to grow. The city cannot expand the city’s boundaries without a lengthy and costly process that involves courting the regional partners and state officials. The other option is increasing the number of households within the current boundary. 

Doing nothing may sound like an appealing option, but ask just about anyone paying rent in city limits how long they’ll last under the current conditions – more than 50 percent of renters and a quarter of homeowners are paying more than a third of their income in monthly rent. Nearly every family making less than $35,000 annually in Keizer is rent-burdened in this way, and it includes elderly residents facing rising costs in manufactured home communities throughout the city as well as young residents trying to make a good start. 

There are things the city can do to reclaim some space within the existing limits such as reducing parking requirements and lot sizes, allowing for tiny homes and doing what it can to encourage housing developers to meet needs in “the missing middle.”

The missing middle, in terms of the current market, means more townhomes, triplexes, duplexes, quadplexes and multifamily housing with generally less than 10 units. The underlying assumption is that this type of housing will take the pressure off the single-family residences Keizer is known for and provide a greater mix of housing types to meet the needs of all potential residents. If nothing is done, residents can expect more of the same, e.g. the average sale price of a single-family home jumping 11 percent ($27,000) as it did between 2016 and 2018. 

To meet the expected increase of 10,000 new residents over the next 20 years, Keizer will need to move quickly and will likely be doing so facing headwinds in the development market. Right now, there isn’t much incentive for private property owners to redevelop existing residential or commercial properties. Creating incentives – like improved streetscapes and new, shared open spaces – to foster such development will most likely fall to the city and all of its resident taxpayers. And it won’t be accomplished with the existing ultra-low local property tax rate. 

The other option is seeking to expand the city limits. That is a proposition much easier said than done and comes with a whole different set of costs. Just getting to the point of expanding the city boundaries could cost upward of $1 million, but it won’t stop there. Adding new land to Keizer will mean every bit of infrastructure – sewers, streets, electricity and more – must be extended into the new areas. At a minimum, Keizer would be looking at an investment of $40,000 per home. Those added costs that could well “price out” the city’s current residents from ever moving to homes in the new areas. Costs aside, expanding the city limits is a viable option, but ask yourself if you want the decision made for you.

As much as this conversation affects current residents, its outcomes will affect future generations. If you are one of those residents hoping to keep your family geographically close, the decisions reached through this process are just as important. As proud as Keizerites are of being a one-high-school-town, the graduates of McNary aren’t coming back to live here as frequently as they once did. It may be because they can’t find a home in the right price range and it may be the lack of “things to do.” It’s probably both, but creating a mix of lifestyle opportunities will only add to the small town feel and increase the diversity of options available to families in all stages of life. 

We only include our voice on the front page of the paper when we believe it matters most. This conversation and decisions it will produce matter. We aren’t advocating for one path or another. What we want is for you to get engaged and be part of shaping the future of this city. It’s not sexy or scandalous, but it may be the most important conversation Keizer will have since declaring its independence almost 40 years ago. 

– Keizertimes editorial board