No end in sight for city’s rent burdened

A conversation about housing affordability came and went with little fanfare at a meeting of the Keizer City Council Monday, Nov.16.

Keizer is required by state mandate to hold an annual public hearing on issues of rent burdens in the city and what might be done to alleviate them.

Approximately 54% of renters in Keizer are paying more than a third of their monthly income on rent, and 25% of homeowners are in the same situation when it comes to their mortgage. Nearly every family making less than $35,000 annually in Keizer is rent burdened and it includes elderly residents facing rising costs in manufactured home communities throughout the city as well as younger residents just starting out.

Councilor Laura Reid said the data illustrating the city’s rent burden issues didn’t appear to have changed much since the last such hearing in 2019.

Interim Community Development Director Shane Witham said that was likely a result of the time frame in which the information was given.

“As we move forward, we’ll probably see more clearly how COVID has affected the housing situation,” Witham said.

Councilor Dan Kohler asked what the options might be for solving the problem of rent burden.

“There’s a lot that we don’t control, like Urban Growth Boundary (UGB),” Kohler said.

City manager Chris Eppley said creating more affordable housing would likely require investment by the city, working to develop housing vouchers or reducing costs such as System Development Charges (SDCs). Keizer’s only option to affect immediate change would be to reduce the SDCs, but the city is already a bargain for developers compared to others in the Willamette Valley.

“Even if you build affordable housing, it may not stay affordable. It’s going to continue to be a difficult topic,” Eppley said.

City Councilor Elizabeth Smith, a real estate broker, added that the existing market was tight a year ago and tighter now, which is causing home prices to skyrocket.

“Last year at this time, the average sale price in Keizer was $300,000. It’s $350,000 now because the inventory has dropped dramatically. With COVID, people are staying in one place,” Smith said. “It’s a difficult situation, and I have no idea how we’re going to fix it, but we need to keep it as a priority of the council going forward.”

Witham said the council could also decide it wants to be more aggressive in applying new development standards along River Road North and Cherry Avenue Northeast. The city adopted a new overlay district to encourage mixed commercial and residential properties in early 2020.

“Applying some of the new standards could put a more diverse supply on the market,” Witham said.