Our housing dilemmas may be kid-stuff compared to those of the Bay Area or Seattle, but they are very real enough for us. A new social movement on both coasts and in the Denver area called “Yes in My Backyard” offers some potentially useful new directions to explore.
Civil leaders may most often focus on impacts to our economy due to lack of affordable workforce housing — a factor that makes it difficult to hire and retain employees. But everyone with a stake in our communities cares, or should care, about whether young family members and others who comprise the next generation of proud coastal residents are able to find decent places to live in their towns at affordable prices.
On a human scale, lack of affordable housing translates into decisions to move out of the area, or never come here in the first place. For those who stay, it may mean longer commutes between home and work, subtracting time from family life. It may mean needing to work two or more jobs. It can result in too many people in too small a space.
All too often, these sympathetic feelings wither away in the face of inertia, regulatory red tape, financing constraints and the classic attitude of “Not in My Backyard,” abbreviated as NIMBY.
We all are NIMBYs at one time or another, and about one subject or another. We might be OK with a new single-family house down the block, but not OK with a new apartment complex. Or OK with a new manufactured home park on some back road, but not OK with one six blocks away. Understandable as these attitudes are, they too often combine to stymie much chance for timely resolution of housing troubles.
An intriguing article in The Atlantic magazine, tinyurl.com/yd3xxthy, outlines the beginnings of a new way of thinking about housing development, one which could prove useful even in our relatively rural setting.
It’s important to note that a re-examination of our approaches to development should not be taken as a repudiation of broader growth management goals that have attempted to stem the tide of urban sprawl in the Pacific Northwest for the past two decades. There still are ample good reasons to preserve farmland, forests, conservation areas and other green space. However, growth management has always been premised on concentrating development within or closely adjacent to areas already being provided with municipal-type services like water, sewer and other civic infrastructure. YIMBY is, in effect, a next step in growth management — finding mutually acceptable ways for growth to happen, without degrading the settings we all treasure.
“There’s this great sense that housing is a problem, not just for employers, but for the fabric of our community,” a councilman in Google’s headquarters city told The Atlantic. “If we want housing, we have to work with developers. I don’t like their business model at all, but in some ways I’m their best ally because I want to build housing.” For such YIMBY advocates, the issue is at least ostensibly less about economics than it is about social justice — ensuring that communities maintain a healthy mix of different kinds of residents.
In Pacific County as a whole, and especially in south county, literally thousands of manufactured homes are at or near the ends of their functional lives. These homes are the foundation of much of our society and economy, housing the good people who work in seafood processing, the hospitality industry and other vital sectors. In addition, they are home to many of our area’s extensive population of retirees. Many of these houses will have to be replaced in the next decade or two, and we must develop effective answers for how to do so.
The Atlantic article observes that “convincing people to support housing and equality in general is easier than getting them to back a project that’s going up across the street from them.” In Google’s community, this translated into support for a new 10,000-unit neighborhood on a somewhat distinct area previously used as an office park.
In our general area, it’s possible to imagine broad support for additional planned developments like the ones now in process in Warrenton, in which there are relatively few existing nearby neighbors who will be inconvenienced by new houses in the hills and ridges around town. With up 500 owner-occupied and rental units, these YIMBY developments will certainly take a bite out of the housing crunch across the river, and make ease some of the pressure here that derives from Oregon workers crossing the Columbia to find places to live.
Other communities should consider following Warrenton’s lead. It shouldn’t be — and realistically can’t be — up to one town to address the housing needs of all. We need to find more paths to “yes” in all our communities, each of which needs ways to accommodate different income groups and housing needs.