Commissioners Hear Workforce Housing Funding Recommendations

From the Tillamook County Housing Commission

As many as 87 new rental housing units could be coming to Tillamook County in the next two years. This is thanks in part to the hard work, creativity and dedication of area developers. Additionally, this burst of development is supported by a new funding source administered through the Tillamook County Housing Commission.

At their board meeting November 9, the Tillamook Board of County Commissioners approved creating contracts for six applicants for funding to help build multifamily rental housing (triplexes and above), as recommended by the Housing Commission. This type of highly needed affordable and workforce housing is the designated objective of the first funding round that opened July 1 of this year. Applicants represent both large and small local builders, developers and investors. Each presented their projects for consideration by the full Housing Commission on September 1. Commission members used a point-based system to score each project and determine whether and how much funding to recommend. Housing Commission Coordinator Thomas J. Fiorelli presented these funding recommendations to the County Commissioners November 9.

Funds come from the fees collected by Tillamook County’s Short Term Rental (STR) operator license fee established in 2021, combined with $400,000 of the County’s allocation of one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which the County Commissioners designated for housing. The Multifamily Rental Housing fund fills financing gaps faced by projects providing housing that supports affordable rental rates for up to 120% of area median income (AMI) for 10 to 30 years, varying by project. The maximum amount the grant funds is $20,000 per unit. Community Development Director Sarah Absher announced at the meeting that adequate funds are available to cover award amounts recommended for the six projects, totaling $710,923, an overall average of $8,172 per unit.

All three Commissioners expressed excitement that these funds will support local builders to create 87 new workforce rental housing units. The existing shortage of both workforce and affordable housing has been a constant topic of concern and discussion in the community. Commissioner Erin Skaar remarked, “this is an opportunity to show we’re taking an active role in providing solutions to the housing shortage.”

The six proposed projects span the county from Nehalem (24 units) and Wheeler (4 units) to Bay City (two projects, 20 and 12 units) and Tillamook (4 units) to Pacific City (23 units). Each project was designed to nestle into its surrounding community to bring added value beyond housing alone. 25 units will have rents meant for those earning 81% to 120% AMI, 38 units are for those earning 60% to 80% AMI, and 24 units are designated for those making 61%-80% AMI. To qualify for the grant, developers had to commit to offering housing units at below market rate for at least a decade. The applicants made affordability commitments from 10 to 30 years, averaging 22 years.

Commissioner Mary Faith Bell pointed out that this funding process answers a key problem posed when the commissioners first created the Housing Commission in 2019: how to incentivize the building of affordable and workforce housing. As is the case for the Multifamily Rental Housing Fund, projects incentivized by public funds require developers to avoid passing on to renters any costs abated by grants or loans. The benefit for the community is to increase the number of available rental units by stimulating construction of quality multifamily housing while keeping the rent at levels that working people can afford.

Commissioner David Yamamoto commented that it is noteworthy that three of the projects committed to keeping rents at the affordability level they proposed for the next 30 years. Commissioner Skaar also emphasized the importance of long-term sustainability of rents at affordable levels. Coordinator Fiorelli explained that an annual review of each project will ensure that the grantee continues to provide affordable rents. Failure to measure up to this commitment, for whatever reason, may result in a requirement to return of some of the funds already given to the project.

As the next step, Fiorelli explained that creating contracts for each applicant will require meeting with the county attorney to work out the financial details and clarify obligations. Commissioners will make a final approval of these arrangements. Projects, which range from early to late stages of development, may expect to use the funds immediately thereafter.

Coordinator Fiorelli notes that this is only the first round of funding opportunities that the Housing Commission expects to offer over the coming months. The Commission’s Finance Committee will next craft criteria for another round, which may fund the construction of single-family homes and duplexes.

Among its other projects designed to increase the number of new housing units, the Housing Commission is also developing an inventory of buildable land sites throughout the county, and it has also been awarded a major brownfield grant to inventory and improve potential building sites affected by environmental hazards. It continues to seek housing funding from public and private agencies to supplement monies brought in annually by the County’s Short Term Rental license fee.

Housing Commission meetings are open to the public both in-person and online. Check notifications on the Tillamook County website https://www.co.tillamook.or.us/bc-hc and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100068795516992.