By Laura Swanson
As the 12 members of the newly formed Tillamook County Housing Commission gathered for their first meeting on Friday December 6th, Commissioner Bill Baertlein opened the meeting declaring, “This is a time of historical significance. We’ve assembled a stellar team of Tillamook County citizens to address housing needs. Having this commission is monumental for Tillamook County and I’m excited to see what we can do,” Baertlein continued. John Southgate, a planning and development consultant, will assist the Commission with formation details such as bylaws, mission, vision, etc. and most importantly “where we go from here.” According to Southgate, interviews with stakeholders and the Housing Task Force Housing Report, the Tillamook County housing market is “stuck” and in need a variety of housing options, Southgate called it “attainable housing.” There is the homeless population that needs housing, that’s only one slice of the problem, as you have families and professionals in search of housing. And it isn’t a one size fits all for any of the demographics,” said Southgate.
The Tillamook County Housing Commission members introduced themselves and “why they are serving …”
Tim Borman – A retired surgeon, Borman volunteers at the Tillamook County Community Health Centers and has a holistic approach to health, that housing security is a big part of health and impacts the greater community.
Valerie Schuman – As a real estate agent in the area for the past decade, Schuman is aware of the shift in housing units, gets regular inquiries about housing availability. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to serve,” Schuman commented.
Sarah Beaubien – Tillamook County Creamery Association Senior Director of Stewardship – “TCCA has six dimensions of community stewardship from ag advocacy to food security and housing addresses all the areas,” said Beaubien. “This is a pivotal day and I’m honored to be a part of this milestone.”
Representing the City of Tillamook on the Housing Commission Mayor Suzanne Weber identified the need for an inventory of the existing housing. “There are ‘zombie’ houses – abandoned, some with squatters – that are impacting the quality of life in our neighborhoods. By identifying those properties and improving, rehabbing them and making them vital again. That’s one of the reasons why I’m here,” said Mayor Weber.
Kari Fleisher during her campaign for Tillamook County Commissioner had several strong ideas about improving the housing situation, and brings valuable perspective from her work in the County Assessor’s office. “I’ve experienced the problem with lack of available housing,” explained Fleisher. “We need to improve the tools we have in our tool box to provide that ‘in-between’ housing.”
Barbara McLaughlin was tapped as a North County representative, she commented, “I’m excited about the possibility to create a vision for a community that’s vibrant with housing created for all. We have a moral duty to make sure we are being inclusive. It’s going to take some thinking outside the box kind of solutions.”
Bill Baertlein added, “It was six years ago when I started my first term that I started advocating for improvements in housing. You hear the horror stories, and it’s a statewide, regional, national problem. I have a passion for it – I guess I like getting beat up as we are taking another proposal to the state legislature to seek 20% of TLT funds for housing. So we can have that full-time housing coordinator. We’ll keep looking for funding options,” he continued. “We are moving forward on a variety of levels.”
The housing commission members continued their introductions. From North County as well, Ed Gallagher brings a development background and was impressed with the 2016 Housing Task Force report, calling it a “great start” and as a member of the Economic Development Council, Gallagher noted the importance of housing to encourage economic development.
Mis Carlson-Swanson has had a seat at the housing table for a decade. Serving on the Housing Task Force, as director for Oregon Food Bank Tillamook Regional Services, Carlson-Swanson noted the organization’s mission to address the root causes of hunger and housing is one of those.
Gayle Ousele is the Commission’s South County representative and has served on the County planning commission, housing task force and sees the need to look at all solutions, what’s being done in other place, not just lists, actionable projects.
Habitat for Humanity director Cami Aufdermauer said, “I’ll be the voice for affordable home ownership and low income, our seniors, veterans disabled. Mayor Weber Habitat’s home repair programs can help with those ‘zombie’ houses, making them viable and livable again,” she continued “We are the boots on the ground projects and building partnerships.”
NearSpace Corp. owner Kris Lachenmeier also called for creative solutions and noted that it was a historic day. “Tillamook is a really awesome place and I’ve been amazed at the things that this community can accomplish. It’s like the Rotary ‘service above self’ – that kind of culture here.”
An integral part of keeping the housing conversation going, Erin Skaar served on the Housing Task Force, has continued to provide support for the issue through her role as director for social service agency CARE. She said, “I’m excited to do the work. There is a lack of housing at all socio-economic levels. The housing task force study showed us that, now we need to figured out what’s next?”