By Tillamook County Housing Commission Outreach Committee
Michele settled into one of the two bright-red resin Adirondack chairs on her lovely firepit patio outside her townhome-style condo nestled amidst trees on a grey fall Manzanita afternoon. We began our conversation about townhome living as an added option for “missing middle” workforce housing, but to the delight of her two small dogs, a light rain soon drove us inside the surprisingly spacious two-story home on one end of the three-family triplex.
Michele and her husband bought their Manzanita townhome sixteen years ago. They worked and made their home in Portland, so she never imagined that she’d live at the coast full time; this would be their getaway beach home. Its location couldn’t be beat—close to village shops, half a block from the golf course greenspace, a quick walk to the tennis courts, and not far from the beach. The couple regularly visited the townhome every couple of weeks, and for three years Michele was pleased that her father could live in the condo full time until he passed away. Over time, Michelle’s priorities changed—now she can’t imagine not living in the Manzanita townhome.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and Portland began to shut down, Michele and her husband happened to be out at the townhome—so they just stayed put. After two or three months, they realized that they could live at the coast full time. Burnt out after 25 years of working in the juvenile probation system, Michele had already left her job for a less stressful occupation as a fitness and yoga instructor. Her husband’s job allows him to work remotely most of the time. So they cut the cord and sold their Portland home.
The couple’s plan was to sell the condo and buy a single-family detached home in Manzanita to give them a bit more space. They didn’t want an expensive oversized house, like so many of the custom new-build homes in Manzanita. And as much as they liked the shared community spaces in what locals call the “Tiny Town” neighborhood nearby, those high-end “tiny homes” were just too tiny (and pricey). In Tillamook County’s ever-tightening housing market, they discovered that available houses in their price range and desired size either would need a lot of rehab work or were not in as good a location as their townhome.
“We couldn’t beat what we already had,” Michele concluded. To put a finer point on this realization, she slipped into reverie as she recounted how much she enjoys the view from her kitchen window of neighbors walking their dogs and tourists passing by on their way down to the beach. To add just a tad more room to the 1500 square foot, 2 bedroom/2 bath condo, they added the front yard patio and a shed beneath their back deck, currently under construction. “Even living here in a pandemic with half the resources, we still love it,” she said.
Townhouses tend to come with a lower sales price than single-family houses, which makes them more attainable for many workforce housing buyers. Michele’s neighborhood offers several examples of other tastefully designed multifamily residential condominiums from two to four units, dispersed amidst the single-family homes that predominate in Manzanita. The two-story townhome attached units are owned individually like single-family homes but share at least one common wall. Often, the owners of the attached units comprise a Homeowners Association (HOA), which is financially responsible for exterior maintenance and repair of their townhouses. The HOA also makes joint decisions, such as color choice for repainting the entire triplex, which Michele’s HOA is getting ready to do.
Michele and her husband realize that they were fortunate to be able to turn the beach condo they bought years ago in a more attainable housing market, into their permanent residence. Reflecting on what can be done to increase workforce housing in Tillamook County, Michele wondered if the county could create incentives, such as tax breaks, for developers to build housing attainable by others besides luxury home buyers.
A greater diversity of housing would be a good thing, in Michelle’s view. For example, a variety of large and small dwellings, including attached multifamily housing like her townhome, could best meet the existing variety of needs. It’s not just low-income people who need homes, Michele pointed out, but working people with good jobs too. Construction of smaller homes, even tiny homes, would suit not just singles but couples, empty-nesters, and retirees.
“What we’re getting instead in Manzanita are really large, expensive dwellings, which often turn out to become vacation rentals. Who’s going to service these homes and where are those service people going to live?”
The peculiar circumstances of the pandemic happened to be the catalyst that turned Michele’s vacation townhome into her permanent residence. But small multifamily multiplexes like hers also provide a well-known model for adding more housing through modestly greater density with little disruption of the character of single-family home neighborhoods that predominate in Tillamook County towns.
As of 2020, Oregon implemented HB 2001*, a statewide law that encourages inclusionary zoning to allow a variety of “middle housing” and more affordable housing to be built on land zoned for single family homes. In Oregon cities with over 10,000 residents, duplexes are permitted, and in cities with over 25,000 residents, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and cottage clusters are permitted. To be clear, this law does not ban single family homes but makes it easier to build alternative housing types in the interest of adding to existing housing supply and affordability.
Although the smaller size of Tillamook County’s cities exempts them from this statewide inclusionary “upzoning,” examples that already exist in some of our neighborhoods, such as Michele’s, demonstrate that multifamily homes are quite compatible with rural county lifestyles. In light of the severe housing shortage, it may be wise for our towns to adopt similar inclusionary zoning reform to encourage construction of more diverse home sizes at more affordable price points to add greater flexibility to existing workforce housing options.
This story is brought to you by the Tillamook County Housing Commission’s outreach effort to increase workforce housing in Tillamook County. For more housing stories and information, visit www.co.tillamook.or.us/bc-hc. If you have a housing story to share, email it to TillamookCoHousingCommission@gmail.com.