If you drive to or from the Willamette Valley through Philomath and notice the new housing developments, businesses and restaurants popping up all over town you may ask yourself, what's happening to our community?
The answer is simple (and it is the same answer for every community in Oregon): We are growing.
Every day, I see the pervasive effects the current statewide housing crisis has on our community. Businesses struggle to find employees who can afford to live nearby. Young people must put off starting families of their own or must move in with parents because there are no other housing options for them. Individuals are forced to spend nights sleeping in their cars or couch surfing. These problems are heartbreaking and unfortunately not new, but things are beginning to look brighter.
Within the housing market, the relationship between supply and demand is paramount and a direct impact on the cost of housing. It is important to realize that in all of Oregon, demand for housing has radically outpaced supply. While some argue we should impose additional fees and put up barriers by making development more difficult and expensive, this tactic would only worsen the hardship the lack of adequate housing is having on community members.
One of the advantages that come with my position is perspective. I meet with community leaders throughout the county and the entire state and get to see how Philomath is doing compared to other communities. Several months ago, I heard about a meeting in Salem where dozens of city mayors, managers and community development professionals had come together to discuss strategies for addressing the housing crisis.
The primary topic was how to attract developers to your community to build housing units. They told story after story about cities giving away public lands, reducing or eliminating SDCs and other development-related fees, and some cities even collaborating with developers directly and paying for new housing projects with local tax dollars.
It made me reflect, how has Philomath addressed our housing shortfall? Have we waved development fees? No. Given away public lands? No. Given special breaks to entice developers? No. The city has successfully attracted and worked with local developers to provide new housing options within the community.
To date, the city has approved four separate, detached single-family home subdivisions totaling 198 houses:
• Heather Glen (PC16-06): Phil Doud; North 10th-11th; 10 units, approved Aug. 30, 2016; expires Aug. 30, 2019.
• Fawn Meadows (PC17-06): Muir Development; North Ninth; 15 units; approved Nov. 6, 2017; expires Nov. 6, 2019.
• Habitat for Humanity (PC18-01): Habitat for Humanity; 618 North Ninth; 5 units; approved March 20, 2018; expires March 20, 2020.
• Millpond Crossing (PC18-04): Lee and Levi Miller; South 15th and Chapel; 168 units; approved May 21, 2018; expires May 21, 2020.
It is notable that each of the developers is local and has direct ties to Philomath. The Benton Habitat for Humanity subdivision will target low-income families that qualify to participate in their home-ownership program. The largest subdivision, Millpond Crossing, has a 10-year development agreement in place, limiting growth to a sustainable average of 17 houses per year. It is anticipated that the smaller developments will be completed over the next 1-2 years.
It was 1992, 26 years ago, that the last apartment complex was built in Philomath. That means if you want to downsize from a large family house you are limited to apartments that are likely older than your kids. For new teachers, police officers, and other professionals looking to move to the area, the rental inventory is very competitive, expensive and old.
Fortunately, for residents needing smaller or short-term housing, the city now has two apartment complexes under construction for a total of 342 housing units.
• Boulevard Apartments (PC17-04): Mountain West Investments; 3335 Main St.; 258 units; approved Aug. 28, 2017; expires Aug. 28, 2019.
• Oak Springs Apartments (PC17-05): J. Conser & Sons; North 19th and College; 84 units; approved Aug. 28, 2017; expires Aug. 28, 2019.
Both complexes are anticipated to be completed within the next year and will provide much-needed housing, especially to those segments of the population most adversely affected by the housing shortage.
In total, that is 540 new housing units over the next 10 years, a population increase of 11.46 percent over the current population and an average 1.15 percent growth rate per year.
Philomath is doing it right. With housing, Philomath is doing it right. Without waiving development fees, giving away public land or giving special breaks, the city has attracted local developers to provide housing at various price ranges.
If Philomath’s success was limited to just housing it would raise concerns of becoming a bedroom community; however, commercial and industrial activity is also up.
Without providing any financial incentives such as property tax deferrals, SDC waivers or land donations (common tools used by economic development professionals in other cities to lure in businesses), Philomath has successfully attracted industry-leading companies and is seeing new startups.
Softstar Shoes moved into the old Phil-O Rink/Rainbow building after its extensive rehab; Nectar Creek constructed a new brewing facility and restaurant; and Dollar General constructed a new building on the west end of town.
Most recently, Main Auto Body and Paint opened in its newly remodeled building. The city has also seen the expansion of True Value and welcomed new restaurants, Vinwood Taphouse and the Dizzy Hen. Les and Bob’s added a retail shop on Main Street to its home-based business and was joined by Windsmith Music and Taylor Guitars. Clip Joint came under new ownership and moved to Applegate Street and Marcotte Distillery opened as is already looking to expand.
Yes, we are growing and we are open for business! I’m proud to be a part of this great community and to represent a city that cares for the most basic needs of its citizens — shelter, a place to call home.