Housing, says Daniel Mckenna-Foster, is something everyone is interested in talking about.
“Everybody has an opinion on it,” he said. “Where people live and how they select their housing tells you a lot about their culture and beliefs.
“And housing touches every part of planning. It’s a big piece of livability, and it also has transportation, environmental and employment components.”
Mckenna-Foster came to his new position as the first affordable housing planner in Corvallis from a planning position in Kodiak, Alaska. While there, he also got a taste of the political side of things when he was appointed to the City Council. He worked for the borough, not the city (it’s basically equivalent to being a Corvallis councilor while working for Benton County), so there were no conflicts.
“It was a great experience just to learn about how policies get made,” he said. “I’ve always been on the support staff. It was very instructive.
“I’m always encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved, get your voice heard. Everyone can do it. But people are hesitant. The process can be frustrating. I have a lot of respect for people who participate in the public process.”
But two-and-a-half years in Kodiak, where “I wore shorts once a summer” got old, so Mckenna-Foster headed to Corvallis … for better weather “and the livability and the high number of people who ride bikes. There is good (bicycle) infrastructure here. I’m used to riding on the highway in a gravel strip.”
An avid cyclist — mountains, gravel or roads — McKenna-Foster already has ridden pieces of the Corvallis to the Sea trial.
McKenna-Foster thought he wanted to work in art history, but wound up in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan and ran a coffee shop in Kyrgyzstan before catching the planning bug at an adult learning course in Denver. Then he got really serious and went back to school for his master's in city and regional planning from Cornell.
“This opportunity seemed exciting to me … to spend all of my time” on affordable housing, he said, adding that the existing framework of housing task force recommendations that are being worked on as well as the city’s vision process and strategic operational plan gives him a strong base from which to work.
“I see my role as working towards all of these goals and keeping housing in focus within communitywide discussions and ultimately working towards better livability in Corvallis,” he said. “I think it’s great that in creating a position like mine, the community has demonstrated a commitment to solutions and potentially new approaches to the long-standing issues of housing affordability.”
Key projects he will be focusing on include the new urban renewal district in South Corvallis, brownfield assessment, mixed-use zones and the land development code audit that is underway.
“People have a lot invested in their housing, and I can see why they feel strongly about it,” he said. “That’s why it’s so interesting to me.”