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Local housing needs a look

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Many things define the foundation and character of a community. But few are as personal as where we live - our homes and neighborhoods.

In today's edition of Rethinking Portland, which is inside the Lake Oswego Review, we take a comprehensive look at the cost, availability and choices for housing in the metro area. We also examine how the cost of housing and efforts to keep pace with the region's population growth are influencing changes in lifestyles, neighborhoods, density and housing.

As a city, Portland has done a fairly good job of expanding its affordable housing stock and increasing the focus of city agencies to provide affordable housing.

Nonprofits are making a difference as well. HOST Development Inc., for example, has set a goal of building and selling 1,000 affordable housing units by 2017. Lake Oswego, on the other hand, is struggling to find a realistic way to develop affordable housing within the city limits.

The difference between a median-priced home in the metro area and the national average now stands at more than $75,000. These increases force homeowners to spend more and more of their income on housing. And a growing number of people who work in Portland are choosing to leapfrog its traditional suburbs and move to a more rural community.

All of this affects Portland and its suburbs - now and in the future. Certainly, the cost of housing will not decline. Fewer families will be able to afford to live in Portland. As people move farther and farther from their workplaces to find affordable housing, Portland risks following the California model, where two-hour commutes can be common. What should we do?

For one, the metro area must expand its focus from simply providing for more low-income housing. Greater attention is needed to ensure that the middle class will have affordable housing choices. That effort should be led by the private sector and assisted by government incentives, not regulation. It may take the form of refurbishing homes in well-established neighborhoods.

For another, developers, home builders, and government and nonprofit agencies should investigate ways to slow housing inflation. One way may be for a nonprofit to develop and retain ownership of new tracts of land for housing. Meanwhile, private individuals buy the home, not the land. This could slow the impact of inflation by taking land costs out of the equation.

Third, the region and the state need to determine how to deal with the rising cost and uncertainty of providing public infrastructure to accommodate future population growth.

The word 'housing' itself may seem to be impersonal vernacular. It should not. Where and how we live defines each of us and the communities in which we live and work. As such, it requires more attention and solutions by government, business and nonprofit leaders.