Rural Oregon Counties Struggle to Balance Growth, Affordability

Regions like Clatsop County are calling on the state to offer more resources for affordable housing.

1 minute read

January 2, 2024, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of coastal town of Astoria, Oregon with suspension bridge and sunset sky.

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Like other small communities, Oregon’s Clatsop County faces growing issues previously considered ‘urban problems,’ including a dearth of affordable housing and a rising homelessness rate.

“We have urban-scale problems in a rural area, but we only have rural-level resources to address it,” Elissa Gertler, the county’s housing manager, told the Daily Yonder. Part of the pressure comes from tourism, which nearly doubles the county’s population in the summer months. Meanwhile, Oregon’s strict building regulations make new development difficult and expensive.

To address the housing crisis, the county is supporting adaptive reuse projects that convert former motels and other buildings into housing for healthcare workers and low-income residents. County officials say they are making slow progress, but the process of securing funding from the state is harder for rural communities. “Gertler, the Clatsop County housing manager, said Oregon Housing and Community Services has been working with Clatsop County to understand this issue and remove barriers to the grant application process, but nothing has changed yet, even though smaller counties depend on state money in a way cities don’t have to.”

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