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Editorial: Don’t rely on taxes to solve affordable housing


(Thinkstock)

Believe it or not, higher taxes are not the only answer to Oregon’s housing problem. It’s a message that so far has failed to reach the Oregon Legislature. In the session recently ended, the Legislature tripled the price of a document-recording fee in the name of affordable housing.

Not that Oregon has all the affordable housing it needs. It does not. But taxes alone are not likely to correct the problem.

Rapidly rising housing costs are not limited to Oregon. According to the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, the U.S. median home price (half above, half below) in early

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Believe it or not, higher taxes are not the only answer to Oregon’s housing problem. It’s a message that so far has failed to reach the Oregon Legislature. In the session recently ended, the Legislature tripled the price of a document-recording fee in the name of affordable housing.

Not that Oregon has all the affordable housing it needs. It does not. But taxes alone are not likely to correct the problem.

Rapidly rising housing costs are not limited to Oregon. According to the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, the U.S. median home price (half above, half below) in early 2007 was $257,400. Ten years and several months later, it has risen to $328,600. In Bend, the 3,211 homes sold in 2017 went for an average price of $466,926, according to an annual summary compiled by ECONorthwest for the Central Oregon Association of Realtors.

Bend can and has worked on non-tax changes to improve the situation. Here, the ability to add an alternative dwelling unit to a single-family lot should make a difference, as should rules that allow cottage housing in some neighborhoods.

But Oregon’s, and Bend’s, ability to deal with the problem is limited by land-use planning laws in the state. Thanks to them, cities are allowed to expand, but not by as much as they might wish. That might save valuable farmland in the Willamette Valley, and that, in fact, is what the laws were designed to do.

It’s more difficult to extend that argument to much of the land east of the Cascades, however. Over here on the high, dry side of the state, much highly profitable agriculture is limited to areas near the Columbia River and to those with elevations substantially below Bend’s 3,623 feet. Moreover, in counties like Deschutes, with 80 percent or more of land in public ownership, urban sprawl is unlikely.

Oregonians must recognize and tell their lawmakers: If more land were available for homes in Bend, Medford, Portland — you name it — it would ease pressure on prices to rise.