Union County is the second most populated county in the Eastern Region, next to Umatilla County, and has more of a housing need compared to other areas of the region. The sparsely populated lands within the region make access to employment and services more difficult, with correspondingly longer commute times. The availability of affordable housing relative to work areas points to a significant jobs-housing mismatch within Union County, which has a relatively strong economic base. What affordable housing exists within the County are primarily scattered duplexes and single family units built during the ‘70s and ‘80s, and as documented in our July 2013 Market Study, now in poor condition.
The population of Union County earns less overall than the rest of the state (data for the Eastern Region not readily available), with a median family income of $49,764 versus $59,494 for the state of Oregon as a whole.
Housing Condition relative to other areas:
Although the region includes 3,404 affordable units, only 222 of these units were recently funded, indicating that the majority of units in the region are older. The housing stock is older in Union County with 31% of structures built prior to 1950, compared with 18% in the state, and 27% in the region.
Demand for Affordable Family Housing:
The OHCS Profile for Union County denotes that the county has received only 1% of the department’s housing resources, generating 487 units, of which only 37% are restricted to elderly and disabled tenants, and not open to low-income families. There are 2,195 households under the 60% county MFI. Of these households, 1,536 households are considered to be “rent burdened” (more than 30% of their income goes to housing) and 887 households are considered to be “extremely rent burdened” (more than 50% of their income goes to housing). In Union County 82% of households living in poverty include children under 18 – underscoring a need for more affordable family units.
Blue Springs is proposed for Island City, a small community of approximately 1,000 people bordering La Grande, which at 13,000, is the hub of the Grande Ronde Valley. Collectively these two cities comprise the largest community in Union County. This urban area lies roughly 50 miles along I-84 from the larger cities of Pendleton and Baker City, located in neighboring counties to the north and south. As shown in the table below, Union County has higher percentages of renters with extreme rent burdens and renters at or below 60% MFI that are rent-burdened than the Eastern Region as a whole.
RENT BURDEN: UNION COUNTY WITHIN THE EASTERN REGION
% of Households that are Renters
% of Renter Households below 60% MFI
% of 60% MFI Households that are rent-burdened
% of Renter Households that are Extreme Rent- Burdened
Affordable Housing Distribution in the Community:
Within the La Grande/Island City urban area, there is a need for affordable rental housing in Island City, where the profile of rent burden is consistent with the larger community. However, the percentage of rental households is considerably smaller, 22% versus 45%, suggesting an unaddressed need for rental units. The distribution of affordable housing is also uneven in that of the 19 projects in the community, only one, a 10-unit seniors project, is located within Island City proper. Although it comprises 7% of the urban area’s population, Island City contains only 2.6% of the affordable housing units, and none of these units accommodates families. For low-income families in Island City, the nearest affordable housing is located in La Grande. Much of this housing is across I-84 and adjacent to Eastern Oregon University and downtown, where students drive up demand and cost.
Accessibility of Location
The La Grande/Island City area has seen only two new, restricted-rent, family projects built during the last 16 years, with a total of only 33 units
Blue Springs Crossing is located in Island City, 1.5 miles from downtown La Grande, near to schools, grocery stores, and other amenities that families need nearby. The property is within one mile of elementary schools, grocery stores, restaurants and a pharmacy, within 2.5 miles of middle and high schools, several parks, a library, commercial development, social services and municipal services, and within three miles of a major hospital and university. The site is located within a ¼ mile walk of local bus service, and within a 1.2 mile bike ride to inter-city bus service to La Grande and Elgin. The property is surrounded by a nice landscape and is well connected to community services, jobs, and transportation. Major employers within one mile include Island City Country Club, Grocery Outlet Walmart, and several small businesses.
Blue Springs Crossing is a collaborative public/private partnership to develop new housing in an area that needs quality, affordable workforce housing to support its economic growth and diversifying population. The innovation in this project results from the collaboration between an established owner/operator of affordable housing and an experienced development team to capture a unique opportunity including a willing donor of valuable land, to meet multiple priorities in a demonstrably underserved community and region.