With help from the state, the City of La Grande is taking a step toward solving its housing shortage.

City Planner Mike Boquist told the La Grande City Council earlier this month the city has received a grant that will allow it to conduct an analysis of the housing crisis. The grant was competitive but the amount of local agencies willing to help in this endeavor — the Department of Human Services, the organizers of the Warming Station, Community Connection and Northeast Oregon Housing Authority, to name a few — gave the city a boost.

“The Legislature recognized the housing crisis in the state,” Boquist told The Observer. “A housing crisis is where 25 percent of the residents are paying more than 50 percent of their income toward rent or mortgages. The (Legislature) allocated money to issue grants to (cities) to do this housing needs analysis.”

That allocation now includes the City of La Grande. The intention is to do the analysis, then come up with a strategic plan, or multiple plans, that will help solve the crisis.

Boquist said the city has conducted one before, but it’s been quite a while and the analysis was not specific enough. He plans to break the analysis down to the categories of people who need housing the most.

“I want the study more valuable to us, where it identifies the type of housing, whether it’s transitional housing, low income or working families or higher-end housing,” Boquist said. “I think we have a need in all of those categories. Whether you’re a renter or property owner, the market has more people looking for housing than what’s available. I don’t know which category of need is greater.”

Boquist said the analysis will help determine if there is an actual need for housing or only a perceived need.

“I don’t know how much of a crisis there actually is,” he said.

He compared it to the downtown parking issue. He said there have been complaints about a lack of parking in the downtown area, but the reality is that there are people who don’t want to walk to the parking lots that are available.

“Maybe for the higher-end housing there’s a perceived problem,” he said. “I don’t know what the different levels are — where there’s a true need and a perceived need.”

Boquist said the city’s housing issues are becoming more visible. An example is the warming shelter, which opened last winter for those who are homeless and in need of a warm place to sleep.

“The housing crisis is becoming more of a visual and apparent issue that people are recognizing in our community,” Boquist said. “We are having that need and people are pointing it out.”

He added there is a possibility that those who had to use the warming shelter are homeless because of the housing shortage.

See more in Monday's edition of The Observer.

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