Housing is the number one issue in communities around the mouth of the Columbia River, both for civic leaders and for people either looking for a place to live or wondering what their place is worth.

As the real estate market has regained its old vigor, it’s only natural that more economic and cultural energy is being spent on this subject. Our growing nation needs to house our people. Even so, the housing recovery isn’t universal — there has been news in recent weeks about how far underwater many mortgages remain in places like Las Vegas, where plenty still owe hundreds of thousands more than their houses are worth.

The great property speculation boom a decade ago didn’t fully bloom here. Our highs weren’t so high, and our lows didn’t get so low. But there was a time early this decade when it was a distinctly sucky time to be in the real estate business, There were plenty of agents who wandered away from the profession, or who made more money waitressing than selling real estate.

That now has changed. Smart and well-connected agents report being very busy fielding inquiries, showing properties and closing sales. As many of us have long anticipated, there is a swelling tide of interest in Clatsop and Pacific counties from outside our region. Our mostly benign climate — not counting November through January — coupled with stunning scenery, relatively affordable property values, delicious local food and increasingly vibrant culture combine to create a tempting package for prospective new residents.

When it comes to a lot of existing residents, the housing market is not functioning very well. In all but a few pricey communities, it is possible little difficulty to find a single-family home for perhaps $225,000 and up. But choices dwindle pretty quickly below that figure, and become scant in the $150,000 range.

Rentals remain in extremely short supply, to the extent that an inability to find short-term housing is impacting hiring and employee retention efforts by businesses. A concerted drive is needed to encourage construction of more multi-family rental units.

On the owner-occupied housing front, our counties ought to be advocating on behalf of well-planned manufactured housing parks to provide more options for first-time buyers and retirees. There also are other creative options to examine, such as clustering smaller stick-built houses in ways that maximize efficiency while preserving more green space.

Our housing needs can’t be denied. We need to find smart ways to encourage more development.

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