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Corvallis Copes With Housing Crunch

It’s hard to find a place to live in Corvallis. The college town with a population of more than 58,000 is in the midst of a housing crunch.

Carla Allen has been a realtor in Corvallis for 15 years. She describes the housing market this way.
“I kind of joke.” Allen says, “I try to use humor, even though it’s not funny because it’s hard, but I say, this is the crazy-making market.”
She says it’s an especially tough market for buyers.
 “You go to look at a house. And you like it.” Allen says, “And then you say to your realtor, Oh, yeah, you know what, I thought about it, and I crunched the numbers and I can swing it. And your realtor calls you back and says, oh, well, there’s 5 offers and you have to tell me in two hours. And it’s the biggest purchase you’ve made in your life.”
Allen shows me the house she just helped a couple from California to find. “This is actually an office and or bedroom. Because it does have the windows and the closet.”
The house is in Philomath, just west of Corvallis.
 “And then you’re looking out and this is their back yard…”
Allen says working with this couple was nice because they weren’t in a hurry. They live in California now and plan to retire here in a year or so. Renee Pipitone is a kindergarten teacher in San Jose. She says she wants to leave behind the hectic life of the Bay area.
 “So, now it’s close to retirement for us.” Pipitone says,  “And we’d like to be up here closer to my sister and family and enjoy some quiet life. It’s gotten pretty crowded in California where we’re from. We’re ready for some space.”

Credit Rachael McDonald
Pipitone and Brown like the large backyard at their new Philomath house.

The found this place after more than a year of looking. Pipitone’s husband Gary Brown:
“There was no sense of urgency on our part.” Brown says,  “Because we’re looking at another year out to fully move up. So we had the time. And Carla worked with us on that timeline. We had the luxury of being very picky.”
Realtor Carla Allen says for those who don’t have the luxury of time it can be very stressful to be house-hunting in Corvallis.
 “Corvallis leads the stats always. There just is a low supply and high demand in Corvallis.” Allen says,  “And it’s hard for folks that are, like first time homebuyers, to get in on the market.”
Allen says the appeal of Corvallis is understandable. It’s a small, friendly town with vibrant arts and food scenes.

Credit Rachael McDonald
Gary Brown and Renee Pipitone in the kitchen of their Philomath house.

“The schools the community, the university. It kind of has the whole package.” Allen says, “This is where I want to raise my family. I raised my family in Corvallis. I loved it. I love where my kids went to school. I love all the families I got to know. I’m from Maine originally. Corvallis feels like New England, but without all the harsh weather.”
Allen says she’s talked with colleagues in Portland and Seattle and the Corvallis market is almost as tight as in those cities. It’s a classic case of supply and demand. While the median home price in Corvallis is around 250 thousand, it’s hard to find anything available in that range. The vacancy rate in Corvallis is at about 2 percent. It gets even tighter in the fall when the students are looking for housing.
The City of Corvallis is trying to figure out how to accommodate the inevitable growth that will come in the future. City Planner Jason Yaich says they expect 10,000 more people over the next 20 years.
“As part of that growth, we anticipate a need for about 35-hundred homes within the community and that’ll be a variety of homes, whether it’s a single family home or apartments.” Says Yaich,  “And the question right now is looking at the land that’s available for those homes, we have some shortages.”
The city has asked for public input on how it could grow. It’s also looking at annexing land for development. Annexation has run into some complications. A new state law bars cities from annexing land by voter initiative. However the Corvallis city charter requires that voters approve any land annexations. So Corvallis is suing the state.
For those who are low-income first time homebuyers, there is help available from Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services in Corvallis. Jim Moorfield is executive director.
 “If you’re trying to find an affordable place in Corvallis you’re pretty much out of luck.” Moorfield says, “That goes for those trying to buy a house and those looking for a rental”
Realtor Carla Allen says she feels it’s still worth looking for a house even though the market is tight.
 “It’s something that you’ve got to try and the answer is going to be no if we don’t try.”
Allen also advises buyers to look outside Corvallis. Like the couple from California who bought in Philomath. One of her clients was Cooper Whitman, who was hired a couple years ago to be director of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce. He says they made offers on 8 different houses and were outbid every time.

Credit Rachael McDonald
Cooper Whitman is Director of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce.

“It was disheartening. Because we were in a rental situation that was not going to be suitable for us long-term.” Whitman says, “We knew that. And we wanted desperately to live in Corvallis. You know, I felt that that was one way I could be best at my job was if we lived, worked, played, everything here in the community.”

They finally found a place in Lebanon—which is about a half hour commute.
It’s unclear if the housing market will improve. Carla Allen says she’s been through the recession as a realtor and even then the Corvallis market didn’t loosen a whole lot. She says it’s not as bad as it was during the height of the housing bubble in 2007 because there are now more regulations in place.

Copyright 2018, KLCC.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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