It's no secret: Finding an affordable home in Clatsop County is tough.

Just ask the nearly 1,600 people who sought help from the Clatsop Community Action agency last year. Their needs ranged from emergency rentals to low-cost home loans.

"It's a huge problem, and it's a problem for most income levels," said Lynn Boyle, housing counselor at the nonprofit agency. "I hear all the time about people who qualify for $150,000 to $200,000 loans, and they look and look for houses but never find them."

Help may be on the way. A Housing Solutions forum on Saturday will explore how low- and moderate-income buyers can buy homes. The forum will run from 12:30 to 5 p.m. at the Astoria Event Center, 894 Commercial St., Astoria. Although there is no charge, pre-registration is requested; contact Clatsop Community Action at (503) 325-1400.

Speakers will talk about how much income someone needs to buy a home, how to obtain loans for "fixer-uppers" and methods for buyers to improve their financial profiles to obtain loans. Low-interest loans available through public agencies also will be discussed, and a panel of bankers will answer questions ranging from how to buy a foreclosed property to the importance of location, location, location.

The forum is sponsored by Clatsop Community Action, Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, Clatsop County and Community Action Team Inc.

Too often potential buyers are scared off from buying a house because they think they don't earn enough to even consider a purchase, Boyle said.

"But lenders want people to know what's available," she said. "These programs make it possible - or at least more affordable - for people to purchase their own homes."

In many areas of Clatsop County, the lack of affordable housing - or the lack of young families able to afford houses - is causing worry among local officials who are finding it difficult to fill vacant positions in fire districts, police departments, schools and hospitals.

"Workforce housing is important to local communities," said Boyle.

Affordable housing projects are proposed in Seaside and Cannon Beach, but they may be at least a year from getting under way, according to Boyle.

The forum may be coming at a good time for those who want to take advantage of a recently developed "buyers market" in Clatsop County, said Emily Smith, broker for Pete Anderson Realty Inc. in Astoria. Smith, who is president of the Clatsop Association of Realtors, will speak at the forum on the "State of the Real Estate Market."

"This is the perfect time to buy a house," Smith said. "There's a huge selection, and interest rates are low."

Although the North Coast once attracted out-of-the-area buyers who paid cash for houses here, they aren't coming around as much, Smith said. "There's not the competition for houses that there once was, and that makes homes more affordable," she said.

First-time homebuyers might consider looking for homes in Warrenton, Knappa or Astoria where housing prices and property taxes are lower, Smith suggested.

"I just had a first-time homebuyer make an offer on a $150,000 house, and it was a solid house," Smith said. "There are five houses that I could find under $175,000 that are not manufactured homes. For a price range of around $225,000 there are about 100 houses available.

"The market is definitely changing; it's definitely more affordable," she added.