AClatsop County ordinance has drawn criticism over concerns that it exacerbates the housing crisis.
The code limits people to living in their campers, trailers and other recreational vehicles no more than 30 days out of a 90-day period.
A similar code exists in counties throughout the state. But with the lack of affordable housing in Clatsop County, the code raises the question: If people can’t live in their RVs, then where do they go?
Jamie Trinkle, of the Oregon Law Center, sent an email to the county in November on behalf of a client who has been affected by the code. She requested the Board of Commissioners enact a seasonal moratorium on enforcement and take time to reevaluate the code.
Trinkle said suspending the code during the winter months would give people security during the coldest and wettest time of the year.
Since last January, 27 violations have been reported and 11 RVs have been removed, including one belonging to Trinkle’s client.
Trinkle and other advocates have argued the code makes the housing crisis worse and may even perpetuate homelessness.
However, the county says the code exists to address legitimate health and safety challenges.
When the code was enacted in 1982, it was intended for people who would park their RVs during the summer. Now, the county and cities are finding more people living in their RVs full time.
According to the county, the RVs rarely have proper connections to potable water, sewage, septic and garbage collection systems.
The county discussed alternatives to a seasonal moratorium at a work session on Tuesday.
Gail Henrikson, the county’s community development director, said that while the county has compassion for people affected by the housing crisis, public health standards still need to be maintained.
“So, the question really becomes, how do we balance our need for compassion with our need for compliance?” Henrikson said.
She said allowing people to live in unsafe or unsanitary conditions will not lead to the ultimate goal of creating permanent, safe and affordable housing.
Henrikson added that some people may need help accessing services and assistance programs in addition to shelter.
Within the next few months, the county will discuss how to facilitate affordable housing and work with cities, local agencies and nonprofits.
The process will include taking inventory of county-owned properties that could be used for affordable housing. The county will also continue to discuss the creation of a homelessness fund.
“There has to be really aggressive effort on gaining housing and creating housing at all levels of the spectrum. And that eventually will help, but we do have this issue that’s a here and now issue, which is, there are people who are homeless who don’t have a place to live,” County Manager Don Bohn said.
Although a seasonal moratorium on enforcement may not be the best solution, he said a short-term remedy needs to be created while the county works on longer-term solutions.
As an example, Bohn cited pilot programs in some cities and counties that allow safe overnight parking with access to sanitary facilities and sometimes even showers.
He said Astoria’s homelessness solutions task force and proposed countywide homeless liaison are a good start in addressing gaps.
However, moving forward, he said agencies will have to be flexible in looking at what other programs may be needed.
“There is no easy solution to this problem,” Bohn said. “But we are compassionate about it. We want to be participating in the solutions.”