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OUR VIEW

Our view: Housing challenges and feeling the heat in so many ways

Thumbs down: Market favors landlords, sellers

Housing prices have skyrocketed locally and nationally, and there’s no sign they will ease anytime soon.

In June, the median listing price for a home in Cowlitz County was $350,000, up 23% over the year, according to realtor.com. The median sales price last month was $354,000, which means that homes here, like they are in Seattle, often sell for more than the asking price.

While this market is good for sellers and real estate agents, it’s bad for buyers, especially young people hoping to buy their first homes.

The rental market also is pinching people. Fair Market Rent prices in Longview are more expensive than 89% of the markets evaluated by RentalData.org. Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Longview is $1,020 a month, up 3.7% from a year ago. The same unit cost $737 five years ago.

It’s easy to see why housing prices have surged: There is a shortage of units for sale and rent. Interest rates are low. And demand is being driven by in-migration from bigger cities.

“Rents are on the rise in a major way. Nationally, rents jumped at a staggering rate, and the cities that experienced the biggest drops in rents during the pandemic are now starting to trend in the opposite direction,” Zumper said in its June report.

The pandemic has had its effect in other ways. For example, Zillow reports that homes in Aberdeen, long an economically struggling area of Washington’s coast, sold at 22% higher prices in March 2021 compared to March 2020, KING TV in Seattle reported recently.

Cowlitz County’s real estate market has likewise been driven for several years by similar forces. Housing pressure here is intense. Woodland recently did a study suggesting the area needs to build 50 units a year for 20 years to handle growth, much of it from the south. Yet the proponent of a 67-space RV park there is running into opposition from neighbors. Wisely, the City Council approved the project.

Most causes of surging housing and rental prices predate the pandemic and the measures adopted to help jobless workers cope with it, such as the moratorium on rental evictions. The causes are systemic, arising from a shortage of housing and basic demographic changes causing high demand. They won’t change soon unless the economy falters, the Fed substantially boosts interest rates or people become less mobile.

Meanwhile, people struggle to stay housed. Free enterprise dictates that rents should be based on what the market can bear. But the market now is so warped in favor of landlords that they can raise rents faster than the rate of inflation.

Thumbs up: Some things to celebrate

The summer of 2021 will be judged by June’s three-day record heat wave, but so far most of the season has been pleasantly seasonal. We’ll always bless those evening westerlies that bathe us in cool, moist marine air.

Breezes and balmy temperatures have created a soothing atmosphere for a return to summer fun we hope our readers enjoy.

The Cowlitz County Fair and Thunder Mountain Rodeo were back this weekend.

The boys of summer in the form of the The Cowlitz Black Bears are still batting and catching rawhide.

Tickets are on sale for next weekend’s sQuatch Fest at the Cowlitz County Event Center.

Longview Rotary’s 10th annual Squirrel Fest, which celebrates the city’s squirrel bridges and abundant rodent population and is labeled as “the Nuttiest Event in the Northwest,” takes place Aug. 21 at the Longview Civic Center.

And don’t forget the Highlander Festival, the celebration of Kelso’s Scottish roots, that takes place Sept.11-12.

Rotary’s annual Crafted Summer Beer Festival has been moved to Nov. 6 because of the pandemic, and it will be held in the Event Center instead of R.A. Long Park because the rainy season should have started by then.

So get out and enjoy the sunshine and other community events while the good weather lasts.

Thumbs sideways: Burn out

Southern Oregon’s Bootleg fire has now scorched 400,000 acres, making it the third largest fire in state history.

By late last week it was only 40% contained and had scorched an area nearly three times the size of the Mount St. Helens blast area.

And it’s just one of many Western wildfires. ABC News reported that nearly 90 large wildfires are burning in 13 states, with more than 2.5 million acres burned so far this year. That’s nearly three times the size of Olympic National Park.

Fortunately for our area, winds are carrying the smoke to the east. But don’t count on our luck holding out. Wind directions eventually will change. More fires are certain to break out, with 46% of the lower U.S. states in a moderate or severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. No rain is in sight for our region, which is typically bone-dry until at least mid-September.

So get your air filters and air conditioners ready, and make sure to clear your property of any combustible materials. If you live in an area vulnerable to wildfires, now is the time to assemble your important papers, photos and cherished possessions. Don’t wait to plan or act until you’re choking on smoke or facing a fire order to evacuation order.

 

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