There is a shortage of affordable housing on the Oregon Coast. This is not a new problem, and it only intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic, as coastal real estate became even more attractive to people who could afford to work remotely. A 2019 housing study in Clatsop County on Oregon’s north coast flagged vacation rentals as one of the contributing factors to the lack of affordable housing in the area. Some coastal communities have come up with their own short-term rental regulations, with varying levels of success. Clatsop County commissioners are currently considering a temporary moratorium on new short-term rental licenses in order to give themselves more time to craft a county-wide policy. We talk with Astorian reporter Nicole Bales.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave MIller: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. There’s no shortage of housing on Oregon’s north coast. Not exactly. The problem according to a study commissioned two years ago by Clatsop County, is the way housing units are allocated. Because so many residences are second homes or short term rentals, there aren’t enough homes for year round residents to buy or to rent. That’s the broad context for a series of conflicts that have cropped up in Clatsop County in recent years. One such conflict is the fight over the regulation of short term rentals in unincorporated parts of the county. That fight led the county commission to say earlier this month that they could put in place a temporary moratorium on short term rental licenses. Nicole Bales has been covering this issue for the Astorian and she joins us now with more details. Nicole Bales, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Nicole Bales: Hi, thanks for having me.
Dave MIller: Thanks for joining us. Why is the county commission supporting or seemingly going to support a temporary moratorium on new vacation rental licenses?
Nicole Bales: Sure. So the county said it wants to take that time to review two ordinances that regulate vacation rentals in unincorporated parts of the county, so they have two and one is specific to Arch Cape, which is an incorporated beach community south of Cannon Beach, and the other one covers unincorporated areas in the rest of the county. And so they said that the goal is to strike a balance between quality of life concerns and the impacts vacation rentals can have on residential neighborhoods. Over the past year, a lot of questions and policy suggestions have come out of these quarterly virtual meetings that the county started last summer in Cove Beach and Arch Cape. Cove Beach is another unincorporated beach town south of Cannon Beach. And they also had some virtual meetings in the Clatsop Plains area, which is another unincorporated area north of Gearhart. And those discussions were really just to promote dialogue after a sort of ongoing strife over vacation rentals.
Dave MIller: Just to be clear, the moratorium that could be put in place in September, that wouldn’t affect, say, existing Airbnb listings, right? It just would put a pause on the possibility of future ones.
Nicole Bales: Correct.
Dave MIller: So what kinds of rules are county commissioners considering in these different areas?
Nicole Bales: So right now they said they’re looking at just kind of cleaning up those ordinances and potentially consolidating them. So right now the ordinance that’s specific to Arch Cape is a little stricter on vacation rentals than the one that covers the rest of unincorporated Clatsop County. It requires a minimum seven nights stay and only one reservation is allowed during that seven day period and street parking is not allowed. The other ordinance that covers the rest of unincorporated Clatsop County doesn’t have a limit or minimum state requirement and street parking is allowed. So those are some the biggest changes that the rest of unincorporated Clatsop County could see if they decide to merge it and keep the restrictions Arch Cape has. But then at the same time, I think there are people in Arch Cape who are afraid that maybe if there’s a consolidation, they lose some of those heavier restrictions.
Dave MIller: Broadly speaking, what are the different interest groups here who are really focused on this issue?
Nicole Bales: Sure. I would say that the interested parties are people in companies that own vacation rentals in these areas. And then people who own homes that live there full time or own second homes there and like to come regularly on vacation. But aside, I think that that’s where a lot of the conflict is happening, but I would say, we may not hear from them as much, but there’s workers in the area who are impacted, and particularly those that work in the service and hospitality industry, who can’t afford to live in these areas where they work and so we don’t hear as much from them and maybe their voices don’t come up as much during the meetings. But those folks are also, I think, equally impacted just because obviously, as you had mentioned earlier, vacation rentals have sort of, according to the county, have driven up or at least contributed to higher cost of living in the area.
Dave MIller: So this gets to the bigger issues at play here. I mentioned that report two years ago, commissioned by the county to look into housing supply and trends. And I mentioned that one headline: that there’s not exactly a housing shortage. The problem is the way the different units are allocated. What else did that report find?
Nicole Bales: Sure. So the housing study that was conducted in 2019, found that the county does have a shortage of affordable housing. And some of the recommendations that came out of the study to address that said that the county should support more diverse housing and higher densities and then also control vacation rentals. It also found that a lot of these issues are really, really pronounced in the southern part of the county. It found that construction of second homes in the southern part of the county, which really, I think, starts at the Gearhart, Seaside area and then goes all the way down to Cannon Beach, Arch Cape, Cove Beach. They found the construction of second homes there were outpacing those of long term residents. And they also found that vacation rentals and second homes consume a very substantial share of the housing stock, which in turn, of course, affects the cost of rental housing and home buying. And all of that is most pronounced in the southern part of the county.
Dave MIller: So, I mean, this was two years ago though, that this report came out saying we have to do something to increase affordable housing. We have to do something to limit the proliferation of short term rentals. It’s causing us serious problems. Businesses are having problems finding people who actually can afford to live there, to actually work for those businesses. But this was two years ago. What has the county actually done?
Nicole Bales: Yeah, I mean, that study did suggest a lot of solutions again, like capping vacation rentals, restricting them in certain areas and zones, and while some cities in Clatsop County have adopted those kinds of policies, Clatsop County hasn’t yet. They said that some of those, they call them ‘big ticket policy items’, would be something that they’d consider in the future, but as far as right now, they’re really focusing on tightening up these ordinances and potentially consolidating them. They’re also looking at ways to support the construction of affordable housing within the county. And maybe using some land that they might have, whether that be land that’s been foreclosed on or land acquired right of ways, to use that for new affordable housing developments. But as far as adopting those recommendations that came out of the housing study, there hasn’t been that much movement on that yet.
Dave MIller: Nicole Bales. Thanks very much for joining us today.
Nicole Bales: Thank you so much for having me.
Dave MIller: Nicole Bales is a reporter for the Astorian newspaper. Coming up after the break, we’re going to hear about a new album co-produced by a Portland artist. It has 25 tracks of family music by black musicians from around the country.
Dave Miller: In the past, indigenous students in Oregon could not wear eagle feathers on their graduation caps, mukluks on their feet or traditional stoles over their graduation gowns without the fear that they might be stopped or have these items confiscated by school administrators. A new law signed by Governor Kate Brown aims to change that. It says that public schools cannot prohibit students from wearing Native American items of cultural significance at school events like graduations.
For more on what this will mean, I’m joined by Leilani Sabzalian, an assistant professor of Indigenous Studies in Education at the University of Oregon, where she is the co-director of the Sapsik’wałá Education Program. Leya Descombes is with us as well- a senior at the NAYA Many Nations Academy, a Portland High School, who is going to Portland State University this coming fall. It’s good to have both of you on the show.
Leilani Sabzalian: Thank you for having us.
Miller: Leilani Sabzalian, first in your testimony to the Legislature a few months ago in favor of this bill, you told a story about a Lakota Sioux Elder and citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation named Wilma Crow. I’m hoping you can tell us her story.
Sabzalian: Sure, that’s my honor. Wilma Crow was 96 years old at the time and really involved in our Title six Indian education program in the district, and her great granddaughter was about to graduate from high school. Our parent committee had made stoles from Pendleton fabric to honor the Native seniors, not only within our center, but to carry with them forward into their own school-based graduations. Unfortunately, we were told by an administrator at one of the schools that the students couldn’t wear those stoles, that the stoles violated the school’s “no adornment” policy. This was upsetting to our parent committee that invested so much time to the Native students who worked so hard to graduate.
We looked to Wilma for guidance to make sure this was a fight she thought was important to take up. She said: “of course it is”, and she was speaking of her great granddaughter. “She is not just a graduate out there, she is representing our Native community,” [Crow said].
Our parent committee rallied, Native youth rallied, and we wrote letters and FAQs and called district leaders and we got a letter of support from the state. The student was able to wear the stole and Wilma was able to bear witness to her expressing her pride, her Native pride, at graduation.
Miller: And what did she say? I’m curious what you heard about what that meant for Wilma Crow, who is in her nineties, to see her great granddaughter wearing the stole- and [for her great granddaughter] to be the one wearing it and to be seen wearing it.
Sabzalian: The students were really proud. They were adamant that they be able to wear their stoles and to represent themselves in a visible way, culturally, as Native graduates. This is particularly important in schools where there’s very few Native students. These students met and formed a Native Student Union. They formed a kind of pocket, a community, that affirmed them within this broader school that they did not feel affirmed in.
I can’t speak for Wilma, may she rest in peace. I can say, this is an Elder who had witnessed so much in her life. She used to tell the story to her Native youth about remembering her dad having to denounce his tribal citizenship and become a US citizen. She had bore witness to this whole legacy of assimilative policies. So, to be denied that right...
Initially, it’s just a continuation of Native peoples’ longstanding experiences with assimilation from schools. “No adornment” policies, they don’t seem like they’re outwardly colonial policies, but they have the same effect, in practice. They suppress Native students’ cultural rights, they assimilate native students to make them look like everyone else. I think that was a profound moment for Wilma, for her great granddaughter. And then of course for her family that was there to bear witness.
Our program and all the Native youth that are going to follow, the Native youth who were in the audience and could see the senior express pride in that visible way, to say you can be next, this can be you.
Miller: Leah Descombes, as I mentioned, is with us as well. I don’t think I mentioned you’re going to be graduating next week from [NAYA] Many Nations Academy in Portland. Congratulations. You also testified in favor of this bill, which is now law. Why did you want to testify in favor of it?
Leah Descombes: Well, it was because I realized this year that since I attend a culturally specific school that I was able to wear my traditional clothing and then realized that my brother who doesn’t attend a culturally specific school wasn’t going to. That was really hard to realize, and I also remember that I shouldn’t have to attend a culturally specific school to be able to wear my traditional clothing.
When I saw the bill and read what it was about, I knew I had to say something. I know there’s a lot of youth, when they do see the bill, they might not want to speak for it. When I realized all of this, I knew that I would have to say something.
Miller: Can you describe what you plan to wear at your graduation ceremony next week?
Descombes: I’ll be wearing a kuspuk that my mother made for me that will have my school’s color on it. It will be similar to a robe, where it’s long and it’s black. I’ll be wearing a graduation cap that will have seal fur on it [with a] medicine wheel on the top, and a pair of mukluks that we had sent down that I can wear as well. I’m also wearing a stole that has more Native designs on it.
Miller: Maybe this is hard to know, but if you were going to a different school... As you mentioned, your younger brother is going to a different school and you have big questions about whether or not he would be able to wear the kinds of culturally significant items that you just described. If you were a senior right now at a different school and you couldn’t wear these, or you had to seek permission and go through a whole process to be able to wear the things you just mentioned, do you have a sense for what that would be like?
Descombes: I probably wouldn’t be very happy. For a while, I didn’t speak out about these kinds of things. And so, I kind of learned a lot about statistics. When I went to the school my brother goes to, we didn’t have a center at all to connect with other Native youth. And if I was not going to my school, I don’t think I would be very happy. I know that if I had to fight for this, it would be really hard because there’s not a lot of Native students there and I would probably be one of very few students who would try and fight for this, and to speak out against it.
Miller: What got you to this place where you are now where you were willing to speak out and not just say something within your own school community, but to speak to lawmakers? This is something that most high schoolers, most Oregonians in general, haven’t done. It seems like a potentially scary thing. What made the difference where you said, ‘I’m going to use my voice in this way?’
Descombes: I came on as an intern to some of the people at NAYA that work in advocacy and they were doing legislative week. I got to see all the bills that they were working on. I saw the bill and read about it and talked about it to a couple of my friends and asked them if they would speak up for it. I haven’t really been someone who uses my voice to speak in front of a lot of people. And I realized that a lot of the other youth were also taught through generations to not speak about these kinds of things. They were [the] kinds of stuff you talk about behind closed doors.
I got to a point where I had realized a whole bunch of stuff and decided that I was going to at least write testimony. [As] I wrote my written testimony, and everything I put in it, I realized it would be heard a lot better if I said it out loud... and [I] submitted it. Some of the stuff I put in there was really hard... I talked about the abuse and horrible stuff that happened to my Elders and sadly, other people’s elders who aren’t from my tribe. After writing all of it, I realized this is something people will listen to a lot easier if I said it [out loud]. When people read these kinds of things, it’s not something people will want to continue reading because it has hard parts in it
Miller: By talking, you could force them to pay attention to you.
Descombes: Yeah. It was really nerve racking because I talk about some stuff that is really hard to say out loud, especially when you were taught not to say these kinds of things. I got to a point where I know other people might not talk about this since they were taught not to… They want to say stuff, but they can’t. It made it a little easier to say all of the things that I had to say during my testimony.
Miller: Leilani Sabzalian, you mentioned that story earlier about your push on behalf of the Lakota Sioux Elder, Wilma Crow, to help her great granddaughter be able to wear a stole... In that case, or in others, what do schools say in attempting to justify these kinds of bans?
Sabzalian: A common framing is that students’ cultural expression will violate... There’s policies called ‘no adornment’ policies. These are very widespread and it’s one of the logics that’s often used. In this case in the school, the administrator said our parent committee voted on this no adornment policy, and if we let Native students express their cultural identities, then we’re going to have to let other clubs express themselves and wear stoles. There’s often this logic that’s a false equivalence between Native youth and their sovereign right to cultural expression, and clubs. Interestingly, a lot of these schools still allow academic honor cords. With this administrator in particular, we tried to say [that] Native students have disproportionate access to those academic honor cords, first of all, given our graduation rates. But also eagle feathers are a symbol of their academic achievement. They have spiritual, religious and cultural value. They’re also ceremonial, given during times of major accomplishment.
Miller: You made a larger point in your testimony that I want to make sure that we can cover here, which is that you pointed out in your own words, while you fervently support the intent of this bill, you don’t think it’s legally necessary. To such an extent that, if I understood you correctly, you had some qualms about even testifying in support of it because you didn’t like the implication that you needed permission, or that Native youth would need permission to wear culturally significant items. Can you describe what you mean?
Sabzalian: Of course I advocated for the bill, I support it 100%. There’s a contradiction in having to advocate for rights that are already inherent. I talked about our inherent sovereignty. That means that it comes from within our people, within our communities. These aren’t rights that are given or granted to us. Let’s say this bill didn’t pass. I didn’t want Native youth to feel like they can’t express themselves in this way.
There’s another layer here that these rights are already protected. There are federal laws in place that protect Native peoples’ rights to use eagle feathers, for example, for cultural and ceremonial and spiritual purposes. There’s also federal and state civil rights that protect Native students’ religious freedom, as well as their free speech. So, there’s already a lot of layers that offer them protection. In addition to the fact that we can embody our sovereignty. I just feel that our rights need to be exercised for them to be recognized and respected. We don’t need to wait for someone to recognize them for us.
Miller: So in a sense, local administrators should already have been allowing regalia or culturally significant items. How confident are you that going forward, administrators will know to follow this new state law?
Sabzalian: I think policies and laws are really important. They give us firm ground to stand on, but they have to be accompanied by building capacity. We’re really fortunate in Oregon that we have an office of Indian Education led by April Campbell and Ramona Halcomb.
We’re really fortunate that we have the nine federally recognized tribal nations in government to government relationship with the Oregon Department of Education. We’re fortunate that we have tribal history, shared history, the law that mandates curriculum on tribal sovereignty and treaties and history, etc, that passed in 2017. I feel like our capacity in the state is building, indebted to this kind of long legacy of activism.
But there’s examples where policies are already in place and educators violate them. My friend Ayyu Qassataq… In Anchorage, there was a policy that Native students could wear items of cultural significance to graduation. They had to request permission from the district, which I disagree with, but if they were granted permission they could wear them. In this case, her son was granted permission. But an educator, an official at the graduation event, confiscated his sealskin cap and gave him a plane mortarboard and said it violated policy. But it didn’t violate policy, right?
So, we need to build capacity. And now we have a very clear, firm ground to do that.
Miller: Leya Descombes, before we say goodbye, I’m just curious. You’re graduating a week from today from high school. What does it mean to you to be graduating?
Descombes: It means a lot. I know a lot of the other students graduating with me are first generation students to graduate from high school. Before this bill was passed, to be able to wear my traditional clothing... It means a lot to me since I’ve been living in Oregon for a while now and we don’t go out to Alaska very often. So, it gives me a chance to connect with my family up in Alaska and my ancestors. To be able to wear something so personal, especially since it’s made for you for a specific thing, is really powerful.
I know a lot of other students who are graduating this year feel the same and it’s going to be really emotional. It means a lot for me to be able to do this, especially since when my brother found out he was really excited.
Miller: Well, congratulations and thanks very much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
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