Roseburg is growing, and struggling to keep up with that growth, but the city is taking steps to ease the dropping housing vacancy rate.
Community Development Manager Stuart Cowie said one of the weaknesses for Roseburg is the difficulty level for finding rentals due to a very low vacancy rate. According to the U.S. Census bureau, Roseburg’s vacancy rate is 5.8 percent for renters and 3 percent for homeowners, compared to the national rate of 6.7 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.
“We’re really in a housing crunch right now, and since I’ve been here, we’ve had a number of different subdivisions come through that have been approved and we’ve had a number of different individuals with proposals for multifamily dwelling units,” Cowie said. “Although there hasn’t been actual building permits issued, there’s been a lot of people that have been looking at doing that kind of development and developers looking to see how they can fill that need for housing within our community.”
Roseburg has added 1,140 people in the last seven years, more total than any other city in the county, but slower than most cities in Oregon. To date, the county has already processed more permits for single family developments — 186 so far — than all of last year.
“The city is in the process of doing a housing needs analysis and a buildable lands inventory to really get broad data in regards to those numbers; what does the data really look like?” Cowie said. “We’re trying to determine through this study and then look for ways to be able to permit development by making sure our zoning ordinance is one that enables developers to more easily build multi-family housing.”
The average housing price in Roseburg is around $215,000 according to Zillow, a real estate website. Tim Smith from Re/Max said there is no average regarding rentals, but three bedrooms won’t go for less than $850 and two bedrooms for $550 in the county.
Downtown, Elaine Warren is already working at filling a small part of that need with short-term furnished housing. She has six apartments on Cass Street in her historic building and is adding five more next door.
“Our biggest reason for doing this is there is a need that has been demonstrated,” Warren said. “The six that we have are not filling the need in the town. If they were, I would have vacancies, and I don’t ever have vacancies. We turn people down all the time. They call and I don’t have a vacancy for them. I don’t know where they go when I don’t have an apartment for them.”
Warren focuses on restoring old buildings, despite costing more time and money than starting a multi-family dwelling from scratch.
“A person who’s out to make money doesn’t rehab old buildings downtown,” Warren said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s just what I need to do. I have had that desire my entire life. I went to school to learn how to do it, and now I’m doing it.
The building she added to her existing apartments was originally built in 1923 according to the Douglas County Assessor. She bought it in 2015, tore down the stucco, re-added the second story and rebuilt the facade using original bricks to keep the downtown feeling alive. She said she’s seen a few other buildings downtown moving toward restoring their original looks.
“They look like they were supposed to look, like they were when they were built,” Warren said. “When we started removing the stucco, I had a dozen people stop and say ‘Thank you!’”
While Warren’s five additional short-term rentals will not support the growth rate, but Cowie said Roseburg is taking steps with the buildable land analysis and a review the city municipal code to ease the process for developers to go from concept, to opportunity, to completed housing.