Unexplained vacancies, unsure needs lead to city housing study.
Despite a record Oregon State University enrollment fall 2013, Corvallis’ rental market has the highest vacancy rate in years.
“(Previously), there have been times in September when there was no place to rent,” said the city housing program specialist Bob Loewen.
In years with a vacancy rate less than 1 percent, property owners from Albany, Lebanon, and even Salem were advertising to students in Corvallis.
Now, Corvallis has an estimated 3.5 percent vacancy rate, the highest that it has been in at least five years.
“It’s in constant flux,” Loewen said. “We are a very transient community, which makes it difficult to track.”
Students and employees of OSU, tech companies and medical facilities like Samaritan Health attribute to the constant growth and changes in housing, a makeup that is not new to Corvallis.
There are approximately 13,100 rental units in Corvallis, but there is little accurate data regarding how many, and there is a lack of accurate data explaining either vacancy and rental patterns, or general housing needs.
Loewen attributes the higher vacancy rate to OSU’s largest graduating class June 2013, and the mandate for all incoming freshman this year to live on campus.
Dawn Duerksen of Duerksen and Associates has been tracking more than a dozen major property management agencies in Corvallis comprehensively for more than a year. She tracks the vacancy rates, prices and locations and has now been able to compare the vacancy rates with those of last year.
For the week of Feb. 10-14, Duerksen recorded 167 units available, up significantly from the same time last year with 92 open units.
“I haven’t seen this big of a vacancy,” Duerksen said.
While reasons why this year has seen more vacant rentals is unclear, the timing of when moving occurs and when properties typically become available plays a role.
According to Duerksen, leases run from June 1 to July 15, so those early-summer months are when the majority of moving happens. A smaller percentage of what Duerksen calls “the last minuters,” typically college students coming in from out of town, end up looking for places to live in September.
It’s not just OSU students that follow this renting cycle. Families, especially those with children, move in and out during the summer months when school is not in session.
“Almost all the big percentage of moving in Corvallis revolves around school, no matter the age,” Duerksen.
The most sought-after properties are those within walking distance to OSU campus. However, if these properties become available during off-season winter, they may stay vacant for months.
The city will be conducting a housing study over the next few months to evaluate what types of housing Corvallis residents are looking for. As it stands, there is only piecemeal data from property owners like Duerksen and Loewen with the city’s housing department. The study will include data on vacancy rates, property values, demographics and commuter standards.
There is currently a net migration of 8,000 people who come into Corvallis to work, but live elsewhere.
“We want to learn more about those folks who work in Corvallis and don’t live there,” said Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning.
Currently, it is unknown if those commuters choose to live outside Corvallis, or if they are forced to by a lack of availability or affordable options.
The data from the study will be available in July and the city plans to analyze those findings for assistance in policy changes and a clearer understanding of what Corvallis housing needs really are.