Industry Experts Weigh In At Chamber Event

On Tuesday night, the Bend Chamber of Commerce put together a town-hall event with a panel of experts to discuss the workforce housing crisis in Bend. So what’s the crisis? A significant amount of the people who work in Bend, can’t afford to buy a house (or even afford a rental, if they can even find one available) in this city.

Even though the topic intrigues me, I wasn’t planning on going until I noticed that my second-favorite economist, Damon Runberg, (I’ll treat you to “cappy hour” at Thump if you can name my favorite) was on the panel. So I left my wife at home with the boys and headed over to the Tap Room at Deschutes Brewery Public House to check it out.

The event sold out. The room was filled to capacity, and it took forever to get the beer  that was included with my ticket (I tried the Big Rig Bitter. Not bad). The real estate industry was well represented in the audience, with realtors, home builders, title agents, etc. all in attendance. There were also some small business owners and professionals in the room, as well as some various representatives for nonprofits and other groups.

On the panel were:

Tom Kemper-Housing Works

Damon Runberg-Oregon Development Department

Jim Long-City of Bend

Andy High-Central Oregon Builders Association

Kerri Standerwick-The Garner Group Real Estate

So back to the main problem of the night: What can be done to make housing more affordable for people who make their living by working in Bend?

Due to the supply/demand imbalance in Bend, and some systemic issues, there’s no silver bullet that makes housing instantly affordable for everyone, but the panel did outline some proposals that could help.

  1. ADUs – Additional Dwelling Units like granny flats in the back yard of a house or small apartments built over the garage.
  2. “Cottage Code” – Smaller houses, smaller lots, common yards and parking (kind of like Northwest Crossing)
  3. Density Bonus – Allows affordable housing projects to develop more densely than the land is zoned for (for example 1.5 times the current zoning)
  4. SDC Exemptions – Systems Development Charges are a significant portion of the cost of development. These charges pay for the impact of new houses on infrastructure (roads, water) and parks, but can make it impossible to make a development “affordable” as workforce housing. Exemptions would reduce (or maybe eliminate) these charges for certain affordable housing projects.

So which of these proposals do you support? With the population of Bend growing 2.5% per year, and about a two year supply of buildable lots, I’m inclined to favor all of the above, and then some.

It’s a big challenge to add density and affordability without changing the character of existing neighborhoods too much. Personally, I wonder what it would take to make microapartments and tiny home communities a part of the solution.

It will be interesting to see which of these proposals, if any, get adopted and implemented.