Special Reports

Bend's housing crisis, Pt. 2: What are solutions?

Not just bigger UGB - new ways to use existing land

Bend's housing crisis: Solutions in sight?

BEND, Ore. - After renting for years, Maren Poletay's landlord sold the home she shared with her kids, her aging father and their three dogs.

Although they can afford $1,700 to $1,800 a month in rent, they've yet to find a home, so for now they live at a Bend motel.

Maren and other renters feel greed is at the root of the problem causing fast-rising rent.

But what we discovered is that although rent costs are rising, so are costs to homeowners, builders and developers.

Andy High, vice president of government affairs with the Central Oregon Builders Association, says that's due to rising construction costs, but also the high cost of land in Bend.    

The problem may lie with the city's long-unchanged urban growth boundary.

"Oregon's urban growth boundary process is really very broken," said Economic Development of Central Oregon Executive Director Roger Lee.

The state passed Bend's version in 1981, but it hasn't expanded in 34 years. The city tried, but the state rejected the last proposal as trying to add too many acres to the city. So now the city is again trying to expand the boundary with a scaled-back version.

Even if it passes muster this time, Bend City Councilor Casey Roats says expanding the UGB won't immediately fix the problem, but it would help.

Lee agrees UGB expansion won't instantly bring inventory to those struggling for housing today.

"There's certainly a longer process once the UGB is expanded," Lee said.

Developers have to add services like sewer, water and roads to those additional properties. Lee expects even with an expansion, it still will be two or three years before rental inventory rises in Bend, specifically from UGB expansion.

A two- to three-year wait won't work for families like Poletay's.      

Meanwhile, the city, working with its Affordable Housing Committee, COBA and others, has passed two new pieces of legislation to bring some quicker solutions.

One allows for cottage or cluster housing that fits into two-acre infill parcels. 

"You're going to see 1,000-square-foot-type houses, front porches, 50 percent common space," High said. "And that's a really cool option -- that's a great infill option to buffer."      

The second piece is an added "density bonus" for builders and developers who want to build affordable housing. It would allow more units per acre when the developer or builder dedicates a certain number of units to a defined level of affordable housing.

Moey Newbold at Central Oregon LandWatch says people also would benefit if homeowners could build rental units on their property, known as accessory dwellings, without current city restrictions.

"The best thing that we can do for our community to provide a variety of options for people to live in," she said.

She says people just starting out can't afford three-bedroom houses, but might afford a one-bedroom accessory dwelling unit.

Newbold says by providing diversity, the community can better accommodate needed workforce housing.

The process of expanding the UGB could change this legislative session.

State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, says Oregon HB 3282 will help Bend grow responsibly over the long term. 

"The end result would be to simplify and make that land planning process cheaper for the cities to go through," he said.    

Not all solutions come from officials and representatives of special interest groups. 

"This is the community's opportunity to get involved," High said. Do they "want to see large lots and back yards, or do they want to see Bend go up (with taller buildings)?"

"You're going to potentially see six- to eight-story buildings," he said, posing the question: "Is that something you want to see in Central Oregon?"      

So there are options -- and, down the road, solutions.    

Unfortunately, for people like Poletay and many others just like her, the problem of a lack of housing cannot be solved soon enough.  

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