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Welcome to YIMBY!

Bend – if you hadn’t noticed – is in the middle of a housing crisis!

Vacancy rates are really low: even if you have the money to rent a place, it can be difficult finding something that’s open.

And for a lot of people, it can be tough to find a place they can afford, either to rent, or as a first home to purchase. Even if you have a home already, there are good reasons to be concerned about this: could your kids afford to live here if they wanted? How about people like nurses, firefighters, police and teachers, to say nothing of all those who work in jobs that pay even less.

According to a local survey of people experiencing homelessness, economic factors are one of the top reasons people become homeless: the rent is too high for many.

Bend YIMBY is one of many YIMBY – “Yes In My Back Yard” – groups springing up around the country, in places that have housing problems. We are pro-housing, in order to keep prices under control.

What we need is more housing supply to match the demand.  But that doesn’t just mean lots of tract housing on the east side, with cul-de-sacs and arterial roads that no one wants to walk along.  It means more options throughout town. Apartments, townhouses, duplexes, triplexes, and yes, of course, single family homes too.

We used to build a wider variety of options than we do now.  For instance, the O’Kane building (1918) originally had ground floor retail, some office space, and living quarters upstairs.

Image result for o'kane building bend oregon

Not far away are the Broadway apartments, also around 100 years old:

What we do:

  • Advocate for specific developments that add to housing options within town – apartments, mixed use (commercial and housing built together), and other things that add more variety.
  • Advocate for policies that have the potential to add housing, and to the variety of housing options available.
  • Advocate for a broad mix of development styles, sizes and costs, and which include safe and convenient ways to get around to work, school or play.

If you’d like to join us, sign up for our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BendYIMBY or our announcement mailing list.

Nate’s Story

A lot of discussion about housing is at the abstract level, about floor area ratios and setback minimums and other esoteric measurements.

At the end of the day though, it’s all about people, and who gets to live in Bend. 

Here’s the story of Nate Wyeth, who many of us know through his beautiful nature photography of Central Oregon:


Today, our landlord informed us that he’d be selling the house we’ve been renting from him for the last six years. My wife and I have called Bend home for nearly 15 years, her working as a social worker and a teacher, me in nonprofit development and marketing. After many years of work in youth development, I’ve shifted my focus to sustainability and responsible tourism. We both care deeply about the future of this place we call home.

We’re educated, have a household income well above the median in Bend, are still digging out of our student loan debt at a rate of $1,200 a month, and face a genuine reality that we may no longer afford to call Bend home.

We love this town, the community surrounding us, the lifelong friends we’ve made. We feel good about the impact we’ve been able to have on our community. There are thousands of others in our shoes. Teachers, nurses, police officers, and others.

I suppose I should be grateful that through a second job, I could get a great deal on a camper, which may be our new home should we no longer afford housing in Bend. We’d become part of the “hidden homeless” population, a place I never thought we’d end up.

We’ve worked hard; we went to college; we created lives for ourselves in careers that focused on making our community a better place. What pains me more than thinking about ourselves (we’ll be okay) is thinking about the thousands of less fortunate others.

And sure, Bend is growing more quickly than anyone could have imagined. Similar towns are experiencing the same. Those communities will need teachers, social workers, police officers, firefighters, nurses; you get the point. But, those folks don’t make enough money to afford to live here, especially on a single income. 

So, what happens to a growing city like Bend when teachers, police officers, firefighters, and nurses cannot afford to live here? I guess we’ll find out soon enough. St. Charles currently has over 600 open nurse positions. 

“But have you considered looking at housing in a nearby community?” they say. “They” forget about the costs (and time) associated with commutes into the office and into town to run errands and more. A 60-mile round trip commute costs about $33.60. Do that five times a week for a year, and you’re looking at $5k – $10k in hidden costs associated with buying in a bedroom community, where homes are generally $50k-$150k cheaper than in Bend. But, you add up those annual hidden costs, and you’re looking at $150k-$300k over a 30-year mortgage just to buy further away. Those costs completely negate any initial savings of buying a home 30 miles outside of town. Currently, my wife and I both walk or bike to work daily. That’s money we can save to buy a home at some point. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can convince our employers to allow us to work remotely as often as possible. And that’s to say nothing of the environmental costs of all that driving.

Local and state leaders are working on this problem, with a current focus on HB 2001, which re-legalizes a variety of housing options throughout our cities. I’m hopeful – but not too optimistic about the short-term prospects. I fear much of this is too little, too late for folks like us. It’s good to see these reforms – but they were needed 20 years ago.

Even if the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now, and it’s time to implement HB 2001 in Bend without delay, in order to facilitate the production of desperately needed homes. People are being pushed out of town, away from friends and family every day. These rule changes won’t fix all our housing woes overnight, but further delay is unconscionable. And we can’t stop there: we need down payment assistance for normal folks with household incomes under $150k. We need to do something about PMI and taxes. We need to look at a variety of options to make homes more affordable. Otherwise, we lose the people who make this city run. 

I am thankful that local leaders are working on solutions, but I don’t think they feel the urgency that those of us who rent do. It’s one thing to understand a problem, another to be worried sick because you don’t know where you’ll live next year or next month.

Community is defined by the people who are part of it. When the heart and soul of our community can no longer afford to live here, what does Bend become? I don’t know, but I don’t like the direction we’re heading with every new million-dollar house being built or sold.

Most sincerely,

Nate Wyeth

Bend Resident (for now)


If you’d like to do something to help add desperately needed homes in Bend, please let our city council know that we need to implement HB2001 as soon as possible, and do whatever else we can to increase the supply of homes the people who work here can afford: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/support-affordable-housing-options-in-bend

Support more affordable homes in Bend

In 2019, Oregon passed a law to re-legalize certain types of more affordable housing throughout our cities: 2, 3 and 4-plexes, and cottage clusters. These are the kinds of less expensive homes that we desperately need in the midst of a rapidly worsening housing crisis.

But wealthy homeowners here in Bend are fighting to water it down, delay it, and stop homes from being built!

This bill had bipartisan support, including votes in favor from Republicans Cheri Helt, our state representative in Bend at the time, and Tim Knopp, our state Senator. It was signed into law by Governor Kate Brown that summer, two years ago.

After the bill became law, Bend put together a “stakeholder group” representing various interests to hammer out the implementation for our city. The results are a compromise between different points of view, and one worth moving forward with, rather than drawing everything out endlessly with “public comments” from people unfamiliar with the details of the new law and what it requires the city of Bend to do.

There was plenty of time to comment on the legislation – our YIMBY group met with Rep. Helt at the beginning of 2019! Bend’s stakeholder group has been working for months, and there has been ample opportunity to comment or discuss what they’ve been drafting.

Every day we delay making it possible to add a diversity of homes is a day closer to pushing more people out of Bend, away from friends and family. Please consider:

  1. Writing Bend’s planning commission today (they’re meeting to discuss this June 14th), asking them to approve the HB 2001 code changes without delay: cityplanningcommissionall@bendoregon.gov (use our ready-made letter here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/please-support-affordable-housing-options-in-bend )
  2. Write Bend’s City Council: councilall@bendoregon.gov – ask them to implement the HB 2001 code changes without delay.
  3. Sign this petition: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/support-affordable-housing-options-in-bend
  4. Share with your friends!

Snow and Financial Productivity

We can argue at length about the right levels of taxes and services that we would all prefer to have in our city, but at the end of the day, you have to take in enough money to provide the level of services – roads, police, schools, and so on – that you would like to provide.

One way to accomplish that is by using the land in a financially productive way. Land that sits empty takes in relatively little in taxes. Land that has structures for people to live and work in is going to provide more revenue.

Hopefully, we’re done with big snow storms for this year, but they are illustrative of how infill development that uses already urbanized land more intensely is a financial win. For instance, below is the satellite image of the land where some apartments currently under construction will be, in a nice, walkable west side location.

The existing roads are already plowed when it snows. So all the extra tax revenue from this new housing can go to pay for other expenses in the city. The road department doesn’t have to plow one single extra bit of road!

Since the apartments aren’t there yet, we can look at some similar apartments to get a ballpark idea of how much they might take in: conservatively, over 200,000 dollars!

No extra plowing necessary!

Let’s also consider some single family units towards the edge of town:

The whole cul-de-sac needs plowing, paid for by the much smaller property tax take

All told, these pay in around 40,000 dollars in property taxes – far less than the apartments – and do require snow plowing on the road built to let people access their homes. They also require more roads to be paved, longer sewer pipes to reach all of them… more of everything, just for several homes. The apartments house a lot more people, utilizing a similar amount of land. And furthermore, the people living there could walk or bike to a lot of local amenities that are close by, and not need to drive, saving the roads some wear and tear, and keeping some CO2 out of the atmosphere.

This isn’t to say we should all live in apartments, or not allow single family units or anything like that. But where there’s a market for apartments or condos in Bend, we’ll all benefit if they’re built. They’re a great investment in our city that we all benefit from.

What About Water?

Occasionally when the topic of adding housing in Bend comes up, someone asks: “where will all the water come from for these extra people? We live in a desert!”.

It’s certainly good to keep an eye on our natural resources and avoid squandering them. However, it turns out that cities and housing consume less water than agriculture. A lot less.

And denser, more compact cities consume even less water, which makes sense if you think about it. Ten homes in a three story apartment or condo building are going to need a lot less water than 10 homes spread out on large lots with big lawns.

The chart is from a report that’s a few years out of date, but the point stands: there’s a lot of room to grow “Municipal and Industrial” – especially if we really started to discourage things like wasteful lawns.

Source: https://www.deschutesriver.org/what-we-are-doing/upper-deschutes-basin-study/

For an even more in-depth look at what water usage in the Deschutes River basin looks like, this report from Central Oregon Landwatch is an important read, that goes into some detail about how much water is wasted: https://www.centraloregonlandwatch.org/update/2021/5/5/drought-and-the-deschutes-looking-at-the-same-river-twice

Doesn’t everyone want to live here?

Many people understand that housing, like anything else, is a question of supply and demand. But there are some holdouts who think that it’s simply not possible for supply to catch up to demand.

I think some of this stems from how much they may like a place – Bend in this case. “It’s the best place in the world! It’s perfect!” – so why would anyone want to live anywhere else? And thus an unlimited supply of people wanting to live here.

There are a couple of problems with that line of reasoning:

First of all, Bend’s great, but not everyone likes the snow, or the smoke in the summer we sometimes get from fires.  Or the chilly spring and relatively cool nights all year long that make growing things difficult. And others would prefer a larger, less remote city with more amenities.  Perhaps other people feel Bend is already too big.  Some people love the ocean and want to live near it. Others want to be where there is more action in terms of high paying jobs. Being near a major research university is a draw for some.  I’ve even talked with athletes who take into consideration Bend’s relative flatness, as compared to a place like Boulder, Colorado, which has steep mountains right out of town: Flagstaff road for cycling or Mt Sanitas for hiking or running.

In other words, Bend’s certainly not perfect – as much as we may love it, it’s not for everyone.

Secondly, as further proof of this point, if you talk with people from other popular places who are convinced that it’s impossible for supply to catch up to demand, it seems that they’re all convinced that there is an unlimited number of people who want to move to their town, whether it’s

  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Portland
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Austin
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Santa Barbara
  • etc…

It would seem that it cannot literally be true that everyone wants to live in all those places, and that, indeed, people do have preferences for different places depending on size, climate, activities, jobs and so on.

If we allow supply to catch up to demand, people will sort themselves out anyway.

 

California

Having been born and raised in Oregon, California has been a touchy subject for as long as I can remember; I’ve heard all the jokes. However, as YIMBYs, we welcome people from everywhere, no matter where they “decided” to be born.

There is no doubt that California’s housing crisis affects us here in Oregon, though. The average house price in San Francisco is over 1.3 million dollars – and there are other areas in the Bay Area that cost even more. Sure, there’s high demand to live there, but there has also been an abject failure to provide enough housing for all the jobs in the area, something that has ratcheted prices up, and up, and up, to the point where on a cost of living basis, poverty in California is the highest in the nation. Here’s a chart of housing production over the years in California. Even during the boom years it never hit highs from previous decades, despite more and more people wanting to live there to have access to jobs and other positive aspects of life in that state.

No wonder some people there can afford to sell out and move here because it’s “cheap”; and others, who have no hope of buying a home where they’re from, move to Oregon!

Oregon’s pretty nice, and I think people would move here anyway even if housing costs weren’t a factor. That’s great! I like living in a place where other people choose to live too.  It sure beats living someplace that’s slowly fading away because there are no reasons to live there anymore.

But it’d also be nice if everyone who wanted to could find a place – maybe not the largest, fanciest place, but someplace – to live in California if that’s where they want to live – for a job, to stay close to family, or just because it’s right for them.

At Bend YIMBY, we decided we’re not quite to the point where we can endorse candidates during the current election here in Bend… but it seems like a lot of people here know someone in California, and we’d sure like to encourage them to vote for the YIMBY’s there! Go check out these

As we fight to keep Bend a healthy, affordable city with housing options, we realize that it’s a fight that is going on in many cities and towns across the country, and we support those doing their part to fix larger cities throughout the broader west coast that influence our own housing market.

 

Housing and business

Housing in Bend is way more expensive than our median take home pay, which is one reason why the housing crisis is felt so acutely here.  Prices are starting to get high enough that businesses are having trouble attracting people.  Perhaps some of those businesses can afford to pay more, but not everything operates at high margins.

The StartupBend.com web site does a great job covering local entrepreneurs, startups and tech in town, all things that can contribute to higher paying, rewarding jobs in Bend, which, as economist Enrico Morretti points out in his book The New Geography of Jobs can have a lot of positive effects for the economy beyond the people hired and companies hiring them.  With the caveat that we need to do more to ensure that high paying jobs don’t simply drive up housing prices as has happened in places like Boulder, Colorado or the California Bay Area.

They were kind enough to add a guest post regarding housing and business: https://startupbend.com/articles/guest-post-how-the-yimby-movement-aims-to-tackle-affordable-housing-and-why-tech-startups-should-pay-attention/