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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.

Cities are for people

You’ve probably heard this story. It’s a bit corny, but the point is a good one:

A philosophy professor once stood before his class with a large empty jar. He filled the jar with large rocks and asked his students if the jar was full.

The students said that yes, the jar was full.

He then added small pebbles to the jar and asked again, “Is the jar full now?”

The students agreed that the jar was indeed full.

The professor then poured sand into the jar and asked again.

The students then agreed that the jar was finally full.

The professor went on to explain that the jar signifies one’s life.

The rocks are equivalent to the most important things in your life, such as family, health, and relationships. And if the pebbles and the sand were lost, the jar would still be full and your life would still have a meaning.

The pebbles represent the other things that matter in your life, such as your work, school, and house. These things often come and go, and are not permanent or essential to your overall well-being.

And finally, the sand represents the remaining small stuff and material possessions in your life. These things don’t mean much to your life as a whole and are likely only done to waste time or get small tasks accomplished.

The metaphor here is that if you start with putting sand into the jar, you will not have room for rocks or pebbles. This holds true for the things you let into your life too.

With cities, people are the rocks. The most important thing. They should be first and foremost. Other things like storage for automobiles, are simply not as important as space for people. Make space for people to live, work and do business, and then figure out the other things.

Homelessness – no easy answers

Anyone who tells you there is a quick and easy fix for homelessness is “selling you a bill of goods”. It’s not true. It’s a problem years in the making, with many complicated aspects, and we’re not going to make it go away overnight.

Homelessness is about housing. It doesn’t take a doctorate in economics to understand that when something becomes more expensive, fewer people can afford it. The same thing is true of housing, believe it or not!

As YIMBYs, we believe in housing abundance – more housing of all shapes and sizes. But Bend residents without any housing are those furthest away from benefiting from more market-rate housing. Housing abundance is the best long-term solution, but it will take time.

“Drugs” are often cited by armchair experts as a cause of homelessness. But when we look at the facts, West Virginia has a raging opioid epidemic, and far lower rates of people without a place to sleep. Why? Because housing is cheaper there. To be clear, some people clearly have issues with substance abuse, but it becomes that much more difficult to help them if housing is extremely expensive. This article goes into some detail about substance abuse and housing, and is well worth a read: https://homelessness.ucsf.edu/blog/how-atlantics-big-piece-meth-and-homelessness-gets-it-wrong 

Some claim that if you build shelters and give people a helping hand, it will “entice” people to move to Bend. Really? Come on… it’s cold and not easy here in the winter, and if people are really moving for “amenities”, they’re going to go somewhere warmer with more services. San Francisco, Los Angeles or Portland, for instance. Most people who do not have a home in the Bend area were living here prior to becoming homeless (source: a recent “point in time” count). They’re our neighbors, for the most part, not people who decided that living in a tent in winter in Bend sounded like fun.

So what can be done? What do we want our city to be like? Here are some thoughts and facts:

  • We believe everyone’s person and property ought to be secure. This includes businesses seeing camps spring up outside their front doors. They should not bear the burden of a systemic failure. It also includes people without any place to store their belongings.
  • The Martin vs Boise court case says that: “cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population. The decision was based on the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”
  • Our city does have some latitude to remove campers for health and safety reasons, but we cannot legally wholesale stop camping everywhere without having places for people to go.
  • Even if the city of Bend could do that, Bend does not control land owned by the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service outside of town. Push people out of town to, say, China Hat road, and you haven’t solved any problems, you’ve just shuffled them around. Now you have a bunch of people living in the woods, where they’re more liable to accidentally start a fire, and are far from services and jobs.
  • Which means the best option to divert people from camping on our streets is to have managed shelters of various types. What kinds, for who, where is a tricky question, and probably better suited for experts rather than, say, the loudest voices on social media, who know the people they are dealing with. We’re not going to see “one size fits all” solutions. 
  • If we build no shelters, we get the status quo, with unmanaged camps popping up here and there and everywhere.

So the bargain should look something like: we make safe, managed places available for people, and stop allowing random, unstructured, unsupervised camps on sidewalks and by roads.

This is safer and more predictable for everyone involved. Services will be available at the shelters. Trash pickup and toilets will keep the sites cleaner – and we should hold our elected officials and city staff to this promise.

Of course, it won’t be an overnight fix. Don’t believe anyone who promises that it will be.

Further reading:

Denver built managed camps, and like here, people were apoplectic. Until things actually went fairly well and the sky did not fall: https://denverite.com/2021/05/30/denvers-first-two-sanctioned-campsites-won-over-their-housed-neighbors-now-theyre-moving/

Homelessness is caused by scarcity of dwellings. The people who suffer the most from housing scarcity tend to be people who have other problems, too. But in a world of housing plenty, those problems don’t need to generate widespread homelessness. Conversely, if there aren’t enough homes to go around, then no amount of mental health services is going to fix the fact that someone is stuck without a place to live. 

https://www.slowboring.com/p/homelessness-is-about-housing-not

Hacking land use laws for economic segregation

Most of our land use laws in Oregon have good intentions behind them. But in the hands of people with money, acting in bad faith, they can be used to further economic segregation of our cities. Here’s an example of that in action.

We’ve been following a proposed development on Awbrey Butte: https://bendyimby.com/2021/09/14/how-housing-in-bend-gets-more-expensive-and-is-slow-to-build/ and the neighbors are fighting tooth and nail.

They keep writing comments like:

  • Why is the developer going to “build multiplexes rather than classy
    single-family homes”.
  • “this type of development that does not fit in with the neighborhood”
  • “Awbrey Butte was not built for high density. Why? For high end large homes on large lots”
  • “We want the developers to plan single-family residences on 12,500 sq. ft. lots”
  • “The current Awbrey Butte neighborhood is a highly sought after place to live, and would cease to be so in the future with the addition of the large number of tenants the proposed development would bring, thus lowering the property values significantly. We bought this home as an investment and expected it to continue to retain it’s excellent property value far into the future.”

At the public meeting, there were a lot of worries about “renters” being in the neighborhood.

There are also the usual laments about automobiles. Parking, traffic and so on. How the roads are steep and dangerous in the snow. They are, but that doesn’t stop the current residents from living there. Perhaps they should think of the potential new residents as allies in trying to get the city to plow/cinder their streets faster?

In any event though, the basic desire to keep out slightly less expensive, and not “classy” duplexes is pretty clear, but thanks to Oregon’s HB2001, that is no longer a valid objection. So the residents did some digging, and found a rule – “Street Connectivity and Formation of Blocks standards (BDC 3.1.200.D)” – that is in place to provide better connectivity in neighborhoods.

It’s a good rule! Look at this article from several years ago where we found two adjacent lots that require a mile+ walk to get from one to the other! The city should be actively discouraging that kind of thing, and this rule does just that.

That said, the development under consideration is on a fairly steep portion of Awbrey Butte, which is not conducive to a grid. And the piece of land in question isn’t even really conducive to a simple loop, because the terrain is steep.

Do the neighbors really care about street connectivity? Let’s look at a map:

The new cul-de-sac for the proposed development is marked in blue (approximate location). Existing cul-de-sacs are marked in red.

They have spent a lot of money on homes in an area with a large number of cul-de-sacs! But this is the rule they found where the developer is not 100% in compliance, and where an exception to the rule is required for the development to go forward. So they are weaponizing it in order to try and stop or slow the development.

The thinking is along these lines: the more time and legal expenses they can tie up the developer with, the more likely the developer either gives up and sells the land, or accedes to their demands and builds “quality, classy single family units” rather than duplexes for undesirables like “renters”.

The City of Bend is bound to follow the letter of the law in order to avoid lawsuits against their own process, and so this has now been elevated to a formal hearing process. If you guessed that this will cost the developer more time and money, between legal fees, city fees and delays, which will then be included in the price of the homes being built, you guessed correctly!

Some of the neighbors even have the gall to complain that the homes being built are not going to be cheap enough (they are on Awbrey Butte in a nice area, after all), at the same time their own efforts are driving up the prices. They’re even threatening to drag the whole thing out all the way up to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

We should strive for more, rather than less diverse neighborhoods in Bend, and we desperately need more homes of all shapes and sizes. Our land use laws should serve to create a great place for everyone, rather than as a cudgel for the wealthy to exclude others from “their” neighborhoods.

If you don’t think this kind of thing is ok, sign up for Bend YIMBY communications here: https://bendyimby.com/join-us/ . We’ll let you know when the hearing happens so you can voice your support for more homes in Bend!

Making room vs growth for growth’s sake

Occasionally, we get accused of being “developer shills”.

We aren’t. We recognize that Bend desperately needs more homes, and developers are the people who build homes, so as far as that goes, we need what they make – but we are not in it to see them get rich.

There are people and businesses that benefit from Bend growing. The more people that move here and the faster the city grows, the better, from their point of view!

All things considered, growing is probably better than stagnation, but YIMBYs are not promoters of growth. We just want there to be enough homes for everyone. We recognize that in a bidding war between someone from Seattle moving to Bend with money, and a single mom working two jobs, the person with money is going to win. So we need to make room for everyone – by the time it comes to a bidding war, the single mom has already lost. We want to make room for both the mom and the family from Seattle.

HB2001!

On Wednesday, September 16th, Bend’s city council voted unanimously to pass a first reading of the HB2001 code changes. Final approval was given on October 6th.

In practice, that means that Bend will soon allow a variety of “middle housing” types – including 4-plexes and “cottage clusters”. With our ongoing housing crisis, we desperately need the variety that this provides.

HB2001 has been a long time in the making. Our YIMBY group started advocating for it when we met with then state representative Cheri Helt back in early 2019. There is a long list of people to thank:

  • Tina Kotek for sponsoring it.
  • Cheri Helt and Tim Knopp for voting in favor.
  • Kate Brown for signing it.
  • Bend’s Stakeholder Advisory Committee for hammering out various compromises to the code detail. In particular, Katherine Austin and Scott Winters.
  • Pauline Hardie from the city of Bend for shepherding the extensive changes through the process.
  • Lynne McConnell from the city of Bend for explaining so succinctly and powerfully why this legislation was necessary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4dC1NAldzY&t=786s
  • Bend’s city council for approving these changes. Councilor Melanie Kebler wrote a great piece for the Bulletin: Bend code changes will all people of all incomes to live together

This isn’t going to fix all Bend’s housing problems, but it’s a start at allowing more a larger variety of homes to be built throughout town.

How housing in Bend gets more expensive and is slow to build

Bend’s housing crisis is growing worse, and YIMBYs support housing of all shapes and sizes to help supply keep up with demand. 

This project is not particularly unique, but it illustrates one way that the costs of housing get driven up in Bend. There are things that are out of our control, like the spike in lumber prices that now appears to be receding, but one thing we see over and over is people who “got theirs” trying to prevent other people from living near them.

The story of Awbrey Butte development starts a while back – but not that far back, either. I’ve talked with people who remember riding mountain bikes on the trails up there. This USGS Topographic Map is from 1981 and shows some roads being penciled in, but there were no homes, only Central Oregon Community College. Every single home there was built on formerly open land where people walked, deer grazed, and trees grew. All these spaces were lost when their homes, and the wide roads leading to them were built.

In this case, what’s being proposed are some duplexes near the summit of Awbrey Butte. They won’t be cheap – nothing in that area is, but they will be cheaper than the equivalent single family units. When we have people moving to town with money, and we don’t build new housing, it does not stop them from moving here. What happens is they will compete for the homes that already exist in Bend. And when there’s a bidding war, they’ll win, since they have money. By accommodating them in new housing, it helps keep existing housing more affordable.

Being a wealthy, newer area, it’s also extremely car-dependent. You can’t walk to any corner stores or local cafes or shops or much of anything else. So new development will add more traffic – just like the homes of the people complaining!

The neighbors are circulating a petition that reads like a greatest hits of NIMBYism:

  • “It’s too dense!”
  • “Alter the character of the neighborhood!” 
  • “Parking!”
  • “Fire danger!”
  • “Steep hills…winter!”
  • Our area of town is special, density should go somewhere else!”

Most of the arguments about potential “problems” apply very much to their own homes, which radically altered the area by replacing pines, juniper and sagebrush open space with extremely expensive homes and wide streets. Their houses rely on steep streets that require the city to spend a lot of money plowing them in winter. Fire could race up the hills towards them, too.

People elsewhere in town may grumble about some of these perceived problems, like having to share their own part of town with new neighbors – but the people in this neighborhood have a whole lot of money and are funding lawyers to oppose development near them. They’re circulating a petition they want to send to the planning commission and city council. 

All this obstruction will, of course, drive up the cost of development, because the developer is going to have to spend money of his own on lawyers and extra bureaucracy, making already expensive homes even more expensive. It also delays new homes from being built. Someone who could have moved in to them when they move to Bend will be hunting for other housing. Maybe they’ll be competing with you for the home you were hoping to buy.

Edit – December 19th

Looks like this has made the news: https://ktvz.com/top-stories/2021/12/14/awbrey-butte-residents-oppose-proposed-42-unit-middle-housing-development/ – although as is often the case, it ignores the fact that there is a housing crisis and focuses on the “neighbors vs developer” narrative.

If you’re interested in attending the neighborhood meeting and listening to people wail and gnash their teeth about parking and “traffic”, it’s going to be December 23rd at 5:00PM https://meet.google.com/xgf-ohyf-oro – if you’d like, you can tune in and speak up in favor of housing!

Edit – January 12th

The story continues: https://bendyimby.com/2022/01/08/hacking-land-use-laws-for-economic-segregation/

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)

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