Featured

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.

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.

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

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.