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.
Bend Resident (for now)