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.

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