The Bogeyman

The housing situation in Bend, and elsewhere, continues to be dire, causing problems for many people. They’re forced to leave because they can’t afford it. We see our friends and family move away. It’s difficult to hire people because they can’t afford to live here.

Whose fault is this? Human beings are wired for stories with “good guys and bad guys”. We want someone to blame. And it’s easier if the bad guy is an “other”, a faceless, far away person or company who we don’t know, like a Wall Street investor rather than our neighbors. If the problem is far away and not really something we can do much about, it absolves us of any responsibility.

There are some common “bogeymen” that come up in conversations about housing.

Short Term Rentals – AirBnB. Bend already places a fair amount of restrictions on these, recently increased the restrictions, and our city council produced a report showing that at the end of the day, they just don’t matter that much. (See these notes from a city council meeting where they were discussed: )

Investors – large companies have bought up a lot of housing around the US, buying it up on the cheap during the great recession. But the reason it’s a ‘good investment’ is because there’s not enough of it. Investors don’t buy up used Toyota Corollas because they are a depreciating asset. They lose value over time. Investors want assets that gain value over time. What better asset than one where someone else will do the dirty work of ensuring there’s not enough of it? Our YIMBY group reads public comments on projects, and shows up at housing hearings in Bend. The people there to say “NO!” to housing are not from Blackrock. They’re our neighbors. This article from Jerusalem Demsas has all the numbers and details about investors and housing: (and says it far more eloquently than I can).

Remote workers – it’s true that some people moved to Bend to work remotely, and they are generally fairly well off. Throughout most of US history, having people with a solid income move to your town would have been considered mostly a good thing. They’ll pay taxes, get involved with local schools and charities, make connections, maybe even start new businesses over time. It’s a heck of a lot better place to be in than a town where people are leaving because the freeway bypassed it or the mill shut down. As Bend’s population has increased, has food got scarce because more of us are competing for the same amount of food? Of course not! More gets trucked in. In reality, more people are good for the food scene: more restaurants open, and supermarkets can stock more niche items that would not sell in a small town.

Californians – we’ve talked about our southern neighbors before: – the problem with California is not the individuals moving here to seek a better life, but the fact that their own housing market is so broken that we feel the results here, and as far away as Idaho, Montana and Colorado.

The reality is that the problem is us. Our neighbors mobilize to try and stop housing from being built. In the past year angry neighbors managed to put a stop to around 60 homes: – and those are just the projects we know about. Who knows how many developers look at the potential for backlash and either decide to wait, scale back their projects (build fewer homes), or build more expensive homes for people with money – the kind the neighbors won’t raise a stink about.

Beyond directly opposing specific developments, the local rules that govern whether there’s “enough” housing, and for who, are often decided by those who already “got theirs” and aren’t really concerned about those who perform so many essential jobs here. Minimum lot sizes, where it’s legal to build apartments (not much of Bend), parking minimums, density rules… there are a lot of levers that our city and state control that could be moved to allow more housing. Almost everyone involved in writing those rules in the past comfortably owned their own home.

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