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.

 

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 the 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.  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, 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.

Housing and business

Housing in Bend is way more expensive than our median take home pay, which is one reason why the housing crisis is felt so acutely here.  Prices are starting to get high enough that businesses are having trouble attracting people.  Perhaps some of those businesses can afford to pay more, but not everything operates at high margins.

The StartupBend.com web site does a great job covering local entrepreneurs, startups and tech in town, all things that can contribute to higher paying, rewarding jobs in Bend, which, as economist Enrico Morretti points out in his book The New Geography of Jobs can have a lot of positive effects for the economy beyond the people hired and companies hiring them.  With the caveat that we need to do more to ensure that high paying jobs don’t simply drive up housing prices as has happened in places like Boulder, Colorado or the California Bay Area.

They were kind enough to add a guest post regarding housing and business: https://startupbend.com/articles/guest-post-how-the-yimby-movement-aims-to-tackle-affordable-housing-and-why-tech-startups-should-pay-attention/

 

April YIMBY Meetup

On Monday, April 30th, we’re going to meet at McMenamin’s at 6PM, and as our guest this time we’ll have none other than the mayor of Bend, Casey Roats!

This is obviously a great occasion to come out and chat with the mayor and with other YIMBYs – or even if you’re just curious what we’re all about.

Bring a friend, come on down and grab a beer with us and learn about urbanism, Bend’s history, transportation, the housing crisis and how it all interacts.

We’ll be in the “Smoking Room” at McMenamins, although of course no actual smoking will take place!

If you use Facebook, there’s an “event” there – if you RSVP we’ll have an idea of how many people are coming: https://www.facebook.com/events/1525604614405475/

Street Grids and Traffic

Something that comes up a lot in discussions about housing in Bend is traffic and congestion, especially talking about the east side of town.

If you look at how cities used to be built, with a fine grained grid, it turns out that that’s probably the best strategy.

Grids have been used in cities for thousands of years: the Romans used them and they probably weren’t the first.

The older areas of Bend have a nice grid, where if one intersection is blocked off, you can easily detour around it.  It’s never that far between two points on the grid, and travel is mostly predictable.

Compare and contrast with the east side, which has more cul-de-sac and arterial development, where a few big roads get all the traffic, and many roads don’t go anywhere.  This might be nice for the people who get no traffic, but it has a high cost in terms of resilience and adaptability, two qualities in high demand for a rapidly growing city.

Here are two adjacent properties – neighboring houses – where the drive to get from one to the other is 1.5 miles!

No wonder traffic can be problematic in that area and will get worse as it grows – you have to drive on a major road just to get to a neighboring house!

Unfortunately, I do not know if there are any good solutions to this conundrum – you can’t go back and impose a grid on areas like that at this point, because it’s all built out and people live in those houses.

The best we can do is go back to a sensible, flexible, adaptable design that has served humanity well for thousands of years for our future development.

Further reading: “Everyone knows we have a traffic problem

1947

Bend got its first zoning code in 1947.  You can find that code, along with a map, here: https://www.bendoregon.gov/home/showdocument?id=4197

I find this interesting because most central areas of town were built prior to these regulations coming into force.  Things like

  • Parking minimums
  • Setbacks (how far from the street a building needs to be)
  • Lot Coverage
  • Mixed use

Parking Minimums

Currently, the City of Bend specifies parking minimums for both housing and businesses.   Why bother, though?  Why not leave it up to the market?  If a single guy in an apartment can get by with a bike, walking and the occasional ride from a car sharing service like Uber or Lyft, and doesn’t need a car, why should he have to pay for a parking spot?  In the other hand, if a family needs some guaranteed (not on street) parking, they’re not going to buy a house without it.  Why not just let people figure it out?  This is how things used to be, and it seemed to be ok.

Setbacks

This is the minimum distance from the street that a building must be.  Downtown, we have buildings like the O’Kane building – which was built in 1916.  You can see how it butts right up against he sidewalk – and yet there is still room for a few tables in front of the restaurant!

 

It’s natural for buildings further outside of a downtown area to be more carefree with space – it’s not at a premium there.  But it’s also natural for a town to evolve to better utilize space where it’s most expensive.  That’s what they were doing in that building in 1916.  In 2017, though, zoning has codified the part of town where buildings are allowed to have no setbacks. It’s a very small portion of town.  You can’t build that way anywhere else without getting special permission to do so.

Setbacks often end up as wasted space that no one uses for anything.

Look at the fenced off group of stunted bushes in front of the Bank of America building on Newport and Wall.  They add little to nothing to the aesthetics, and don’t even add much green – the tree just to the right, which occupies a tiny bit of sidewalk is much nicer in terms of greenery and aesthetics.  Why not make the building bigger and utilize the space?

Lot Coverage

Also known as “Floor-Area Ratio” this is the ratio of floors in the building to the total area of the lot.  For instance the O’Kane building covers the entire lot, and has two floors to boot!  It is illegal to build like that in most of Bend.  As with setbacks, it’s natural to evolve to a more intense use of land as a city evolves, but we have restricted that natural evolution – it’s only possible if developers ask for exceptions, or ask to change the zoning.  This process has the potential to be long, drawn out, and expensive.

Mixed Use

There is nothing more traditional than ground floor retail, with offices and housing on the floors above.  It’s a pattern seen throughout the world.  The O’Kane building, once again, built 100 years ago, is a perfect example – it has ground floor retail, with office space above, and was originally built with living space for the owner of the building (Hugh O’Kane was an “undocumented immigrant” who came to the US as a stowaway).  This development pattern is great – it’s flexible, and puts the people who are willing to live there in very close proximity to the things they need on a day to day basis.

It is, sadly, illegal to build for mixed use throughout much of Bend – or many other cities in the US for that matter.

Conclusion

Zoning was introduced for a reason, way back when, in big cities, for real reasons like keeping smelly factories away from schools and people’s homes, but we’ve taken the concept entirely too far.  There’s something to be learned from our past.

Affordable Housing Action!

Bend’s City Council recently received some recommendations to increase the supply of market-rate affordable housing.  The list of ideas was generated by the Bend 2030 group over the period of several months, and contains a lot of sensible suggestions:

http://bend2030.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/reduced-size-FINAL-Bend-Collaborative-Housing-Workgroup-Recommendations.pdf

They won’t magically make Bend affordable to all overnight, but they put in place a variety of policies that will certainly help, and are worth supporting.

Please take a moment and write in support of the proposals:

  • Tell them your story, why this matters to you
  • If any of the ideas jump out at you in particular, tell them what you like about them
  • As always, keep it polite and friendly!