By Marina Starleaf Riker • The Bulletin

The number of applications to build accessory dwelling units is at an all-time high after the city of Bend eased rules to build them, according to city data.

In hopes of increasing the supply of affordable rental housing, the Bend City Council approved a measure earlier this year that makes it easier for homeowners to build an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU.

It’s been more than three months since the rule change, and city data show dozens of property owners have applied to build ADUs since the new ordinance went into effect March 17. Between January and March 17, there were five ADU applications filed. But since then, the city has received 40 applications, many of which are being built in the north part of Bend.

And that’s more than in any 12-month period over the past 10 years, according to the data. In 2001, the city received only one ADU application, and that number has grown steadily since then to 37 in 2015.

But many Bend residents are still having trouble finding housing. Cait Ford, who moved from Boston eight months ago, said she has yet to find an apartment of her own and has been renting bedrooms in houses filled with people she doesn’t know.

“It stinks that you have to end up living with strangers,” Ford said. “There’s so many of us in one house because no one can find anything.”

City officials say the change will be gradual, but loosening restrictions to build ADUs will eventually increase the number of affordable rental units available in Bend. Also known as granny flats or garage apartments, the units are commonly found in the form of a studio attached to a home or above a garage.

“We basically allowed a pre-existing demand to be met,” said City Councilor Victor Chudowsky. “The fact that so many applications are coming in, I think that’s a good thing. It’s one way to meet our desperate housing need.”

Bend has a serious affordable housing shortage, with the cost of rentals surging and dozens of people moving to Bend each month. Census data show the number of renters paying more than $700 a month grew more than 45 percent between 2009 and 2014.

Housing developers are taking advantage of the recent rule change. For instance, all eight homes built in the first phase of the Basecamp development between NW Colorado and NW Arizona avenues have ADUs, said Betsey Little, a broker at Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty.

“I think the developer was really smart to include that in the design,” Little said, adding that the remaining 17 units in the development will probably be built with ADUs.

“We had the opportunity to include one, and we didn’t want to limit the ability for someone to have a mother-in-law suite, a guest space or to have rental income,” Little said.

The new rules make it easier for people to build ADUs by removing any requirement for conditional use permits. Prior to the change, builders needed a conditional use permit to build on lots established before 1998. The permits cost around $2,600 and required a community meeting to be held.

Now, the permit runs homeowners a little over $800. The rules also dropped the requirement to notify neighbors before building an ADU, which drew pushback from some city officials and residents who say the units will change the character of Bend’s neighborhoods.

But to expand the city’s urban growth boundary, which provides land for future growth, the city must meet state requirements to reduce sprawl and encourage density. Bend city planners are working on a reduced expansion plan after the state rejected a previous proposal in 2010, saying it was unjustifiably large.

“If you want to expand your boundary, you have to show you’re increasing density in the current boundary,” said Chudowsky. “ADUs are kind of one way to meet the demand under those conditions.”

­— Reporter: 541-633-2160, mriker@bendbulletin.com

14465939