Since 2015, developers in Bend have built, or are in the process of building, more than 130 deed-restricted affordable homes on land once owned by the city.
One more home on the base of Awbrey Butte could join them, following a Wednesday vote by the Bend City Council to designate a 4,300-square-foot lot at NW Roanoke Avenue and NW Third Street as surplus land.
“Every once in a while, we identify, as a city, pieces of land that belong to the city that the city can’t use,” Bend Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell said. “The goal then is to hopefully use whatever that piece of land is to address the affordable housing need in our community.”
Projects approved on surplus land since 2015 include a 64-unit complex off Butler Market Road, 18 one-bedroom apartments planned above a commercial space on Forbes Road and two Habitat for Humanity Homes under construction on NW Hartford Avenue.
The city can sell the surplus land at the cost it takes to transfer a title and recoup any other city investments in the property, which, in turn, cuts down on costs for affordable housing developers, said Lynne McConnell, Bend’s affordable housing manager.
“Unlike a market property, we’re not looking for the highest dollar amount,” she said. “We’re looking for the best bang for our buck — how many families can be helped.”
Each individual home or group of homes isn’t enough to fix the city’s affordable housing shortage, McConnell said, but it helps.
“Each property that we’re able to surplus alone is, of course, not going to solve the challenge that we’re facing, but each property also gives a family the opportunity for more stability and to reach opportunities they wouldn’t have when they’re afraid of being evicted at any moment or living in substandard conditions,” she said.
But Wednesday’s hearing on the land, which the city bought from Deschutes County for $100 in 1961, highlighted a consistent issue that pops up when the city tries to encourage affordable homes in existing neighborhoods. A half-dozen residents of surrounding streets showed up at City Hall to tell the council that a home couldn’t be built on the lot because of topography, traffic and a home’s potential effects on homeowners.
Developing this particular lot will take a lot of work, City Engineer Ryan Oster said. Along with sewer and water line extensions, a developer would need to find a way to improve Roanoke Avenue and most likely move a utility pole that sits 15 feet from the property line, interrupting what should be road. It’s a riddle, Oster said, but one that could be solved.
And declaring the land as surplus does not guarantee that it will be developed. Developers have to bid on it and present their proposals to Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.
“While we don’t have the entire riddle solved on how this could be an affordable project, this is just the first step in the process to go out and maybe get some innovative ideas from the development community,” Oster said. “We will certainly do what we can within the limits of our current code to make this work.”
Barbara Rich, who has lived just south of the lot in question for 21 years, said building a home there and shifting the road could have a huge impact on garbage, recycling and composting pickup and make it more difficult for emergency services to access her street.
“Maybe there’s an affordable lot that gets on the docket, a space for an affordable dwelling unit, but what are the societal impacts? The costs of building that road, the costs of maintaining that road, potentially having to reroute the garbage delivery, which is not insignificant,” she said. “There’s the bigger economic impacts of this one little lot that doesn’t make it affordable in the scheme of things.”
Rich questioned how the lot could stay affordable when it’s in a neighborhood with multiple million-dollar homes. Any project built on the land would need to be deed-restricted affordable housing, meaning it can only be sold or rented to people who meet certain income limits.
Affordable homes for sale are typically limited to people making 80 percent or less of median income in the area, and homes for rent are limited to people making 60 percent or less. In Deschutes County, that means a family of four would need to make $51,200 or less to buy the home and $38,400 or less to rent it.
Different entities have different requirements to keep the homes affordable, McConnell said. Some require that occupants remain below the income limits during the entire time they live in the deed-restricted home; some have a set move-out date, and some just require that the occupant meet income requirements when they move in.
Whenever the property changes hands, the new renter or homeowner must meet income requirements.
“Lenders won’t lend if you don’t meet the income restrictions,” McConnell said.
Other neighbors focused on issues they saw with the lot’s hilly topography. The lot really isn’t suitable to build on, neighbor Julian Saltan said.
“Instead of trying to make this into a lot that somebody can build on and doing an enormous amount of deconstruction of the hillside, just move the lines and put the road where the road actually is on the map,” Saltan said. “Your lot is gone, and the road is functional.”
Pat Mullen, who lives around the corner from the lot, said the city needs to consider the effect of a potential increase in traffic and parked cars. Instead of trying to build a home, the city should consider planting a community garden there, she said.
“Maybe we could think outside the box of just affordable housing and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this little spit of land that’s not worth developing. Let’s use it to bring the community together,’” she said.
Complaints about parking, traffic and neighborhood character are typical complaints from people who believe any change in their neighborhoods will cost them financially or in terms of livability, said David Welton, a Bend resident who created a website, bendyimby.com, after he saw “Not In My Back Yard” comments kill proposed apartment units. YIMBY, or Yes In My Back Yard, is a pro-development movement active in housing-crunched cities including Seattle, San Francisco and Boston.
It’s easy to find residents who oppose development, Welton wrote in an email, but it’s important to consider the less-visible people who are affected by a lack of housing. And higher prices caused by a lack of housing supply will still change neighborhoods, as seen in old mill worker houses in Bend that blue-collar workers can no longer afford.
“I definitely feel for the people who lived in a town of 20,000 people and see it approaching 100,000 people, but there’s not much that can be done,” Welton said. “If you stopped building entirely, (Bend would) see prices shoot up, and the town would rapidly change, just in a different way.”
Councilor Bruce Abernethy, the only Council member to vote against declaring the lot as surplus property, said he didn’t believe the neighbors opposed to the project represented a NIMBY approach.
“I found their arguments fairly compelling,” he said. “To get one additional affordable unit and potentially impact other houses, that just doesn’t seem like a good cost-benefit trade-off.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; email@example.com