It’s no secret housing prices have been on the rise in Deschutes County, spurred by new arrivals, a recovering economy and a tight market for rentals.

Consequently, 55 percent of renters in Deschutes County in 2015 spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to numbers from the American Community Survey, released earlier this month by the U.S. Census Bureau. By comparison, that figure sat below 49 percent in 2010, during the heart of the Great Recession.

In the city of Bend in 2015, the median rent was $955, just slightly higher than the countywide median rent of $939, according to the survey.

“It’s a mess, and it’s probably way bigger than any of us,” said Scott Cooper, executive director of NeighborImpact, a nonprofit that helps connect Central Oregon residents with housing opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing to be “cost burdened” — those whose monthly housing costs were so high that they might struggle to purchase food or other necessities. But with more than half of Deschutes County renters already experiencing this burden, Cooper suggested changing the threshold to reflect that new reality.

“All the projections don’t show us growing out of this,” he said.

Damon Runberg, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, said the current housing problems in Deschutes County have their roots in the recession. Central Oregon’s construction industry was hit famously hard during the economic downturn, and the region lost more than half of its construction jobs between 2007 and 2010. However, the number of people in Deschutes County continued to grow by more than three percent annually from 2005 to 2010, according to the population research center at Portland State University. Consequently, the county was left with a shortage of housing once the economy began to recover, Runberg said.

“By the time people started building again, we were in a big hole on the supply side,” he said.

With vacancy rates for rental units hovering around 1 percent in Bend, prices have increased. From 2010 to 2015, the median rent in Bend increased more than 9 percent, according to the American Community Survey.

“In some cases, you can buy a house for less than you can rent a house for,” Runberg said.

There are a handful of options for Central Oregon renters looking for rent relief. Housing Works, the public housing authority for Central Oregon, offers vouchers through HUD’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. Cooper said NeighborImpact can provide short-term assistance for medical situations, and can help connect visitors with housing resources.

Additionally, some renters are looking to enter the housing market. In Bend, the median home price in November was $374,000, according to the December edition of Beacon Report, a monthly study put together by the Redmond-based Beacon Appraisal Group. Even using the more conservative yearly average, which sits around $340,000, Runberg said the annual income required to purchase the average home in Bend is more than $60,000, nearly twice the median annual wage in Bend.

Preston Callicott, CEO of Bend-based Five Talent Software, described affordable workforce housing as one of the two most important problems facing Bend, along with transportation. If Bend continues to get less affordable, he said more and more people will move to Redmond, Madras and beyond. Runberg added that this could end up hurting job growth in the entire region, as people get more estranged from Bend.

“The draw of Central Oregon for a lot of people is Bend, specifically,” Runberg said.

For Callicott, a board member for Bend 2030 and Looking Forward, among other civic organizations, the solution is more density within Bend’s city limits. He envisions a higher level of density in areas such as NE Third Street, along with more public transportation.

“We have lots of possible solutions, but we need to accept that we don’t have much room left for more pavement,” Callicott said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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