Editorial: City actions could help ease affordable housing problem

Published Jun 14, 2014 at 12:01AM

Bend has an affordable housing problem. While it cannot be corrected overnight, city officials are doing what they can to create relatively short-term solutions, though longer-range ones depend in part on the state of Oregon.

In the short run — the next two to four years — the city can sell land it owns within the city limits to developers for affordable single-family homes and apartments. Two parcels in northeast Bend likely would be the first to go, if City Council approves the plan. At nearly 7 acres between them, they could add more than 80 units to the local affordable housing supply, says Jim Long, the city’s affordable housing manager.

A third pair of parcels, on Bear Creek Road near Northeast 15th Street, also are potential sites, Long says, though the city must do more work to get them ready for sale.

Two slightly longer-range proposals may also help improve the affordable housing picture.

One would allow developers to increase density on their land if affordable housing were included in the development mix. While no single development would increase the city’s overall density by much, each could be part of the answer to improving infill numbers without requiring residents on large lots to put up new homes in their backyards.

A second proposal would add what Long calls a so-called “cottage code” that would allow developers to build smaller homes on smaller lots with clustered parking. Such developments might be attractive to single residents or childless couples, he believes.

In the end, all three proposals would make more affordable housing available, though not immediately, Long notes. Even the quickest land sale and subsequent development likely would take two or more years to complete.

The bonus, though, is that all three ideas — land sales, density bonuses and code changes — would increase density within the city, something the state will surely require before it approves any expansion of Bend’s urban growth boundary. That, in turn, is the long-range solution to the affordable housing problem — with more land available for building, prices on it will drop.