This election season community livability issues have appeared in stump speeches and as ballot measures, potentially having a profound impact on businesses and their employees. Attend any debate and you will hear about the lack of workforce housing, our growing population of homeless, and the need for more childcare to allow employees to come back to work. And Measure 9-135, Bend’s transportation bond, will address over-burdened roadways to improve livability and connectivity for businesses, their employees and our community.
Likely the most complex of these issues is our housing shortage. Available inventory falls woefully short of our need, and affordability has become a thing of the past. Employers know attracting new talent to our growing workforce is hindered by our lack of affordable housing. Candidates seeking office are facing an enormous outcry from businesses as they watch their employees move further out of town to find an affordable option, or they move away because they can’t find housing at all. No doubt this will be an ongoing policy discussion.
The next city council will inherit the ongoing struggle with the housing shortage. They will be charged with utilizing Bend’s Urban Renewal Area as a means of increasing affordable housing. Council’s task will be to sow the seeds of an urban core that will be accessible by car, bike or foot.
City council and Deschutes County commissioners will also be challenged to help our growing population of those who can’t afford a place to live and are making do in other ways. An increasing transient population and the growing number of mobile lodging and tents will be a significant issue to resolve for those who are elected this fall.
Businesses are also looking for candidates who are attuned to the lack of childcare. It has become a defining moment of the pandemic. According to the Washington Post, more than 450,000 childcare slots disappeared over the summer in the U.S., with 63% of working parents reporting difficulty finding somewhere to take their children while they work. Businesses and their employees are feeling this keenly in Bend. An increasing number of families have had to decide who stays home with their children, especially impacting women and their careers at twice the rate of men. This is predicted to disrupt women’s labor force participation and earnings trajectories for decades.
On another livability issue, our over-burdened roadways, voters will have a more direct say in addressing the increasing need for better roads and transportation options. Bend’s population growth has far outpaced the viability of our transportation system and this has greatly impacted employers and the people who work for them. Measure 9-135, if passed, will improve east-west and north-south connections that are too few and are increasingly more congested. It funds projects that directly improve our ability to get around town easily and safely. This is why the Bend Chamber has endorsed and supported Measure 9-135.
We are sharing roadways with a lot more people since plans were laid for a population of 30,000 to 50,000. For businesses, the delay and challenges of employees and deliveries vying for the same spot on the road as everyone else gets worse each year. Measure 9-135 includes more than 25 projects that provide significant improvements to our drive, including building a bridge over the railroad at Reed Market and fixing key intersections like O.B. Riley, Empire, Olney, Wilson, Revere and more. It will improve safety and connectivity along the Portland Corridor, Purcell and other high-traffic areas. Other projects in the bond will provide better, safer pedestrian and bicycle connectivity on our streets and near schools.
The cost of the measure starts a little under a dime a day per house and averages about $170 a year over the duration. Council wisely chose to delay collection until 2022 to give our community and economy a year to recover from the impacts of COVID. If the measure passes, newly elected city council members will work with of a citizen oversight committee as they monitor progress. And building all these improvements will create jobs and a boost to our economy.
Bend’s ability to continue to be a livable place is as much a business as it is a community interest. Candidates and ballot measures that address the housing and childcare shortages, help our homeless and support improvements to the connectivity and safety of Bend’s roadways will serve businesses, their employees and our community alike.