With housing costs rising throughout Central Oregon, the Bend Park & Recreation District is exploring ways to tweak its funding structure in a way that could help affordable housing developers.

Earlier this week, the park district’s board of directors discussed changes to its system development charges — the fees charged to developers when a new home is built — with an eye toward adjusting the charges to meet the needs of a changing community. This could include using them as a tool to help develop affordable housing.

Michelle Healy, planning and park services director for the district, said the meeting was a first step toward overhauling the park district’s approach for the first time since 2009.

District staff presented the board with four possible approaches, ranging from funding a wider variety of park projects to waiving or reducing system development charges for developers building affordable housing.

“We don’t know what it’s going to look like yet, but we’re certainly looking at different ideas and options,” she said.

In Bend and other fast-growing cities, system development charges are used to help local governments keep up with growth in the community by charging fees on the construction of hotels or homes that go toward services. For the park district — which assesses fees that range from $3,206 to construct an additional guest room to $7,949 for a new single-family home — these fees have been used to fund park and trail improvements that become needed to keep up with the flow of new Bend residents, Healy said.

“If you’re using those fees, you’re looking to keep up with how the community is growing,” Healy said.

However, the growth has brought rising housing costs with it. In October, the median price of a home in Bend was $433,000, a 17 percent jump from the median price two years prior, according to data from the Beacon Appraisal Group in Redmond.

Healy said the park district was approached by a developer several years ago about waiving system development charges for affordable housing, which the district determined would require a comprehensive look at their methodology.

She added that state law guides some of the park district’s use of the charges, and said the district has not used them to fund land acquisitions or indoor facilities, like a planned maintenance shop for district employees. Any potential changes would need to be compliant with state law, while not raising the rates for developers too significantly.

“There’s some gray areas out there, so we just want to make sure that whatever we do wouldn’t get challenged,” she said.

Healy said the district staff plans to revisit these proposals in early 2019, and is tentatively planning to hold a public meeting on the issue in May. If all goes well, Healy said the park district will implement the changes by the start of July, the beginning of the district’s fiscal year.

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