Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

Encouraging the building of smaller homes, removing barriers for new construction and discouraging tourism are all ways to address Bend’s high rents, the city’s affordable housing advisory committee heard Wednesday.

The committee held a public meeting for residents to discuss causes and solutions to rent burden, the term for spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs each month. One-quarter of Bend residents are considered severely rent burdened, which means they spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

“Clearly we have a big problem here in Bend,” said Lynne McConnell, the city’s affordable housing manager.

Missing from that conversation: the thousands of Bend residents who struggle to pay rent each month. Of the seven speakers who addressed the committee, six own their homes.

It’s not surprising more renters didn’t speak because people facing severe rent burden are typically too busy to attend midday meetings, McConnell said.

McConnell wants to hear from people experiencing rent burden and other affordable housing issues, she said. They can email her directly at lmcconnell@bendoregon.gov, speak during City Council meetings at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month or address the affordable housing committee, which meets at 3 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month.

Jack Rinn, a property manager who works on tenant advocacy issues, said encouraging smaller homes will help lower the cost of housing. The city should consider requiring developers to build smaller houses when they apply to construct subdivisions, he said.

Jeff Harris, the regional director for Hayden Homes, said the city should use federal funding it receives for affordable housing to buy and bank land, then partner with builders to construct small homes. Those homes could be deed-restricted, meaning they can only be sold to buyers with incomes below a specified level for a set number of years.

“What we’ve got is a supply issue,” Harris said. “We underbuilt in Central Oregon during the recession.”

Bend’s historic housing provides a model for its future, said David Welton, the sole tenant to address the group and the founder of Bend’s YIMBY group. YIMBY, which stands for “Yes, in my backyard,” is a national movement that advocates for building more housing to result in lower prices.

YIMBY also advocates for changing local laws, including minimum parking standards, rules on how far buildings must be set back from the property line and zoning codes that mandate only single-family homes in large swaths of cities. The Broadway apartments, built a century ago and next to single-family homes downtown, are an example of one way Bend can provide more housing, Welton said.

“That’s a proven model that worked 100 years ago,” he said. “It would work well now.”

One-time Bend City Council candidate Wade Fagen, who owns a tree-removal company, said tourism is to blame for Bend’s housing crisis. Small houses and apartments built over garages aren’t the answer, he said, but banning short-term rentals could help.

“For us to spend money promoting this town, you’re just ruining it.”

Laura Fritz, a volunteer with Kôr Community Land Trust, said the city should consider changes to how it awards its affordable housing funds. Those funds are now distributed as low-interest loans to developers, who can use the loans to leverage additional grants and tax credits. Giving the money as loans rather than grants means it eventually comes back to the city and can be lent again.

But in some cases, grants might be the better option, Fritz said. Kôr’s model relies on residents owning their own homes while a trust owns the land those homes are on. This means a trust can limit home prices in perpetuity, as opposed to traditional deed-restricted housing where homes eventually stop being affordable.

“I know we’re looking to recycle funds so they can be used in the future, but models such as community land trusts that perpetually recycle should be considered,” Fritz said.

While most speakers focused on ways to reduce housing costs, an exception was Neal Cohen, 70, who moved to Bend 13 years ago. Cohen said he worked for 30 years in the private sector before retiring at 49 and never worried about being able to afford living in Bend.

Cohen said he came to the committee meeting because he never heard his opinion on housing expressed. If people can’t afford to live where they want to live, they should live somewhere else, he said.

“There are no guarantees that you have to live in Bend,” he said. “It’s your choice, not your right.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com