Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

A majority of renters in Deschutes County, and many in Jefferson and Crook counties, spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on rent, according to data released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau.

As a whole, 52.8 percent of renters in Deschutes County, 47.2 percent of renters in Crook County and 46.2 percent of renters in Jefferson County pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities.

Along with the countywide numbers, the Census Bureau’s 2017 American Communities Survey contains data on rental costs in individual census tracts, geographical areas that contain between 1,700 and 11,800 people. At that level, the bureau calculates what it calls the median gross rent — that’s rent plus utilities — compared to median household income.

Government agencies, rental property managers and mortgage providers have long viewed 30 percent as the cap that should be spent on housing costs, and renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered rent burdened.

These estimates come with a margin of error showing how far the actual value could be from the estimate. For instance, the bureau estimates renters in a tract in southwest Bend spend about 37.4 percent of their income on rent and utilities, but a margin of error of 5.3 percentage points means renters could really be spending 32.1 percent, 42.7 percent or anything in between.

Renters in five census tracts in Central Oregon pay more than 30 percent of their income regardless of the margin of error.

One of the hardest-hit areas is a census tract that includes La Pine. There, the median rent of $896 is 41.6 percent of household income, with a 10-percentage point swing possible in either direction.

Housing Works broke ground in March on a 42-unit rental community for La Pine families earning 60 percent or less of the county’s median income, about $38,300 for a family of four. About one-third of the apartments are expected to be available in January and the remainder in March.

Three of the remaining four tracts where the typical renter would certainly experience rent burden, according to the census bureau’s data, are in northeast, central and southwest Bend. One is in Redmond.

Citywide in Bend, at least one-quarter of residents spend more than half of their income on rent, according to the city. The burden of high housing costs persists in Bend more than a decade after the city instituted a first-in-the-state tax on new construction to be used exclusively for affordable housing units.

While rent increases have slowed in Central Oregon’s largest city as more units have been built, many renters and homeowners continue to pay more than recommended.

With the exception of three sprawling rural tracts in Deschutes and Crook counties, typical renters living in all other areas in Central Oregon either likely or possibly experience rent burden.

In some, like a tract in west Bend, median rent is barely above 30 percent of median income but could be slightly higher or lower. In others, like a tract in Jefferson County, the bureau estimates the typical renter spends slightly less than 30 percent of her or his income on housing, but the margin of error is so wide that the real number could be far different.

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