More than 30 local employers are participating in a newly created program that seeks to address the lack of workforce housing in Bend.
The program is a partnership between Kôr Community Land Trust and the Bend Chamber of Commerce.
Local employers include Mt. Bachelor ski area, Deschutes County and St. Charles Health System.
Employers must have an office located in Bend, be willing to contribute $2,500 in closing costs for an employee’s home purchase, have a racially diverse workforce and have employees who have worked full time for at least a year, according to a press release.
A key feature of the program is a point system that gives preference to the employees of partnering employers.
The Bulletin sat down with Jackie Keogh, one of the architects of the program and the executive director of Kôr Community Land Trust, to hash out the details.
Note: Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
Question: What is the Kôr Community Land Trust-Bend Chamber of Commerce workforce housing program?
Answer: The workforce housing program pilot is a way to give
preference in our affordable
housing opportunities to our local workforce.
We’re recognizing that folks who work here — our essential workers like nurses, teachers, grocery staff — are what make the Bend economy function, and they’re priced out. When they are priced out, our economy can’t function, and Kôr, with the support of Bend Chamber, is in a unique position to solve that.
Q: What led to the creation of this program? What was the inspiration behind it?
A: I have been in affordable housing my entire career, and I have run workforce housing programs throughout the state of Oregon, both on the coast and in the Portland metro area.
I see it as a way to be intentional about who has access to the, unfortunately rare, affordable housing opportunities in our community. Kôr has hundreds of applicants engage with us each year, and what we find from data collection, both qualitative and quantitative, is nurses saying, “I’m being forced to move out,” or folks who come to us with too low of an income and can’t qualify because they’re piecing together their two jobs. One at a restaurant and one on Mt. Bachelor as a liftie — seasonal jobs, essentially.
Affordable housing is in a crisis, so, therefore, it’s finally at the forefront of the community saying it is a need. We want to be intentional about who has access to our homes within Fair Housing guidelines.
Q: You mentioned being intentional about access. Who gets access, and how does the program work without being in violation of Fair Housing rules?
A: With the support of the city of Bend, Kôr got the first civil rights legal preference in the nation that allows us to give preference to our partnering employers.
So Kôr gives three types of preferences. First, we give one preference point to households who are in a Housing Works Section 8 rental. If they are ready to move into an ownership unit with us, we want them to do that because they then free up a needed rental for a lower income or a client transitioning out of houselessness.
We give one preference point to first-generation clients. This recognizes that if you or your parents weren’t able to own a home, you have been locked out of wealth building, and part of Kôr’s mission is to break down generational poverty. We do that by prioritizing first-generation homebuyers.
Most importantly is the workforce housing preference. Anyone working for our partnering employers receives two preference points. So, essentially, looking at those preference points, those households go to the top of our list, and we sort the list from there. Anyone can apply, but it depends where someone might fall on the list
Q: Did I hear that right? That Kôr is the first in the nation to earn the ability to use a preference system as a way to provide employee housing?
A: Yeah. A lot of affordable housing developers just do it how they’ve always done it. There’s a recipe for building affordable housing, which is fine, but Kôr goes beyond that. Our entire goal is to ask, ‘What is broken in the affordable housing system, and how can we fix it?’
Q: What kind of role do the employers play in funding, and what role does Kôr and the chamber play?
A: Public money, which typically 100% supports affordable housing, has not increased to the scale to which we need to build high quality affordable housing.
So, as a nonprofit, how do we bring in other resources to continue to build the housing to support the need? It’s bringing in private funding.
Kôr’s proposed workforce housing program asks major employers to contribute as a gift to Kôr and, therefore, restricts a home to their employees.
Right now, we have 35 employers that have been selected. All they have to do, if their employee is selected, is contribute $2,500 in closing costs as a first step.
Q: Tell me about Kôr’s Poplar community and how the units will be divvied up among the 35 selected employers.
A: The Bend chamber sponsored four units. So we have six units that are currently available. Four of them will give preference to these employees. So any employee of a partnering employer who wants to be selected should apply, and they will rise to the top of the list because of the extra two preference points. The other two homes will be available to anyone without the employer preference.
This is the first community that will be able to utilize the employer preference, but we plan to use it on every single one of our communities in the future. Also, it’s not just in Bend. We’re also in conversation with a number of school districts across Central Oregon to provide teacher housing using this preference system.
Q: Won’t that require building even more housing?
A: Yes. Kôr’s goal is to close a new community every year to better serve the needs here. Right now we have 47 units closing in the next three years in the city of Bend.
Q: What has the response to the pilot program been like thus far?
A: We’ve had overwhelming support, and a lot of the employers have come to us about how we can go beyond this pilot.
And that’s exactly what this pilot is supposed to do, creating this energy.
We are consulting with other chambers of commerce and other affordable housing developers throughout the Pacific Northwest and across the country on how they can replicate this.
Affordable housing is no longer an industry problem. It’s an everybody problem. When I say that, I mean that it spans industries and it spans ZIP codes.
When people say there’s no affordable housing in Bend, I say we’re building it.
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