The city of Sisters is taking serious steps to address its lack of affordable housing.
City officials are starting work on a new housing plan and are three years into an affordable housing grant program that uses funds from the city’s lodging tax.
As of this spring, the grant program raised $136,093. The city council on Wednesday took $50,000 from the program and awarded it to the Sisters Habitat for Humanity to add street access, parking and utilities to one of its developments.
The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, an international nonprofit organization, has been the only applicant for the funds over the past three years. It was awarded $6,627 in 2019 and $18,721 in 2020.
“Housing that is affordable to people who work in our town is almost nonexistent,” said Sharlene Weed, executive director of Sisters Habitat for Humanity. “Having the city’s support is critical at this point. I’m just really glad they are willing to help and they are making housing a priority.”
Sisters City Manager Cory Misley said the grant program created an outlet for the city to collaborate with local agencies and private developers to provide permanent housing. The city hopes to attract more applicants in future years, he said.
“The reason we created the grant program was to formalize the process,” Misley said. “As opposed to just random requests and waivers. Let’s actually create a program and a criteria.”
The grant funding is a small piece to a larger plan for housing in Sisters, Misley said.
Over the next year, the city will examine where homes could be built and what existing housing projects it can support. Eventually, the city will need to consider expanding its urban growth boundary to accommodate more housing, Misley said.
“Land scarcity and land cost are two of the bigger points right now as it relates to affordable housing projects,” Misley said. “There’s a lack of land and if there is land it’s super expensive.”
With limited space in the small city, Sisters is also experiencing a lack of housing due to its sharp population growth. New data from the 2020 Census showed the city grew by 50% in 10 years, from 2,038 residents in 2010 to 3,064 last year.
A housing needs analysis from the city projected the population will continue to grow and create a need for at least 1,100 new housing units. About 66% of the new housing will need to be for homeowners, while 34% will need to be for rental units, according to the analysis.
“We want to make sure teachers and firefighters and people who work in the private sector and everywhere in between can have options to live in Sisters,” Misley said.
For now, Misely is pleased the city is able to support the local Habitat for Humanity through the grant program.
The $50,000 will be used to enhance the area around four new lots in the Village Meadows Subdivision on McKinney Butte Drive and Brooks Camp Road.
Weed said the local chapter is still deciding if the lots will be used for townhomes or single-family homes. Either way, construction is expected to start by the end of the year.
Eventually, the subdivision will have homes on 17 lots. The homes will be built for families earning 60% or less of the average median income for Deschutes County, which equals about $45,900 or less per year.
“For a lot of families, Habitat for Humanity is the only option they can have for homeownership,” Weed said.