The discouraging fact about the work the city of Bend and now the Bend Park & Recreation District are doing to increase the amount of affordable housing in town is that the victories are somewhat hollow.
Nobody believes the amount of affordable housing or workforce housing in Bend is adequate. And it’s hard to see how the city will ever “catch up.”
That doesn’t mean what the city has done or the park district’s proposal to grant a fee exemption for new affordable housing isn’t helpful. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that it will likely not be enough. To top things off, the federal government isn’t making it any easier.
Both the city and the park district use 100 units a year as the goal for the number of affordable units that will be built. Bend doesn’t hit that every year, but it’s the target — and likely the maximum. There isn’t money readily available to do more.
When developers do an affordable housing project, they have to find money to cover a gap between what it costs to build and what they want to offer it to an owner or renter to keep it affordable.
For instance, when Habitat for Humanity builds an affordable home in Bend, it costs some $275,000, according to Lynne McConnell, the city of Bend’s affordable housing manager. The home would be sold to a family that qualifies for Habitat’s program for about $175,000. That means the gap is about $100,000. For affordable apartments in Bend, developer Housing Works has been able to get the gap down to about $55,000 per unit.
The city’s system development charge exemptions help to close those gaps. The park district currently charges $7,949 for a new home in Bend and may waive any such new fee in the future for affordable housing. It may do the same for the similar fee for apartments.
The city kicks in about another $15,000 per qualified home, which includes money from its affordable housing fee on building permits and federal grant money. After that, affordable housing developers must string together enough funding from many different sources to cover the rest of the gap. It’s complicated.
Perhaps too complicated, at times. One source — the federal 9 percent low-income housing tax credit — is so involved that only two entities in Central Oregon have been able to figure out how to make it work for them consistently — Housing Works and Pacific Crest Affordable Housing. That’s not just a problem in Central Oregon. It’s a problem across the country.
If Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, are serious about helping affordable housing, they should figure out what can be done to simplify that tax credit.