The Bend City Council announced this year an aggressive goal for creating new housing in Bend. It wants 3,000 new units, including apartments and homes, by July 2021.
Next month, councilors are scheduled to get an update on what city staff has called “the road to 3,000.” One of the fronts in the fight is making changes in city code to enable more housing to be built. Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee rightly pushed this week city staff to allow greater flexibility.
For instance, does the city need to dictate that a porch needs to be 80 square feet in front of a cottage? No, it should not. Porches are nice, of course. The city should allow wiggle room.
The advisory committee is made up of people who work in many aspects of housing — construction, real estate, lending and more. The committee’s job is to make recommendations to the Council about affordable housing projects that deserve federal and city funding and also give input about code changes.
City staff has been moving to create more flexibility in the city’s code. For instance, some cities allow what are called shared court developments. They are not allowed under Bend code. Think of them as two rows of townhomes on a lot separated by a narrow, private drive in the middle. The drive is not for parking. It is really just to access parking in garages or car ports on the first floor of the home. Shared courts are one way the city can give another housing option for Bend residents and for developers to create. It would only be permitted in the denser residential neighborhood zones. The committee has been supportive of that change.
Geoff Harris of Hayden Homes testified Wednesday before the committee, urging more flexibility in the city’s cottage code. Cottage developments are clusters of smaller homes around a shared common area. There are already some in Bend. Harris urged more leeway in the size of porches beyond a prescribed size of 80 square feet and in permitting greater density for the developments. Prescribing the size of porch or patio could create a cookie-cutter look. Greater density could make it possible for more housing in Bend — especially because Bend cannot just grow out because of state land use laws. Some of the members of the committee voiced support for these changes and in encouraging the Bend Park & Recreation District to reduce system development fees charged to new housing.
It’s hard to get a precise estimate of just how far behind Bend is in need for affordable or workforce housing. It will, though, almost certainly continue to be a problem in an attractive place to live. More flexibility in the code won’t solve that, but it helps.