You’d think Oregon legislators would get around soon to some of the deeper housing challenges for the state.
Yes, the Legislature put in place caps on rent increases for apartments. And it has compelled statewide zoning changes to allow denser development where only single-family housing once stood. Lawmakers also have allowed affordable housing to be built in rare cases outside of a city’s urban growth boundary.
They should also start listening to what Josh Lehner, state of Oregon economist, is saying. Production of housing in Oregon is not keeping up with growth in population. And if young working people cannot afford to live in Oregon, they aren’t going to come or stay here and help keep the state vibrant.
“Affordability is worse today because we didn’t build enough units,” Lehner writes. “We didn’t build enough units because there aren’t enough buildable lots. There aren’t enough buildable lots because we haven’t done enough land development to turn raw dirt into buildable lots. We haven’t done enough land development in part because financing remains tighter for these types of loans.”
There are some encouraging things that are happening in Bend. The state allowed some housing to be built outside of Bend’s UGB. But why not more? The Department of State Lands has begun the process to sell nearly 400 acres on Bend’s east side that will have land for homes and businesses. But why did it have to take more than 10 years for the state to take that action? Kudos to State Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, who tried to make it happen faster. And the city of Bend has been looking at its code and identifying changes it can make to make it easier for housing to get built.
Bend’s population nearly doubled from 2000 to 2019. The city’s population was 52,800 in 2000 and had grown to an estimated 80,995 by 2008 then to 91,385 by 2019. If you lived in Bend for any of those years, you know how much harder it has been to find housing. That’s even though more than 8,000 new units of housing — apartments and single-family homes — were built from 2008 to 2019, according to statistics from the city of Bend.
It would be foolish to expect Bend prices to behave so housing is cheap and readily available, when so many people want to live here. But it’s only harder when the Legislature doesn’t listen to the work of its state economists. For instance, Lehner pointed out that “the stock of loans for single family builders for acquisition, development, and construction remains quite small.” What can our elected leaders in Salem do about that? What can they do to allow more affordable housing outside of urban growth boundaries? And why aren’t they doing it?