The man pushes down the tower of cubes with the word Taxes on the figure of the house.

Build more housing. That’s the shortest answer to Oregon’s housing problem.

The city of Bend doesn’t build housing. It has programs and policies in place to help others build housing. And the Bend City Council may take a step Wednesday toward putting two more programs in place.

The first would provide a complete property tax exemption for all the property taxes paid by a nonprofit building affordable housing. That is, if the majority of the entities with property taxes approve it.

The city already has a tax exemption for affordable housing projects with five units or more. This new exemption does not have any unit limits, so even duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes could qualify. It seems to make sense.

The second property tax exemption is primarily aimed at boosting housing in what you might think of as Bend’s core, but some designated areas beyond it. Housing projects of three or more units may qualify if they include what the city defines as sufficient public benefits. A public benefit could be a number of things, including 10% of the housing as affordable or 30% as middle income housing; green energy features such as stormwater treatment above code; providing childcare; dedicating open space; and more. The city is planning to require an independent financial review of projects that apply to ensure they do need the exemption. The plan is to charge a $5,200 application fee for these applications to cover the city’s expenses, including $3,800 for that independent financial review.

The city’s affordable housing committee and city staff are generally good about reviewing programs and seeing how well they work. We would like to see a requirement for regular review of both these proposed tax exemptions. In particular, the second new tax exemption seems like it would need to be watched closely.

The public needs to know that both are achieving what was intended and if they need to be tweaked. That should be baked into their creation, not just trusted to happen. The intent of these tax exemptions is sincere. They don’t, though, create housing. They create tax exemptions.

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Bend's real property taxpayers are the most underrepresented demographic in Deschutes County.

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