Guest Column

Recently, the Bend Planning Commission endorsed the changes to the Bend development code to implement H.B. 2001, which allows conversion of single-family homes to triplexes, townhouses, and other types of low-cost housing. The city had presented several designs showing how H.B. 2001 conversions could be accomplished. However, the city neither addressed how many single-family homes would be available for conversion nor how would this code change result in affordable housing for those in the 60%-100% average median income range? The Bulletin reported that the city did not address these topics in the presentation to the Bend City Council.

I ask the question: What results do you foresee from H.B. 2001 code changes?

For those the law is supposed to help, the people who are in the 60%-100% AMI range, there will be almost no help. Why can I say that?

I suggest the city consider some recent studies on this topic, which indicate that triplexes and townhouses are not likely to result in more affordable housing units. The Brookings Institute study ( https://www.brookings.edu/research/gentle-density-can-save-our-neighborhoods/), for example, concludes that replacing a 3,000 square-foot, single-family house with three 2,000 square-foot townhouses, for example, would not result in reduced cost to the buyer, whereas replacing the single-family with six 1,200 square-foot condos would likely reduce the unit cost by 40%.

ECONorthwest looked at replacing single-family homes with triplexes and concluded it would be challenging in a cool market. Moreover, increased land cost will have a negative impact on the feasibility to convert. By extension, in my opinion, with the increasingly hot market projected to continue in Bend, it would be extremely unlikely for triplex conversions to result in lower-cost housing.

At the median price level of $650,000, converting a home to 6-unit condos will cost $390,000 each, which is over the 100% AMI level. No help there. Only homes that are worth much less than the median will be candidates for conversion. However, HOA restrictive covenants specifying single-family only will prevent many of them from being converted.

A snapshot of the houses for sale and sold on Zillow is revealing. Only those less than $500,000 were looked at, which is the level needed if you convert a home into 6-unit condos to help those in the 60%-100% AMI range. I found houses at the less than $400,000 price point were mainly condos, townhouses, houses on leased land, and some single-family houses on small lots. No help there, but some houses on leased land could be candidates for conversion. There were some single-family homes on owned land in the $400,000-$500,000 range, but almost all were part of an HOA. Very little help there.

Thus, there should not be many single-family houses available to convert to help those who need it the most, and there will be even less depending on the price appreciation levels in the next few years.

So, what should be done? I suggest a different approach, and this will be presented to the Bend City Council.

Quickly pass the Oregon Administrative Rules version of H.B. 2001 which is the minimum required by state law. It will put Bend in compliance with H.B. 2001 and allow the law to start working.

Eliminating parking requirements will not help. I submit that it’s a hot button issue with the public and not worth the effort as it’s only 2%-3% of housing cost for a parking pad.

Wait and see what happens.

If nothing happens like I predict, then there’s an opportunity to go back to the state and advocate for a much different approach. We need more land as land is the limiting commodity and limited commodities always cost more.

I‘m reminded of the old Wendy’s commercial: “Where’s the beef?” There is no beef here. H.B. 2001 is five years too late to be of any help to Bend!

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James Christo is the Neighborhood Leadership Alliance representative from the Southeast Bend Neighborhood Association.

(1) comment

Skittish

Finally an opinion with some beef to it. We need more flexibility and more land to get prices down and the economy more productive.

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