Deschutes County is about to sell 1.14 acres at NE 27th Street and Conners Avenue to Housing Works to expand a planned affordable housing project by 30 to 40 units and to facilitate construction of a new Mosaic Medical clinic.

We are all acutely aware of how the lack of affordable housing is driving neighbors out of our community and depriving our businesses, nonprofits and public agencies of the workforce they need to run. So we should applaud Housing Works on its project and we should simultaneously ask three questions about this transaction.

How much should Housing Works need to pay the county for this property?

Where will Housing Works get the funds from?

What will the county do with the money?

The county plans to sell the Conners property to Housing Works for $1 million; $900,000 of the $1 million will come through Housing Works from the city of Bend’s Affordable Housing Fee collections. The County Commission hasn’t decided yet what we’ll use the money for, and I hope the community will provide a lot of input.

What troubles me about asking Housing Works to pay $1 million for the Conners property is that it’s an established practice for the county to contribute land to affordable housing projects. We recognize that land is one of the major cost components in developing housing, and we have helped to make housing more affordable in La Pine and Redmond by donating many acres for projects. In La Pine, the county has contributed land to Habitat for Humanity’s Putney Place, to Pacific Crest Affordable Housing’s Little Deschutes Lodge, and to Housing Works’ Hawks View Estates. Currently we’re working on a land contribution for additional Habitat town homes in La Pine’s Newberry Neighborhood. In Redmond, the county recently contributed 40 acres to the Skyline Village project which will produce 242 units of deed restricted affordable housing and an equal number of units of market rate housing. So when Housing Works approached the county about the Conners property we could have donated the land for needed affordable housing. Instead we are charging the appraised value.

Housing Works will pay the county with $900,000 secured from the city of Bend’s Affordable Housing Fee pool and $100,000 secured from other sources. Bend collects Affordable Housing Fee funding by charging 0.33% on the total valuation of all building permits submitted to the city. It might take the city an entire year to amass $900,000 in its Affordable Housing Fee pool. If those $900,000 are used to pay the county for the Conners property, the city’s Affordable Housing Committee cannot use the funds to help make other projects possible. A few examples illustrate the leverage power of Bend Affordable Housing Fee dollars — $400,000 of fee funding is allowing 240 units to move forward in the Stillwater Crossing project in south Bend; $100,000 helped produce 50 units in the Canal Commons 2 project; $258,000 helped produce five homeownership opportunity units in the Midtown Cottages.

The county didn’t have to charge Housing Works $1 million for the Conners property. Leaving those dollars in the Bend Affordable Housing Fee pool could have potentially enabled hundreds of additional units of affordable housing. But the transaction is set to go forward Wednesday. So the final question to ask is, what will the county do with the $1 million?

Recognizing the housing affordability crisis the county is currently facing, the County Commission should use the land resources we own to support the creation of affordable housing to the maximum extent possible. We should use the $1 million from the Conners property sale to invest in other affordable housing projects. With so many developers working to build affordable and workforce housing in our community, there are lots of places to invest $1 million for tremendous impact.

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Phil Chang is a Deschutes County commissioner.

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