By Jack Zika

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By any reasonable definition, Central Oregon is suffering from an affordable housing crisis.

Median prices have repeatedly increased by double digit percentages in Bend and Redmond since the end of the Great Recession.

Even with plenty of jobs and rising wages locally, housing is eating up a large and growing share of Central Oregonians’ income. Many families, even those with good job prospects, are being priced out of the region. Prices have gone up because there is more demand for housing than supply.

When the economy is good, and prices are high in California, Portland and Seattle, there is upward pressure on Central Oregon prices.

When the economy isn’t so good, and the influx of people from other places slows or (as in the case of the 2008 crash) reverses, prices go down. As a policy matter, there is very little government can do to address the underlying supply and demand components of real estate prices.

What government can do, and morally should do, is to avoid adding to the challenges caused by real estate market swings.

Unfortunately, Oregon has chosen to do exactly the opposite with its land use policies.

Those policies, which have the net effect of restricting development of new housing, cause the supply side of Oregon’s real estate market to act as though it’s mired in quicksand — slow to respond to increases in demand, with higher prices the result.

There is no better example of Oregon’s backwards approach to affordable housing policy than the current predicament in which the cities of Bend and Redmond are competing against each other for the right to add a small amount of affordable housing.

No one doubts that either Bend or Redmond lacks affordable housing — but our state government will allow only one of those cities to take minimal measures to add housing to help address the problem. Oregon has one of the most restrictive land use systems in the country.

One of the system’s prominent features is urban growth boundaries (“UGBs”), which generally preclude dense development outside of cities.

While the intent behind the UGB program is noble, as implemented it has dramatically increased housing prices in Oregon. The reason is that cities have a difficult time adding land for development when demand requires. Nowhere is this more evident than in Central Oregon.

Amid a torrent of concerns from cities and citizens about the upward pressure the cumbersome UGB expansion process applies to housing prices, the Legislature recently and reluctantly approved a pilot program that allows for a quick UGB expansion to add affordable housing. Bend and Redmond just happen to be the only cities left standing in the competition.

Both have submitted good plans that would add much-needed housing.

Many residents of both Bend and Redmond are suffering due to high housing costs; it is cruel for the state to cut red tape for just one city.

The Legislature should expand the pilot program to let any number of cities who present a good plan for adding affordable housing to do so with a quick and easy UGB expansion.

Legislation to do just that will be the first bill I introduce in the 2019 legislative session.

If we are successful, we will have moved Oregon’s land use policies just a bit closer to giving Central Oregonians more say about how we grow and how we alleviate the suffering for those struggling to afford to live here.

— Jack Zika is the Republican candidate for the Oregon House of Representatives, District 53.

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