When my family moved to Central Oregon in 1978, I heard over and over the phrase “poverty with a view” in reference to my new hometown, and in many respects this statement still has some truth to it. While our region has always demanded a higher cost of living due to our location and natural amenities, housing and the seeming lack thereof is a constant topic of conversation. Many people ask me, “What is affordable housing anyway?” My answer: “How much time do you have for a well-rounded answer and likely further discussion?”
My career in real estate and strong interest in housing solutions has led me to volunteer on the City of Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC), which I currently chair. Our amazing committee is made up of individuals who bring a vast field of knowledge, skills, and insights as they relate to the many layers of housing.
There are two sources of funding that the City of Bend utilizes for various projects: community development block grants (CDBG), which are funds made available by the federal government and governed by HUD, and the City of Bend affordable housing fee, which is one third of one percent (.33%) of the total valuation on all building permits submitted to the city.
Interested applicants file paperwork via the city’s request for proposal (RFP) process. The AHAC thoroughly reviews the applications each year and makes funding recommendations to the City Council. The requested funds are usually more than the available funds, so deliberations on funding result in diverse discussions. The committee takes funding recommendations seriously.
CDBG funds are utilized to support housing programs and nonprofits in providing needed services throughout the area. The rules and regulations for funding CDBG projects are extensive, and the city’s affordable housing staff is integral in helping guide our processes. CDBG funding recipients include NeighborImpact, Bethlehem Inn, and Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, among others.
Since 2004, the city has received $6,111,257 in CDBG funds, which have been leveraged to secure another $21,056,064 in private and public funding. These combined funds have been applied to several hundred housing and community-need programs in the area.
The affordable housing fee was first implemented in 2006 and $9.3 million has been collected so far; these funds have been leveraged in excess of $100 million with public and private funding to construct 950 affordable units in our area. We have more coming online every year, thanks to our current strong economy and the work of our committee, city staff, and the City Council, which has made housing one of their top priorities this biennium (2019–2021).
The Bend City Council has set a goal of achieving 3,000 permitted housing units during the current cycle and tasked the AHAC to come up with innovative and challenging ideas to help Bend reach that number. In case you are unable to attend the meetings, we have discussed reducing the time it takes to process permits and reviewing current building codes and policies to alleviate unneeded design restrictions and outdated code requirements that no longer serve their original purpose. Upcoming discussions may include additional focus on manufactured home park zoning and RV park availability as affordable housing resources. The AHAC touches on many policies that affect the cost of housing—deed-restricted as well as entry-level, middle-market, and cottage development.
What has been really wonderful for the committee is implementing purposeful connections and collaborations with other committees and groups within the City of Bend to foster timely, cohesive conversations and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Other positive aspects of collaboration include vetting our proposed ideas as they impinge on other departments and determining whether they can be implemented positively. These committees include BEDAB (Bend Economic Development Advisory Board) and BURA (Bend Urban Renewal Agency), among others, as well as several affordable home builders. Organizations outside the city include but are not limited to the Central Oregon Builders Association (COBA). COBA has been integral in vetting ideas to ensure they enhance and do not cause unnecessary burdens in the process of building affordable homes for our neighbors. COBA representatives or members regularly attend our meetings, for which we are thankful.
AHAC is excited to continue building on these cohesive relationships as part of our meetings, brainstorming, and providing suggestions for the city to continue embracing change to house and serve all of our citizens.