It’s a landlord’s market. Due to low vacancy rates, rental prices in Central Oregon start at $800 for a two-bedroom unit and, in addition, landlords may also require the first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a deposit up front in addition to references and a high credit score. Individuals and families are finding it very difficult to make ends meet under such difficult conditions.
The national vacancy rate is 7 percent. In Bend, however, the .7 percent vacancy rate is driving up rental prices and creating economic hardships for many, according to the most recent estimates in the 2014-2019 Consolidated Plan issued by the City of Bend last year.
“Let’s just say it’s a rough situation,” said Jim Long, Affordable Housing Manager for the City of Bend. “At any one time, there maybe 20 units out there that are vacant. And, of those, about half are undergoing turnover. So really, if you’re looking, at any one time, you may only have ten units to choose from.”
According to the Consolidated Plan: “The most glaring current example of public policies that have an effect on affordable housing in Bend would be the difficulties that the City is encountering in its attempt to expand the Urban Growth Boundary from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.”
Unfortunately, while construction is the only answer to the problem, no new multi-family homes were built during the recession.
“We can’t subsidize our way out of this crisis we’re in,” Long said. “We’ve got to get private markets to start to build more. From 2009 to 2013, zero multi-family permits were issued in Bend. At the same time, our population increased by 1.5 percent each year. Even in the downturn, people kept moving here.”
And the population growth is not expected to slow anytime soon.
“Bend is the worst and it’s spilling over into Redmond and other communities,” said Tom Kemper, the Executive Director of Housing Works of Central Oregon. “We’re planning for over 16,000 new households in the City of Bend over the next fourteen years and a significant number of them will need to be affordable housing.”
Furthermore, the City of Bend and Oregon State University have yet to address the issue of affordable housing for the anticipated influx of students attending the new four year university.
“As of April, 2014, Bend had less than a 1% vacancy rate, and for multi-family rentals units (apartments, duplexes, fourplexes, etc.) the rate was 0.4%,” stated the Consolidated Plan issued by the City of Bend. “This equates to approximately 18 available multi-family units for rent in a community of 77,000 that is actively developing a four year university with stated enrollment goals of 5,000 students (with the attendant population increase, both in terms of students and staff and with plans for only 300 dorm rooms). These are not actionable numbers, these are crisis numbers. In addition to the lack of available rental properties, the rents for those that are not currently under contract are increasing at an alarming rate.”
In December, Bend 2030 released their Housing Affordability Report that presents surveys conducted with members of the community to gain their perspectives on the current housing situation.
The following are just three of the hundreds of anonymous responses collected for the report that demonstrate just how frustrated and desperate members of the community have become.
“I am a responsible Bend citizen who makes almost 40k a year. I live in a barely acceptable apartment complex because I can hardly make rent. If rent was what it used to be I could be in a better situation to afford to go out and support local businesses with my hard earned money. Yes, we need to make housing more affordable for EVERYONE. In the long-term it will help all of Bend grow as a community. My dream of owning a home here is just out of reach. Which sadly makes me consider moving away.”
“I work with many low income young people who cannot currently find affordable housing that fits the income they make at many minimum non full time jobs. Looking at job growth and possibly raising minimum wage could help this issue as well.”
“I’m a full-time student working two part time jobs to get by. I live in a house with 3 other students and I still pay 400 a month for my room. Bend is full of professionals with sufficient income to support these payments, but it’s also a town for students that cannot.”
Kelli Pangle | The Broadside