One sunny summer morning not long ago, I marched across a dusty front yard in midtown Bend with a $45 rental application fee in hand. This wasn't exactly the house I'd dreamed of living in when I knew I was moving to Bend, but it was adequate—and available, and I was going to lay down my application fee right then and there, no matter what it looked like inside.
When I entered the home, another couple was pacing around, opening drawers and asking about utilities. As would-be renters in Bend well know, having multiple people appear at a house showing is just part of the nightmare of finding housing. There are also the stringent application guidelines, and of course, pricing.
Turns out, I, the newly-anointed editor of this publication, got turned down for that tiny three bedroom with the dusty yard. After paying multiple application fees, I'd get a place eventually—but as a journalist, what ran through my mind was, "How are working-class people able to rent in this town at all?" When rental companies require a monthly income of three and sometimes four times the rental price to qualify to rent a home—and prices are at an all-time high—it's a valid concern.
Naturally, it cheered me and the rest of the Source editorial team to hear that the Bend City Council isn't sitting still on this issue. Last Wednesday, the City Council approved roughly $5 million in support for affordable housing in Bend, on top of millions more since 2006. According to Jim Long, the city's affordable housing manager, the $5 million comes in the form of donated land (from city surplus properties), construction tax exemptions and system development charge waivers—all measures that can help make affordable housing projects, well, more affordable.
"Cities of this size don't do this stuff. They just don't," says Long. "I've been working in this field for 20 years and I've never seen cities do stuff like this."
Long says it's more common for state or federal agencies to offer serious incentives, but for cities, it's rare. To ensure that the affordable units stay affordable well past the fanfare of their ribbon cuttings, Long says he monitors reports from the Internal Revenue Service and Oregon Housing and Community Services, which keep tabs on the projects long-term.
The city's effort is a step in the right direction—but as a new renter and new resident of Bend squeezed by pricing and low availability, I have to wonder if it's enough. Cities need renters—and buyers—from diverse income levels to fuel a diverse local economy. To that end I encourage landlords, property management companies and prospective home sellers to evaluate your motives when setting a home's price. Ask yourself whether it's based on a researched market value, or a trumped-up (excuse the pun) price based on market frenzy.
If the City Council is coming out in favor of affordable housing on a serious level, I'd like to think you can too.
This week, the City of Bend gets the Glass Slipper.
—Nicole Vulcan took the reins as Editor of the Source Weekly on July 20. Stop in and say hi, or drop a line via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.