If there's one topic of frequent conversation in Bend these days, it's houselessness. A brief primer:
-The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Bend nearly doubled from March 2016 to March 2021, going from $995 to $1,800, according to Zumper.
-Since 2015, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon has nearly doubled, with a 13.42% increase from 2020 to 2021 alone, according to the Central Oregon Point in Time Count.
- In 2015, the City of Bend had already identified that it needed more than 5,500 housing units to meet the needs of people in the city back then—with the vast majority of that housing needed for households earning $24,999 or less per year.
-City and community leaders have, for the better part of a decade, been lauding the Bend Central District, located east of the Bend Parkway and between Franklin and Greenwood avenues, as a zone possessing massive potential for redevelopment, including more housing. Locals have been regaled with countless design charettes, events, articles and so on regarding the potential for the area. The level of hype was enough to get even the most skeptical of residents excited about the opportunities.
But those opportunities come with complications. Combine soaring construction and personnel costs with skyrocketing rents and a proliferation of people living on the streets and you have a current situation that appears downright untenable. Or do we just require more patience to see fruition of an idea that's been years in the making?
Since at least September, property owners along NE Second Street have been lodging complaints with the City of Bend about trash, feces, needles and tents erected in the right of way. The Bend Police Department fielded some 258 calls for service to that area from Nov. 9 to Feb. 9, prompting Bend PD to declare the area an "unsafe campsite" on Feb. 9. Doing so, according to the City of Bend's rules, gives the City Manager authority to clean up the area or to remove the campsite. On Feb. 28, City Manager Eric King issued the required two-week notice to service providers, alerting them to the need to begin relocating the campers on Second Street. The City would have done so sooner, City Communications Director Anne Aurand told the Source, but a cold snap delayed that process. (City rules adopted in 2021 put a delay on camp removals when temperatures are below 20 or above 100.)
Last week, members of the Bend Central District Business Association wrote a letter to the City of Bend, asking for clarification on a number of points that relate to the houseless population. In addition to wanting more details about what the City plans to do with its recent purchase of the Rainbow Motel on Franklin Avenue (slated to first become a shelter facility before being put to other, as-yet-unannounced uses) those business owners wanted to know when, or if, the City planned to take further action on Second Street. Property owners including Brooks Resources and others have put their apartment projects on hold due to the overall uncertainty.
The situation is a literal and figurative mess, to be sure. Locals want the City to fix it—but many of us lack the patience to remember that the wheels of government grind slow. However, slowly—agonizingly slowly, from the perspective of the property owners in the BCD—we are seeing progress, and it doesn't lie in immediate camp removals.
The City now operates its Second Street Shelter year-round, where little more than a year ago, it was only a warming shelter. It's also recently opened its motel-turned-shelter on Division Street, where over a dozen people who were consistently staying at the Second Street Shelter have been moved and more are now moving. Without these shelter beds in place, federal court rulings make it illegal for cities to remove camps.
Now, here, comes the ironic part.
For the better part of a decade, locals in the BCD have lauded the area as an opportunity zone where Bend can grow "up," turning the area into a new, more urban zone. But with urbanity comes urban concerns—including the presence of people who don't fall into Bend's previously suburban framework. If Bendites want to see the area become more urban, it's going to come with urban headaches, including the presence of people who now find themselves unable to weather the doubling of area rents in a five-year span, and a protracted governmental process to do better.
"Poverty with a view" has long been Bend's unsanctioned brand. Now, though, everyone just gets to see it.