Owning a home typically has its payoffs. Pay the mortgage for 20 or 30 years, take care of the place... and then cash in when it's finally time to sell.
But in Bend's Old Farm District, owners of some older established homes are getting some harsh news from the City of Bend—tossing that typical homeowner payoff out the window. For many of them, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars per household as they are forced to connect to the city's sewer system. Carolyn Crawford and Glenda Maddox, sisters who own a home they are trying to sell on SE Tapadera Street, are grappling with that reality right now.
"I was told it would cost $50,000 or more for the sewer hookup," says Crawford. A new septic tank, meanwhile, would cost just $4,000. The sisters recently had a buyer interested in their home. In the interest of getting the home sold, Crawford says she was willing to dip into her IRA retirement funds to pay the cost of running a line 100 feet to connect with the city's SE Interceptor sewer line. But at the last minute, the buyer backed out of the sale over uncertainty about the situation.
The sisters and their realtor Cindy Robertson say there have been more failed sales since—all because they are now required by the State of Oregon to move from septic to the more expensive sewer hookup. Crawford is a retired Pacific Power meter reader forced onto disability retirement. She and her sister want to downsize and move to a 55-plus living situation where they would have less upkeep and lower living costs. They had already put down earnest money on their new home when they received the bad news.
A Required Move
State law requires the move from septic to sewer. Bend City Engineer Ryan Oster says, "As the city has annexed and grown, there are thousands of residents still on septic in the city of Bend." Most of them are in Southeast Bend and the Old Farm District. "It's just not safe to be on a septic system anymore and we need to get them off," Oster says.
According to Oster, state statute requires any single family dwelling where the septic system is failing to connect to the city's sewer, if they are within 300-feet of the system. That means sisters Crawford and Maddox—and many other residents in the area whose septic systems are failing with age—must comply. Other Oregon cities have grappled with the same problem over the years, but with Bend's recent growth and development, the reality is suddenly setting in here.
According to Oster, the cost varies depending on terrain and the amount of rock encountered when trenching the lines. He estimates that the cost can range between $40,000 and $80,000 per home.
In the sisters' case they have to bear the full cost of trenching to their corner lot on Tapadera, one long block off Southeast Murphy. Other neighbors would not have to participate and share in the cost because their septic systems haven't failed—yet. Many residents, including Maddox and Crawford, feel blindsided by the news. But from Oster's perspective, he says the City has been discussing it with residents for years.
SE Interceptor: Making More Homes Qualify for the 300-Foot Rule
The cost is also stunning to City Councilor Sally Russell and Council candidate Justin Livingston. In addition to the Old Farm neighborhood, Livingston is worried about residents in the nearby Kings Forest and Desert Woods areas.
"With the construction of the SE Interceptor, all of a sudden a lot of properties come within 300-feet of that sewer line by the end of next year. There are about 800 homes that could be affected. It's going to create a problem real quick," he says.
Livingston is also critical of city leaders, stating the area in question has been annexed to the city since 1998. "Why hasn't this been a conversation before now?" he asks.
Glenda Maddox thinks the City of Bend has an obligation to pay for sewer hookups for homes such as hers because the city annexed the area. When asked if the city has an obligation to pay, Oster says it's a discussion that needs to occur because of costs. "The city doesn't have a bank to put in a sewer system for the entire Kings Forest area. That's a 50, 60, or even 70 million dollar project to get sewer for everybody in there. That's why we're having this more in-depth conversation now."
Oster also says that the city doesn't typically use rate-payer fees for such projects, but that could be an option. Residents who pay for sewer service where they live often object if those fees are used for sewer construction in another part of town. "What we'd be saying is, 'Thanks...You've been paying those fees. We're gonna go build a sewer line on the south end of town now.'" Other options might include a joint financing plan where the city pays for a portion of the project and residents pay the rest. "There's a compromise we're hoping to get to," he says.
Oster says a logical solution may be the formation of Local Improvement Districts, or LIDs. Residents, or even the city, can form LIDs to spread the cost of sewer installation over several years, with possible help from city financing and bonding.
Livingston and Councilor Russell agree that it's a good solution. Russell wants to explore grant options and says the city has access to low interest financing for projects. After meeting Maddox and Crawford at their home last week, Russell brought up the issue to fellow councilors, saying the Council needs to look closely at the issue. "We need to find solutions for you and a larger scale solution for everyone who is dropping into this situation," she told the sisters.
Livingston says if the Old Farm District had formed an LID when it was annexed in 1998, it wouldn't have cost residents nearly as much as it will now. "They could have saved for it over time instead of having a giant sticker shock all at once," he says.
For Maddox and Crawford, solutions can't come soon enough. On top of multiple failed sales, they've also lost earnest money set aside for other housing. It's apparent that the process is wearing them down. "Nobody seems to want to touch the house under the circumstances. All we can do is keep praying for a miracle, and that's what we're doing," a weary Maddox says.
Meanwhile, it's also been difficult for realtor Robertson. "It was heart wrenching when we had the engineer and excavator there and, when they told us the dollar amount, we were just blindsided. People need to know this is coming."