Deschutes County is a strong, vibrant and beautiful place to live. But, in the face of rapid growth, we cannot maintain our quality of life by standing still or looking wistfully backwards. Growth brings great challenges AND opportunities and, to meet them, we must recognize that housing, transportation and jobs are not separate issues. They are all growth-related. Today I’d like to look at possible integrated solutions to our affordable housing needs in Deschutes County.

If we are to remain a strong and vibrant community and ensure that those who work in Deschutes county can afford to live here

Oregon land-use law and common sense dictate that the vast majority of our housing – in all price ranges – will continue to be built in our urban areas. Still, the county has an important role to play. Cooperation between the cities and the county has been instrumental in the expansion of Redmond’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) a decade ago and Bend’s more recently. It will continue to play a vital role as our cities continue to grow. In addition, the County, along with the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC), must play an expanded role coordinating efforts among our cities and neighboring counties to address the housing and other growth-related issues on a regional basis.

Most discussions of affordable housing focus on ways to reduce the cost of new housing:

  • Removing the land cost through initiatives such as community land banks.
  • Reducing the development costs by waiving or reducing fees and system development charges (SDCs) where appropriate.
  • Offering incentives to builders.

Given our shortage of affordable housing, these are options that must be explored but they are insufficient. We can supplement them with a variety of initiatives that address the interrelatedness of housing and other issues. Possibilities include:

  • Strengthening existing neighborhoods, where housing tends to be more affordable, by allowing a variety of infill development in the form of accessory dwelling units (ADU), interior conversions, small-scale retail, townhomes, triplexes and quadplexes where compatible.
  • Planning new neighborhoods, transportation and infrastructure to accommodate a variety of transportation options. The average cost of owning a car is about $10,000 per year. If that money can be redirected towards housing, the range of affordable housing options expands.
  • Working through EDCO and others to develop and attract more “housing wage” jobs to our county.
  • Recognizing our tourism and service sectors are dependent upon lower-wage and seasonal jobs and need innovative solutions including public-private partnerships to address their unique employee housing needs.
  • Exploring the possibility of less restrictive zoning to allow businesses to provide employee housing on-site where feasible and desirable.
  • Supporting less expensive daycare options through public, private and non-profit partnerships to increase the ability of families to afford housing as well as provide benefits to employers and the community.

No one option will solve our housing crisis. But we must be willing to explore innovative solutions if we are to remain a strong and vibrant community and ensure that those who work in Deschutes county can afford to live here.

Leave a Reply