Thursday, June 4, 2015

Making Bend less affordable and less livable

Current minimum wage in Oregon is $9.25 per hour
Now that the insane upswing of housing prices is again making Bend unaffordable for working-class families, we get the usual hypocrisy about making housing more "affordable" by giving tax/fee breaks to the richest among us.

That old "trickle-down" philosophy worked so well for national debt. Right.

So, it appears the park district will cave on collecting up to $500,000 in development fees under the vague guise that this will make housing more affordable.

Uh, no it won't.

The city tried this during the downturn and, while housing prices cratered, so did any jobs that enabled anyone to afford those reduced prices.

The city set aside some fees for "affordable housing" money that was available only to non-profits.

Well, the Central Oregon Builders Association created a non-profit entity to capture those dollars which, in turn, enriched its members. It also built up a war chest to fight regulations, fees and, yes, affordable housing mandates. It also had a lot more money to advertise in the local daily for the annual tour of homes. Naturally, the daily paper constantly rails against any building impact fee.

Even the park district said it will give a "preference" to "affordable housing" projects, which means the money will go to the pockets of the usual developers.

Also, the park district says it will forego developing parks it promised residents because it won't be collecting the fees from developers to build those parks.

As dissenting park board member Nathan Hovekamp said, "Do we really want a sprawling city with less parks and trails?"

No, we don't, but that is exactly what we are going to get, along with terrible roads.

The building fees, which amount to less than 5 percent of the median home price here, are not making housing unaffordable. Subtract the $17,000 in city/park district fees from the median price of $310,000 and the homes are still not affordable to workers in the tourist industry of Bend.

As I've mentioned before in previous posts, no new home will be reduced by $17,000 by any builder. No, he'll just make and additional $17,000. Also, no one has ever prevented any builder from building affordable housing.

It takes $16.61 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Oregon, where the minimum wage is a respectable $9.25 per hour.

What is really making housing unaffordable, particularly for renters in Bend, is the escalating hikes to water, sewer and stormwater fees.

For years, the city has hiked its water and sewer rates at triple the rate of inflation. A two-bath home with one occupant in Bend averages about $100 per month water and sewer bill. Tack on another $48 (soon to be $60) per year for stormwater runoff and the monthly rent gets out of control.

The city can assess a building impact fee for stormwater, but caves in to the building industry and refuses to even consider it.

Now, instead of adding a 5-cent tax per gallon of gas for road maintenance as most major cities in the state do, the city is considering a new "utility" fee for roads that will add another $120 per year to the rent bill. And, if you don't even drive a car, you still get to pay for the roads you don't use. Evidently, the city doesn't think the principle that you pay for what you use, as in water or sewer, is applicable to road usage. Yes, that is hypocritical.

The oil industry is fighting hard to thwart any increase in the gas tax and they will likely succeed.

Meanwhile, the city says it has $80 million worth of deferred road maintenance and refuses to spend much money it does have to repair our crumbling roads. No, it would rather put the burden on property taxpayers in the form of a road bond.

Obviously, such bonds make housing less and less affordable.

So, in order to give the builders and developers outrageous breaks on building-impact fees, the taxes and fees for the average household escalate.

The tax burden shifts from the rich to the less affluent.

All this talk about making housing more "affordable" is sheer hypocrisy. In fact, it does just the opposite.

Sadly, Bend's livability suffers as a result.


  1. A great rebuttal to the Bend Bulletin. Spot on.

  2. The City actually wants a gas tax. People who agree with that should speak up, so that we don't let the oil industry decide how to pay for our roads.