Friday, October 9, 2015

The myth of 'affordable housing'

New apartments, right, will block view of iconic Pilot Butte
We need a more realistic definition of what it means to have "affordable housing."

 It's a phrase that builders, Realtors, government types and newspaper editors all say they want, but do little to make a reality for renters or buyers.

So, for clarity, transparency and truth, "affordable housing" means it's more affordable for the builder/developer, not the renter or buyer.

It's like "routine surgery," which is only routine for the doctor, not the patient.

The city of Bend is now promoting higher density home-building by not collecting up to $1 million in impact fees.

The theory is that higher density, particularly with new apartment complexes, will lead to "affordable housing."

The less, though, a builder or developer has to spend on impact fees, the more he can spend in the local media to market his properties. Hence, the local "support" for eliminating impact fees.

It does not mean the cost on those properties will become cheaper for the buyer or renter.

There is no evidence presented by anyone that no impact fees on new development creates "affordable housing."

It does mean, however, that infrastructure to support that growth will erode. Right now, Bend needs more than $80 million that it doesn't have just to maintain the current roads.

And, what is considered affordable? Paying $1,500 to rent a small house in Bend or $900 for a 1 bedroom/1 bath apartment is not affordable to most of the working class in this town.

In fact, teachers, firemen and police officers are having a tough time finding an affordable place to buy in Bend and have moved to Redmond or points beyond.

Inventory is not the problem. There are plenty of houses for sale and a handful of nearly vacant subdivisions ready for new homes.

The new apartment buildings planned for Bend are nowhere near the new OSU-Cascades campus. Walking, or even bicycling, to OSUC will be impossible for the majority of the students there. Relying on our token transit system is not much of an option either.

Bend attracts people to move here from all over the country. It is popular.

Anything popular is usually more expensive.

The going rate for renting or buying is whatever the market will bear and has absolutely nothing to do with building impact fees.

Right now, we have a bull market on price increases.

New apartments are going up right next to Pilot Butte, which is an icon for the entire region. The existing apartments there, called The Commons at Pilot Butte, had their rates jacked up by $300 a month this past summer.

The median price of a home in Bend is again nearly $350,000. Consequently, Bend is now considered one of the most over-valued housing markets in the country.

After the 2008 crash, the plunge here was steeper than in most of the country.

This roller-coaster effect underscores the point that counting on home/apartment construction to sustain our economy is as bad as relying on the timber industry was for much of Bend's history.

The underlying principle hasn't changed: Many people, particularly those who grew up here and work a minimum wage job, don't make enough money to own, or, in some cases, even rent a place to call home.

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