Bend needs 16,681 new residences by 2028. What kind?

Balancing homes and apartments for the future

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

Anticipating Bend’s housing needs

The city of Bend needs 16,681 new residences by 2028. As part of a 2010 request to expand Bend’s urban growth boundary, the city proposed that 65 percent of the needed homes should be single-family units. The state rejected that proposal, saying the city must consider the need for more affordable units. A new proposal being studied calls for 55 percent single-family homes.

Bend has long been a town of single-family homes, the public-policy term for traditional houses, arranged in rows and separated by yards.

The city is now charged with planning for the number of such houses to be built by developers through 2028, while also making allowances for apartments and townhouses.

Such a “housing mix” was included in a 2010 proposal to expand the city’s urban growth boundary, the line beyond which the city is not allowed to develop. That proposal, which called for 65 percent of all new homes within the current and future boundary to be single-family, was rejected by the state and sent back to the city.

According to the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission, which reviews UGB proposals, the city failed to justify how such a housing mix would satisfy the need for more affordable options, a need the city itself had argued was driven by a lack of apartments.

The city and LCDC agree Bend needs 16,681 new residences by 2028, but now they must agree on what kinds of residences those will be.

Final say is up to the City Council, but city staff and a committee of volunteers working on the urban growth boundary process have proposed a new mix, cutting the number of new single-family homes down to 55 percent. The remainder is split into 10 percent for what’s called single-family attached housing, which often means townhouses, and 35 percent multifamily, which is commonly apartments.

“Getting to those numbers was a blend of art, science and, to be honest, politics,” said Brian Rankin, the city’s principal planner.

The art, Rankin said, lies in the inherent guesswork of predicting future needs, while the science comes from the way the guessing was informed by models based on a variety of factors. Some of the variables the city examined include past trends, demographic preferences and population projections. However, there is no single way to combine those factors, and the city was able to produce multiple projections for the needed housing mix.

The residential technical advisory committee, a group of volunteers studying the housing mix, initially supported backing a mix that called for 60 percent new single-family homes. That idea, however, encountered the political reality of Oregon’s land use laws.

At a residential committee meeting in late August, a representative of the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development was asked if he thought the 60 percent or 55 percent option — known respectively as trend one and trend two — had a better chance of being approved by the state.

“Of the two presented, trend two is better,” Rankin recalled the DLCD representative saying.

Andy High, a vice president for the Central Oregon Builders Association and a member of the residential committee, said he believed trend one was the better option, but because of the dire need to expand the urban growth boundary, he backed trend two.

“There’s an extreme land shortage in Central Oregon,” High said last week. “If we don’t do anything, we’re just going to see land prices rise. The reason I supported trend two is because it will likely pass. I think the other way, the 60 percent way, would have better reflected what our community is actually like.”

The two trends

If trend one and trend two were both built out, it would be hard to tell which was which from a bird’s-eye view. If trend one became a reality, by 2028, the city would have 35,633 total single-family homes. With trend two, the number would be 34,799, a gap of 834. Even compared with the original proposal, which called for 65 percent single-family, trend two is only off by 1,668, while the number of multifamily units increases by 333 to 13,223.

Tom Kemper, the executive director of Housing Works, the region’s housing authority, and a member of the residential committee, said he didn’t feel there was enough evidence pointing toward either option.

“It felt like it was just, ‘Do you want door A or door B?’” Kemper said in October. “It’s all a matter of degree between the two, but the interesting thing about it is that it is a substantial departure from the historic trend, which makes a lot of people nervous. I think the speed with which we’re doing this makes me nervous.”

Sid Snyder, a retired software developer on the residential committee, said Friday he believed the city could have gone even further away from single-family homes.

“There’s this one view that we know what people want, because we have the historical data to show what people have bought,” Snyder said. “I don’t agree with that. What people bought can also simply be a reflection of what was available. If you need a roof over your head, you may not like it, but you have to take what’s available.”

Supporting the idea that future development should embrace more apartments and townhouses is the observation that younger generations prefer these housing styles over traditional homes with a fenced-in yard. There’s also the fact that Bend’s rental vacancy rate is less than 1 percent while many of those lucky enough to have an apartment have experienced rising rents.

It has also been argued that the risk of overestimating the need for apartments is less severe than for single-family homes. As Rankin pointed out, “A person who can afford a single-family home can also get an apartment, but the opposite is not always true.”

Nonetheless, Bend residents haven’t always welcomed multifamily developments. A recently proposed apartment complex off Southwest Summer Lake Place has led to residents organizing in opposition, claiming the development will create more traffic and change the feel of the neighborhood . On Northwest Steidl Road, a small street by the Portland Avenue bridge with single-family homes, neighbors fought the building of a triplex for five years, bringing the case to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals multiple times.

“We’re not changing this city into a bunch of tenements,” Snyder said. “That’s absurd, but that’s the way many folks have reacted to this. They just see these big, ugly apartment complexes. One, they don’t need to be big, and two, they don’t need to be ugly. They can be perfectly attractive, and they can be duplexes, triplexes, condominiums or townhouses.”

Rankin made the point that in Old Bend, one of the city’s more expensive neighborhoods, multifamily homes exist on streets dominated by large single-family homes.

“We’re not talking about anything new here,” he said. “In the city’s most historic neighborhood, you can see these buildings right across from some of the most valuable single-family homes in the city.”

Rankin pointed to a stretch of Northwest Broadway, where a series of lots have multiple units. And on Northwest Riverside, right across from Drake Park, what looks like a single-family home is actually divided into multiple apartments.

“Density can fit in these neighborhoods without affecting livability, you already see that across the city,” he said.

To help new development shift toward apartments and townhouses, the city is considering changes to its code. The ideas range from creating incentives for such developments with smaller fees to allowing more flexibility in how close a building can come to the sidewalk. The city could also set more strict requirements for density in areas across the city, making it impossible to build large single-family homes in places prime for redevelopment.

“The problem is, it’s up to the developer to actually build something,” Rankin said. “The city has little power to determine how developers work. They interpret demand and risk and the code and profit, and then decide what to do. We can change policies to help the market produce the needed housing, but we really can’t make anything happen. That’s why we need to make sure what we propose is supported by the market.”