Bend renters find few housing options

City officials look for ways to increase affordable housing

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin / @hborrud

Published Jun 10, 2014 at 12:01AM

Brittney Sweeney has less than a month left to find a new home for her family to rent in Bend, and the pickings are slim.

“The hard part about it now, there is a shortage of houses, but (also) just the amount of money they’re wanting for these houses,” Sweeney said Wednesday.

Sweeney, 26, lives with her boyfriend, daughter and two nephews in a four-bedroom house near Southeast 27th Street in Bend. The couple pays $1,200 a month in rent, but the owner of the house plans to sell it and the family must move out by July 6.

Sweeney noticed other houses in the neighborhood for rent at $1,700 to $2,000 a month, but said, “We can’t afford that because our wages haven’t gone up.”

Bend Mayor Jim Clinton has heard a lot of similar concerns from distressed renters, who have been emailing him to complain about the high cost and scarcity of rental housing in the city. In April, a survey by the Central Oregon Rental Owners Association of its members revealed a vacancy rate of just 0.4 percent for rental apartments in Bend and 1.2 percent for houses in the city.

Melissa Heil, 34, wrote in an email to Clinton that she runs a small counseling private practice in addition to working full time for a state agency, and her husband has a real estate appraisal business. They pay $1,295 a month for a 2,200-square-foot home, plus installments on a large student loan and other monthly bills.

The home they rent is being sold.

“For us to move into a home with similar (square footage) and in the same area (NE) of town to keep our kids in the same school, we would pay $1,695 to $2,400 per month and a deposit of approximately $2,000,” Heil wrote. “That means we must come up with an extra $400 per month at least to stay in Bend and about $4,000 to move.”

Heil said she would like to purchase a home, but she has been unable to get approved for a mortgage because of $80,000 in student loan debt.

Clinton said Thursday there is little the city government can do to control rents or provide more affordable housing in the short term. City officials might be able to increase the supply of reasonably priced rental properties in the future, if Bend changes some zoning laws and comes up with an expansion plan the state will accept.

City Manager Eric King said Tuesday that one question the city might explore is how many bank-owned homes are sitting vacant and whether the city can do anything to encourage institutions to make them available more quickly to renters or buyers. Other options would be more long term, and King asked the city Affordable Housing Advisory Committee to begin vetting ideas to increase the supply of affordable rentals.

“We are starting to look at what are some policy things we can do to incentivize more affordable housing to be built,” King said.

City Affordable Housing Manager Jim Long said Monday that possibilities include selling surplus city-owned properties at a discount to affordable-housing developers and creating a “density bonus” that would allow developers who include affordable housing in a project to build more houses, on smaller lots, that otherwise would not be permitted in a zoning area. The city could also change its code to allow larger accessory dwellings, such as apartments above garages, to make them more economically feasible to develop, and create a “cottage code” to allow projects with smaller houses clustered around a central parking area.

“At any one time, there’s 18 units available for rent (in Bend),” Long said. “That’s not enough.”

One reason for the shortage of affordable housing is that investors pay cash for many single-family homes that come on the market, Long said. “The other is we just didn’t build multifamily (housing) for a while,” Long said.

Kenny LaPoint, housing director for local housing authority Housing Works, said Thursday the region is headed toward a painful correction in rental prices in the next couple of years because many people cannot afford the rising costs. If these people choose to remain in the area and pay higher rates, any emergency such as a car repair or medical care could put them at risk of homelessness.

“This isn’t Southern California,” LaPoint said. “You can’t have a two-bedroom apartment at $2,000 a month. … Our incomes don’t match up with that in Central Oregon.”

Clinton, the Bend mayor, said he views the rental housing shortage as a symptom of a national problem of wages lagging while the cost of living increases.

“I doubt if a lot of this is unique to Bend,” Clinton said. “It’s just a manifestation of this income stagnation that has been the case for the last couple decades in this country.”

Stagnant and lost income is part of the problem for Sweeney’s family. Sweeney was a manager at A Greener Cleaner for more than five years until the business closed in March and her boyfriend, Joshuwa Allen, 31, works as a tow truck driver. Sweeney said the couple is responsible and has good credit, but “I don’t know what they expect us renters to do if we’re not ready to buy, if we don’t have a down payment.” She grew up in Central Oregon and wants to stay in Bend, but said she and Allen have discussed moving somewhere else with more available rental housing and better paying jobs.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,

Rents up in Bend

According to an annual survey of rental owners in Central Oregon communities, rents are up in most areas. The survey looks at apartments, duplexes, triplexes, houses and manufactured homes, but the largest and most consistent sample across communities is for three-bedroom houses. The survey is released in April each year, so the average is for the first quarter.

At the same time, vacancy rates are as low as they’ve been in years. The same survey tracks vacancy rates, but data for type of unit is only available from 2011 forward. The data in the survey represent only a fraction of the rental units available in Bend and surrounding communities, but are one of the most consistent measures available for tracking rental information in the area.