SALEM, OR -- Central Oregon lawmakers have proposed changing how the state disperses affordable housing funds. Senator Tim Knopp (R-Bend), and Representatives Knute Buehler (R-Bend) and Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) want changes to the program that collects deed recording fees and distributes them to counties to help fund affordable housing.
Bend’s Affordable Housing Manager Jim Long testified before the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee Thursday, to explain why more of those funds should come back to Central Oregon. "I realize that Bend’s not rural – we’re the 7th largest city in Oregon. But, in another sense we are rural – you can’t find anywhere in the US that’s over 50,000 that’s over a 120 miles from an interstate other than Bend, and we’re at 80,000 population. You can’t get out of Bend without going over a mountain pass; in effect we’re an island. But, we’re also the fastest growing city in Oregon, and one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and that’s put tremendous pressure on our housing market."
Long pointed out that Bend’s growth has helped fund a large portion of the program, since it collects fees from real estate transactions. Yet, Deschutes County has received a relatively small amount of that money back. "When people are coming into town, looking for a place to rent, there are about 5 places to choose from – and that’s everything from a mansion on Awbrey Butte, to a studio if you can find it. We also have one of the top ten cities in housing price increase. Portland’s own website says that they have one of the tightest housing markets in the country, with a 3.4% vacancy rate. I’d be thrilled to have that in Bend, we’re a long way from getting there."
Senator Knopp testified that Deschutes County has contributed about $4-million to the fund, which is about 40% of the total money awarded by the fund, statewide. "The struggle for Central Oregon, specifically Bend, is that Bend has been a significant donor to this fund, but hasn’t seen a significant return. I know that those of you who know the Central Oregon real estate market know that there is virtually no vacancy whatsoever, I think .25% is the vacancy rate in the rental market. That means if you don’t know somebody who’s moving out of a home, you’re pretty much out of luck."
Deschutes County has received less than $1-million back from the fund, since its inception. The mayors of both Bend and Redmond submitted letters supporting SB-516, questioning why a county representing only 4% of the state’s population is contributing such a large amount to a fund and seeing very little in return.