PRINEVILLE, OR -- Like much of Central Oregon, Crook County faces a housing crisis. But Prineville Planning Director Joshua Smith says his city’s challenge comes with a unique twist: A shortage of RV parks. "A lot of this has to do with the workers on the hill. We have a tremendous amount of construction workers on those data centers," Smith tells KBND News, "And that was the catalyst, I think, at least in our area. We actually created a temporary RV park code." That new code was first passed in 2016, but Smith says no one stepped up until it was revised last fall.
One new RV park is nearly ready to open, with more on the way, to serve those transient data center workers, "They’re coming in here to do a job and then they go. But the jobs just keep rolling. The buildings just keep coming. So, they may not be the same workers, but they are the same number of people." And, many of those workers bring their own housing, which has Crook County RV parks filled to the brim. That supply and demand is pushing rates up to $400 or $500 a month. Smith hopes monthly rates will decrease as the city stimulates development of more parks.
Smith says the city also needs to balance that need for parking and hook-ups now, with avoiding another bubble to burst once work at the data centers is done. "The way we wrote it, we wanted to target specific areas, specific sized properties that has the ability to develop into something else, because we’re not going to leave RV parks in industrial zones. And so, the idea was to transition but earn some money in the meantime, and fill a need at the same time." He says creating more permanent housing could leave a glut on the market later, "The beauty of the RV Park – it’s not like you’re building an apartment complex and it’s empty, or something, and it’s a huge burden. An RV park, you can pretty much transition it into something else fairly easily. Like the temporary RV park [being built] on Main Street, a lot of the infrastructure he’s building will remain for a future development."
And, he hopes a new apartment complex will ease pressure on the other end of the spectrum, too. "Now, it’s not low-income, it’s not subsidized housing," he says, "It’s market rate. We have a lot of low-income housing, in terms of small single-family homes that are older, that you might be able rent for $600 or $700. But, because of the demand, those are renting for $900, $1,200, whatever." Smith believes Prineville needs more high-end rental options, like what's in development, "The idea is that these people will move out of the lower income stock, move into the nicer, newer apartment complex, freeing up that lower income housing." In theory, he says, that will bring rental rates back down where they should be.