The city of Bend, Oregon (pop. 100K) is an attractive place: in the mountains, on a river, and home to many remote workers, even prior to the pandemic. According to Tyler Neese, Government Affairs Director of the Central Oregon Association of REALTORS®, new residents are currently moving to Bend at a rate of about twelve per day, putting continual pressure on an already inadequate housing supply and driving prices sky-high. With help from the REALTOR® Party, COAR has been working hard to address housing affordability and inventory.
The association is one of nineteen entities involved with Housing for All, a regional housing consortium that last fall, following an in-depth housing-needs analysis, launched a public awareness campaign to educate and engage the community in local housing issues. Support for the effort came from a Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party. Through compelling use of story-telling on both digital and traditional platforms, as well as at in-person events, the campaign will ultimately provide elected officials and decision-makers with actionable data and community support as they move forward with policies and initiatives to increase housing access and affordability in the region, says Neese.
The intricacies of Oregon’s land use system add another level of complexity to development, as municipalities must undergo an extensive state-level process in order to annex more acres into their Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). Certain that expanding the city’s UGB was one of the most productive ways to address Bend’s housing shortage, the REALTORS® urged a resistant City Council to include revising the UGB in its recent biennial goal-setting process. When the Council obliged, local housing advocates were relieved and the REALTORS® implemented a Call For Action to thank and encourage the lawmakers – and to keep the pressure on.
Every two years, explains Neese, the City Council engages in a mandated goal-setting process, which is where the determination to seek expansion of its UGB typically begins; from there, it must prove to the state that Bend has exhausted other options for added housing, such as developing infill and increasing density, in order to be granted an expansion. It’s always a “political dance,” he says, with organizations like the REALTORS®, the builders, and the Chamber of Commerce feeling the urgent need for additional supply to meet the overwhelming demand for housing, while environmental groups are often reluctant to allow for more development. Four of the seven City Council members were recently voted-in on pro-density platforms, but, says Neese, in Bend, where height restrictions protect the views and there are very few buildings taller than 45 feet, infill only gets you so far. “There’s a saying,” he adds: “’The only thing Oregonians hate more than density is sprawl!’”
Though initially resistant to an expansion of Bend’s UGB, over time, the City Council gradually warmed to the idea, thanks to steady advocacy from the REALTORS® and their allies. Once language was added to the draft of the 2021-2023 goals committing “to match demand with supply and prepare for a revised Urban Growth Boundary,” the REALTORS® wanted to ensure the Council of community support. It turned to the REALTOR® Party for help with a Call For Action.
The language in the CFA was positive, notes Neese, which he’s learned may not spur the same strength reaction as appeals containing the words ‘Stop!’ and ‘Oppose!’ “We felt that saying ‘Thank you!’ and providing a measure of positive reinforcement was important,” he says. “We were very pleased with the response rate of our members and know that this demonstration of support within the community for expansion of the UGB had an impact on Councilors.” The language approving an expanded UGB remained in the final goals. Now, says Neese, comes the hard work of convincing the state to approve the request for expansion when the time comes, further defining the use of allocated land, and implementing the development of more affordable housing.
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Central Oregon are supporting opportunities to maximize affordable housing in the city of Bend, contact Government Affairs Director Tyler Neese at email@example.com or 541.382.6027.