This is a guest post from a member of our tech community, David Welton, who is spearheading the local YIMBY movement, which is interested in more finding more affordable housing solutions. David connects the dots for why this is an issue for the tech community and beyond.

By David Welton

Bend has a promising startup landscape, but like many other things in town, it’s “under construction.” One advantage we have is that we can learn from the mistakes that other towns have made. One problem that many other places with successful tech industries face is that housing supply has not kept pace with the number of people who want to live there. This drives up prices, with some ugly consequences for the people forced out, as well as the broader community. For an area that has yet to fully cement its position as a local tech hub, there are also some direct costs to businesses:

Knowledge businesses, which include most startups, depend on their employees: without the right employees, even the best of ideas will go nowhere. And good employees, like everyone else, are interested in being well-compensated for what they do. Bend’s a great place to live, but being able to live in a place with so many opportunities for outdoor recreation only goes so far, and spending power still counts for a lot.

Most people spend something like ⅓ of their income on housing – it’s their single largest expense. Since 2012, the price of housing in Bend has nearly doubled. This means that if you run a business, or are investing in a company, your would have to spend twice what you would have for the people in your company – or local portfolio companies if you’re an investor – to occupy the same housing. In other words, your ability to attract and retain talented new workers in Bend, has taken a big hit, because of rapidly appreciating house prices. To be fair, 2012 was at the bottom of the trough, so we can debate the exact numbers, but the point stands: keeping house prices under control would make it easier to hire new employees who do not already own a house in Bend, or if you’re self funded, give you a longer runway.

The direct effects on local companies are obvious, but there are knock-on effects of the housing crisis as well. Do you have kids in school, or plan to one day, and want them to have good teachers? Ever needed a nurse, firefighters or the police? These are all hard working people our community needs, who may one day be priced out if Bend’s housing prices continue to climb. This is not hypothetical – look at the California Bay Area as an example of how badly things can go wrong. Not to mention all the people who work in service industries that pay even less.

As with any other good, housing is governed by the laws of supply and demand: building enough housing causes prices to drop. And as this article explains, there are a wide variety of ways to add housing, ranging from pure sprawl to tall towers, and everything in between.  

Bend is growing out, some, thanks to the UGB process, but also needs to better utilize the existing space by building in and up – which also adds needed variety in our housing. The first step is to remove legal barriers to that development. Currently, zoning laws forbid most of Bend from being developed for anything but expensive single family homes, and as this article states, “density is how the working poor outbid the rich for urban land.” 

How can you help?

  1. Sign up for the Bend YIMBY group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BendYIMBY or if you’re busy, sign up for the low volume announcement mailing list: https://bendyimby.com/join-us/ – fixing this problem is an ongoing, collaborative effort.
  2. Email your city councilors at [email protected] – one of the advantages of being in a town that’s not too big is that they do read and even respond to their email.  Ask them to enact rule changes that favor more housing, and a larger variety of housing in Bend. A current example is aligning the “comp plan” with the zoning map. Another idea would be allowing up to 4-plexes “by right” in all areas of the city zoned for housing. Favoring the construction of proposed apartments in all of the city – not just on the east side – would also bring a lot of supply on line.
  3. If you’d like to learn more about the housing crisis and housing policy, we have a reading list here: https://bendyimby.com/2017/06/12/yimby-reading/