We are experiencing a housing crisis.
The cause of this crisis is surprisingly straightforward: A mismatch of supply and demand. Since the collapse of the housing bubble and the ensuing 2008 financial crisis, the demand for housing has rebounded, but supply has not. According to state economists, we have underbuilt housing by 110,000 units across the state of Oregon, and we’ll need an additional 584,000 units by 2030. We’ve also seen decoupling of housing costs from local wages with the rise in remote work, as people making San Francisco or Seattle salaries can work from anywhere, and many are choosing Central Oregon.
As a result, the cost of housing is skyrocketing. The median home price in Bend went from $683,000 in January to $740,000 in February to $773,000 in March. In Redmond, the median price is around $525,000. Two years ago, the average monthly mortgage payment was equal to about a third of the average monthly wage in Bend. Today it’s more than two thirds.
The impact of the housing crisis is plain for all to see. Local businesses struggle to recruit and retain employees, especially on the lower end of the wage scale. This includes early childhood educators, which further worsens the childcare desert and prevents young parents (especially women) from returning to work or seeking higher education. And, of course, we see more of our neighbors living unsheltered on our streets and public lands.
This crisis is not unique to Deschutes County, the state of Oregon, or even the West Coast. This is increasingly a national problem, with an estimated shortage of 3.4 million housing units across the United States. But the crisis is particularly acute here and we cannot wait for the federal or state government to act.
We need more housing.
Oregon’s historic land use system limits the construction of new housing outside of the established urban growth boundary, and our cities are working hard to expand housing supply within their existing limits. The county must do its part to address this crisis by thinking more creatively about how we can utilize county-owned land. A good example is COCC’s partnership with William Smith Properties to develop Campus Village, where a new apartment complex will soon undergo construction on leased land, creating additional housing supply and a durable revenue stream for the college to support students. Similarly, the Port of Vancouver has been creative in leasing its land for a complete community with mixed-used commercial and residential development.
Of course, even if we began constructing enough housing units meet demand, new supply cannot come online fast enough for those who are struggling to find a safe place to sleep tonight. Here, too, the county can play a much more robust role. Those who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction or mental illness (or both) are at higher risk of experiencing homelessness, and are often the most visible members of our unhoused community. The best way to help get these folks off the street is to provide permanent supportive housing.
Thanks to Representative Jason Kropf’s leadership in the state legislature, Deschutes County will launch a joint office on homelessness in partnership with the cities of Bend, Redmond, Sisters, and La Pine. This will certainly help break down silos between governments and service providers as they seek to help people escape homelessness.
For this to be successful, however, the county cannot rely entirely on non-profits to do the job. County leaders must lean in and commit to providing land for safe campsites, as well as to providing the necessary behavioral health services to support those struggling with addiction and mental illness to get sober and stable. Rogue Retreat in Medford provides a blueprint for a successful program that helps those in need to break the cycle of poverty and get back on track, with a graduated system of transitional housing that goes from safe tent sites to permanent supportive housing with accountability every step of the way.
That accountability piece is important. No one wants Deschutes County to follow the failed path of bigger cities like Portland and San Francisco, where the quality of life has markedly deteriorated. We simply cannot turn a blind eye to those who refuse help, threaten or attack their neighbors (housed and unhoused alike), and make our communities less safe. Here again, we can learn from leaders in Jackson County, where the county’s community justice department has partnered with the Medford Police Department’s Livability Team to proactively engage those who generate the most calls for service.
At the same time, we must hold our elected officials accountable. Tony DeBone was first elected to the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners in 2010. The following year, the Homeless Leadership Coalition released its plan to end homelessness in ten years. More than a decade later, our population of unhoused families is going in the wrong direction, increasing by 17% from 2021 to 2022. DeBone has been talking about homelessness for 12 years, but the problem is only getting worse. It’s time to stop talking and start taking action.
Oliver has a proven track record of getting things done. Following his election to the Deschutes Rural Fire District #2, firefighters saw immediate improvement in working conditions, including new beds and blackout curtains. Soon, district residents will see an improvement in services as Station 306 will finally be fully staffed with an engine crew thanks to bridge funding from the district and the city of Bend.
With your support, Oliver will bring this same spirit of collaborative problem solving to the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners.
Interested in learning more about housing and homelessness, and how we can address the livability crisis in Deschutes County? Here are resources to learn more: