(Photo above: Aspen Springs Villas in Redmond was renovated using funds from the Oregon Housing and Community Services | courtesy of Housing Works)
Oregon’s economy is in recovery mode from the recession, which is great news. Bad news, we’re still in a housing crisis. Affordable housing is scarce throughout Oregon and especially here in Central Oregon. Bend’s vacancy rates are falling below 1 percent and the cost of homes are continuing to rise. There is a glimmer of hope! In July’s legislative session the state committed an additional $62.5 million in bonds for affordable housing in Oregon.
The Division of Funds
The $62.5 million in bonds is broken into three categories – preserving existing housing, housing people with mental illness, and creating new affordable housing. Two lottery backed bonds totally $22.5 million are committed to preserving existing affordable housing (i.e. paying for expiring federal project-based rental assistance contracts or maturing federal loans) and providing housing for people with mental illness (to be managed through The Oregon Health Authority).
The final $40 million of general obligation bonds are dedicated to building new affordable homes for low income Oregonians (families earning less than 60% of the area median income) as part of the Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) Housing Program. Different than lottery backed bonds, general bonds are a new funding source that Oregon has not used for affordable housing. These bonds require the state to take an ownership role in the property.
The state has set up two subcommittees to write a policy and financing structure on how to use/disperse these general bond funds based on the goals of the legislation and Governor. Legislation’s points of consensus include: serving families with kids; keeping development simple; building quickly; geographic diversity; and keeping construction and development costs low. The governor’s priorities include: families within the DHS child welfare, communities of color in poverty, and rural communities not recovered from the recession.
The committees’ have been meeting since mid-September and their recommendations are due to the State Housing Council by early February 2016. Discussions have included the role of data in prioritizing communities, the project selection process, ownership risks, and turn-key model of development. This won’t be a speedy process but they are trying to make it efficient with a goal to have the funds released by Spring 2017.
Central Oregon’s Situation and Opportunity
So what are the chances these funds are going to make it to Central Oregon? According to a 2015 needs versus inventory assessment by Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) released in February, Deschutes County was 62.9 percent underserved (goal is to be at 100%). Meaning we’re nearly 1,000 units short just to meet our current need (Peter – see chart below to verify).
Deschutes County ranks among the top 10 counties in Oregon with the greatest need. This is one tool OHCS currently uses to evaluate potential projects to be funded, positioning our county well. OHCS will be looking for development teams with innovative strategies to create a modern model of affordable housing development. Private/public partnerships, a sophisticated housing authority, and many dedicated community members are all opportunities that will position our area well. In particular when Bend gets the urban growth boundary plan updated and approved by the Land Conservation and Development Commission more land will be available for development easing the demand on existing available land. For more information on the LIFT Housing program and process visit: http://www.oregon.gov/ohcs/Pages/lift-housing-development-program.aspx.
Peter Baer is president and founder of Pinnacle Architecture, Inc. He is dedicated to enhancing communities and lives through Pinnacle’s projects. Specializing in affordable housing, rural healthcare, and public service projects he actively helps his clients transform their visions to reality. These have included a recent renovation of Aspen Villas and Reindeer Meadows in Redmond and a new housing complex in Island City called Blue Springs Crossing, the first affordable housing in their community in two decades. Peter can be reached at 541-388-9897 or Peter-Baer@PinnacleArchitecture.com.