Housing Costs Draining the Labor Pool

Housing Costs Draining the Labor Pool

Oct 28, 2021

By Katy Brooks, CEO, Bend Chamber

This article originally appeared in The Bulletin on October 24, 2021

Ask an employer in Bend what their largest obstacle is for hiring and you’ll hear a consistent complaint — their workers can’t find an affordable place to live, and they are losing, or can’t hire employees as a result.

Our housing shortage is devastating our available labor pool and as Bendites watch the situation worsen, they are ready for solutions. While there is a shortage of every type of housing, from subsidized apartments to single family, the most difficult type to build is mid-market. When housing is no longer affordable to teachers, health care workers, fire fighters, trades people, public employees and other mid-level income professions, we all have a problem. We can’t make Bend inaccessible to the very workforce we rely upon.

Recently the Bend Chamber of Commerce commissioned a public opinion survey to take a sounding of people’s view on how we dig out of our housing hole. The survey, conducted by GS Strategy Group and Gallatin Public Affairs, confirmed what we already suspected regarding the severity of Bend’s housing crisis, but also provided some surprising and actionable insights:

    • It’s too expensive here — 67% said they know someone who has had to leave Bend or couldn’t move here due to the unaffordability of housing.
    • Rents are too high — 58% believe rising rents are a bigger concern than rising home ownership costs.
    • Need for infill and higher buildings — nearly 70% support what is described as planned urban areas that are easy and accessible to multiple travel modes, and have great community amenities, like the Bend Central District.

The conclusions from the survey: Let’s build in, build up then build out. And let’s build faster.

The city has already begun setting the groundwork to prepare for building more housing for our growing population. They are constructing roadway improvements and making our streets more pedestrian and bike friendly. The city has also designated areas for more dense development like the Central District Urban Renewal Area, and new mixed-use zones around Bend.

However, we are so far behind in having enough housing for those seeking it that it will take years to build the inventory we need. That means we need to move faster and we need to be more creative. This will require significant investment in building housing in Bend and a more collaborative approach to accelerating the effort.

This can happen on several fronts. The city can help make housing happen faster by proactively engaging developers interested in midmarket and multifamily housing. For example, offering streamlined development agreements can encourage more rapid construction of larger buildings that, in exchange, could require the builder to designate a number of below-market residential units.

Partially reducing fees, leveraging tax credits, density bonuses, deed restrictions and other incentives can be also be useful to build the type of housing we need.

Public and private partnerships where housing infrastructure and construction costs are shared can also fast-track development. This is especially true in areas that are zoned for more dense development. For example, the city’s investment in streets, utilities and a new pedestrian overpass in the Central District will attract private investors and builders as they see the city’s commitment to readying the area for development.

And the city needs to be internally ready for fast-tracked development. The first task is for the city to fix their permitting system. This is causing long delays and adding huge costs to construction. The city knows this is an issue and is bringing in help, but the situation has begun discouraging development and needs to be remedied quickly.

However, workforce housing isn’t the responsibility of government alone. The private sector has a lead role to play. As housing becomes a bigger deterrent for people seeking or being offered jobs in Bend, employers are eager for solutions. Trends across the country range from including housing cost offsets as an employee benefit, to companies as investors in building new workforce housing.

To that end, the Chamber is convening a coalition of employers, investors and developers who are interested in exploring how to sponsor, partner with or build workforce housing in Bend. We also need employers to advocate at the local and state level for policies that encourage midmarket housing. And we are assisting housing developers with aligning community needs and partnerships as they develop new projects.

It’s time to get creative and collaborative in fast-tracking workforce housing. If you’re an employer who is interested in learning more and joining the cause, visit bendchamber.org/workforcehousing, or contact the Bend Chamber at info@bendchamber.org.


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