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home : current news : current news May 26, 2018

4/24/2018 6:39:00 PM
Build Oregon explores housing in Sisters
By Sue Stafford

Fifteen Build Oregon participants came to Central Oregon last week to help build Sisters Habitat for Humanity homes and spend time getting to know Bear and Mary Gray and Becky Conner, on whose homes they worked.

"Participants also raised funds to support Habitat for Humanity of Oregon's statewide training and advocacy efforts and help fund a Habitat home in Sisters," reported Sharlene Weed, Sisters Habitat executive director.

Build Oregon started Thursday evening with a potluck dinner provided by the Sisters Habitat board of directors. At lunch on Friday, Andy Walker of Heart of Oregon and three of his Youth Build students gave a presentation, talking about their program. The Heart of Oregon students are building a home for the Ayala family.

On Friday evening, the group gathered at Lake Creek Lodge for dinner with a panel of local people to discuss successes and challenges of providing more affordable housing. Two of the panelists, Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney and Family Action Network advocate Dawn Cooper, were unable to attend due to family emergencies. Bend City Councilor Dr. Nathan Boddie, of Mosaic Medical, and Sisters Mayor Chuck Ryan offered their input; and attendees contributed as well.

Shannon Vilhauer, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Oregon, reported that the repayment rate on Habitat for Humanity mortgages, both state- and nation-wide, was 98 percent, even during the 2008-09 recession.

Weed added that of the 63 Habitat homes built in Sisters, there has only been one deed foreclosure.

Vilhauer also said that 92 percent of children who grow up in Habitat for Humanity homes graduate from high school.

Ryan opined that Sisters is experiencing the "perfect storm" where housing is concerned. There is basically a zero vacancy rate for rentals. Not one house for sale in Sisters is listed for under $300,000. The Council's goal is to have 10 percent of all housing units be deed restricted affordable and currently 80 units of 1,300 meet that designation. The Sisters Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is restricted due to being surrounded by National Forest land on three sides. At the same time, more people continue to move to Sisters.

The mayor indicated that the Sisters City Council is considering establishing a construction excise tax that would help fund affordable housing. He also talked about the LYFT funds, which helped fund the 48-unit affordable townhouses under construction by Housing Works, the project to which the City contributed $300,000.

Boddie mentioned there is a bill in the state legislature that, if passed, would put to a vote on the November ballot a constitutional amendment so the state could allow cities to raise bond funds for affordable housing.

Ryan talked about code assistance that can help builders who are providing affordable housing. They can receive a density bonus for building affordable housing, helping to reduce the land costs. Tamarack Village was granted a height bonus, which allowed them to add a third floor because all the units are affordable.

When asked what people wished they could change, Boddie spoke about wishing there was more understanding by people of the connection between secure housing, health, and education. He sees them as "different components of the same thing."

Boddie would also like to see voluntary inclusionary zoning that has to be negotiated up front.

"Inclusionary zoning isn't allowed by the state but it would be good to have. Oregon and Texas are the only states that don't allow inclusionary zoning," Boddie said. "We can either plan ahead (to handle the housing needs of all the people moving to Central Oregon) or screw it up so no one wants to move here. We can't raise local funding all alone. We need the state's help."

Weed suggested that the conversation about affordable housing needs to be reframed.

"We need to consider affordable housing part of the infrastructure," she offered.

Vilhauer closed out the evening saying, "I love that we're having this conversation."

She indicated that adequate affordable housing is currently the number-one concern and goal of mayors nationally.

There are plans for the Build Oregon program to be repeated every year in different Oregon locations.

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