Thursday afternoon, city managers from across Central Oregon came together to discuss problems and positives the High Desert is facing.
One common theme: affordable housing.
“We are pulling out every trick that we can to increase supply,” said Eric King, the city manager of Bend.
Whether it’s partnering with private companies for community investments like Prineville, or fueling competitive housing markets like Redmond, The City Club of Central Oregon highlighted each High Desert city’s efforts with the housing crisis.
“For our housing district, a good number was 20-30 housing units. We did 148 last year,” said Gus Burril, the city manager of Madras.
“We’ve been doing about 100 de-restricted units of affordable housing per year,” said King. “We’ve ramped that up and as you’ve mentioned we have about 1000 units in the pipeline over two years.”
“And now we have 44 low-income apartments under construction,” said Steve Forrester, the city manager of Prineville.
With all of this growth, comes a need to solve the workforce crisis.
“It’s not just putting out competitive wages, so we can have the growth and manage the growth, it’s about supplying an affordable place to live,” said Geoff Wullschlager, the city manager of La Pine.
Eric King mentioned Bend being the first city in the state to pass House Bill 2001 to allow more multi-family housing.
That theme of expanding available housing types resonated with each city manager’s speech.
“And the idea is to really push the limits on the kind of units, the size of units,” said Keith Witcosky, Redmond’s city manager.
Even La Pine, now the youngest city in Oregon, is seeing immense growth in need of more housing.
“We were 1,600 people I believe in the 2010 census,” Wullschlager said “And we were anticipated by the PSU population data center to hit 2,600 by 2030. Well the update this July put us over 2,600.”
With that growth and lack of housing, comes drought, transportation, and a booming homeless crisis.
“And we need to look at this through the lens of ‘there’s a significant part of our population that’s been left behind,” King said.
Each city partners with nonprofits to provide more shelter for the houseless community,
“There’s a lot of mixed opinions on where they should be allowed and should we just shoo them around all year,” Burril said.
Though moving forward, city managers agreed throwing money at solutions for the homeless will only get Central Oregon so far.
“There’s a lot of laws they’re protected by and we can’t just haul them to another community and drop them off,” Burril said.
Throughout the meeting, one message was clear.
“It isn’t going to matter, in my opinion, whether you’re in Bend or Madras or Redmond, the pricing is going to be up there,” Forrester said.
One point brought up continually during the city manager meeting is that affordable housing will not just affect big cities.
As more and more people move to the High Deserts smaller towns will also need more accommodations.