Singular effort needed to solve temporary housing issue

The good news is Prineville is seeing a recent surge in data center construction that is bringing hundreds of construction jobs and workers to the community.

With that comes employment opportunities for local construction workers and an infusion of spending at local restaurants, grocery stores and motels.

The bad news is Prineville has reached its saturation point for housing. Even with construction workers finding temporary residence in motels and RV parks, the city could slap a “no vacancy” sign on the entrance to town because there is essentially nowhere left for new workers to go — and more workers are reportedly on the way soon.

To the city and county’s credit, they have both tried to tackle the problem and some local construction companies even stepped up to the plate. That’s the good news. The bad news is different people had different ideas and at this point, those differences have seemingly hindered the possibility of filling a very immediate housing need.

Local leaders recently learned that a large group of electricians are on their way to the area to work on the data centers and will arrive in the next 60 days. Local construction company owners also received the news, and data center subcontractors reached out to them for help.

This prompted the private businesses to work with the city on possibly building some temporary housing in short order near the data centers. The catch is it would be on industrial land, so land use code changes would be necessary to make it happen. So the city began that effort.

At the same time, the county began looking at an expansion of its RV park. The county owns land near the current park, one that is already home to many data center construction workers. If constructed, the expansion would provide up to 60 new spaces.

All of this good-intentioned work looks promising on the surface, but unfortunately, problems arose. Since private companies had pursued one project and the county sought out another, the business owners had second thoughts about going forward and potentially building a temporary housing area only to later compete with a county facility. As Scott Porfily with SMAF puts it, no family would choose a quickly developed housing unit in an industrial zone, removed from downtown and near constant construction, over a park setting along the scenic Crooked River.

So the private businesses pulled the plug on their project.

This action hasn’t deterred the city from moving ahead on its land use code change, but the municipality has no interest in developing any housing on the property. They instead want to set the table for private business to develop the site. The likelihood of that happening in time to provide the incoming electricians with housing space seems small at this point.

The RV park expansion could solve the problem if not for the fact that it will definitely not be ready in time to meet immediate housing needs. In fact, at this point, the county is waiting for results of a feasibility study it recently approved before any other action is taken.

So here we are seemingly in limbo and it’s hard to say what the best move would be. Porfily has said that the private companies may resume their plans if the county backs off its RV park plans. Then again, if the county does that, the community could miss out on much needed space for construction workers and tourists down the road.

Might another developer see an opportunity and take advantage of the city’s potential code change? So far, none have publicly stepped forward.

While we don’t know what the right answer is, we do believe that if county and city leaders sit in the same room with private construction companies, they may have a better chance of solving the immediate housing situation while also finding a way to follow through on more long-term plans.

We would urge them to take that step because, based on what data center contractors are saying, this housing situation is only going to escalate as construction continues to ramp up. Remember, Apple just announced plans to build a third data center building.

We applaud all of the parties involved thus far and their well-intentioned actions, but at the same time, hope this isn’t the end of the road with this situation. This community would surely benefit from the workers staying local while they work here. Let’s find a way to make it happen.