Time to start affordable housing talks

It wasn’t too long ago that the primary problem plaguing the Crook County housing market was a severe reduction in home prices.

After experiencing a housing bubble in which home prices rose literally on a monthly basis, the economy tanked, home prices plummeted, and foreclosures flooded the market as people lost their jobs and could no longer maintain the income needed to pay their mortgage.

Now, the community has slowly begun to join the economic recovery, which has produced the new phenomenon of a lack of housing in Crook County, whether we’re talking entry level-priced homes, rentals, or even higher end houses. Suddenly jobs are becoming available, yet finding a place to live has become all but impossible.

This needs to change and it needs to change as quickly as possible. Mid Oregon Personnel owner Greg Lambert recently told the Prineville City Council that an affordable housing fix could poise Crook County for growth in population and employment. He explained that some people can no longer afford to live in Bend, due to housing costs, and are looking for other places to live and work.

If Prineville could somehow offer a decent inventory of less expensive homes, it could produce a trickle up effect. More people would create a higher demand for goods and services, not to mention housing, which would encourage business growth and more jobs.

The problem is no one has a silver bullet solution. Much of the issue is market driven, as contractors prefer to make more profitable, higher-end homes, or build smaller, more affordable houses in communities where prices are higher.

Lambert suggested possible government incentives for developers who build less expensive housing, whether it be multi-family dwellings or smaller individual houses. This immediately prompted questions of what such subsidies or incentives would look like and what constitutes affordable housing.

The council was correct to ask these questions. Such terms need a concrete definition if local government is going to try to influence the housing market. However, at this point, it seems the situation has yet to take the next step. Questions abound, but now it is time for local leaders to take time to put their heads together and start coming up with solutions.

We know it is a complex issue that will take time to resolve. Perhaps, in the end, they will decide they shouldn’t step in, and the market should determine what becomes of affordable housing. However, the discussions need to happen — soon. Community leaders have gone to great lengths to diversify the economy, build a new school and hospital, in hopes of generating growth. They have done an admirable job, but if people can’t find a place to live in Crook County, all of that work will have a much smaller impact.




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