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Single-family home permit numbers are dropping, but much higher for local multifamily dwellings

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Planning permit applications for single-family dwellings has slowed during the past few months.

Single-family home development appears to be slowing in Crook County, but multifamily apartment complexes have kept housing start numbers up in 2019.

According to Prineville Planning Department data for the 2019 calendar year, planning permits have been approved for 69 single-family units. Meanwhile, 145 multifamily units were approved for construction this year. A 135-unit apartment complex near Northeast Peters Road was identified as the primary driver behind the numbers. That complex is under construction, as is another 10-unit building off Southwest Deer Street.

In addition, city planning officials have received an application from Housing Works, Central Oregon's regional housing authority, for another 44-unit multifamily dwelling, but it has yet to receive approval.

"It really kind of tapered off a few months ago," said Planning Director Josh Smith regarding the single-family dwelling numbers. "Pahlisch Homes is trying to plat its third phase, so there is probably going to be some pickup on their site, but for the most part, there are just a couple of little builds going on — single-family has really fallen off."

City Associate Planner Casey Kaiser agreed, noting that the numbers for single-family permits will be down from the previous year, though multifamily unit numbers will be much higher.

"So overall, the number of dwelling units I think will be up pretty significantly from last year," Kaiser continued, "but the deceiving thing is I think the single-family units are really more of the barometer for the appetite for builders and developers. Multifamily is a little bit more of an unknown quantity because we haven't had a lot of big multifamily projects built (in Prineville)."

Smith agreed, pointing out that the biggest multifamily complexes built in recent years have been ones like Ochoco School Crossing, which was subsidized low-income housing built by Housing Works.

Whether next year will yield an uptick in development plans or a continued decline is not known, but Smith noted that if building follows historic trends, it should pick up in the spring and continue until July 1, at which time a new city budget takes effect that could impact fees and system development charges.

Neither Smith nor Kaiser could definitively identify what has caused the decline in single-family dwelling interest, though they speculated it could be tied a number of factors from rising construction costs to the start of an economic downturn.

As they wait to see what the future holds in that regard, they are equally curious how the glut of multifamily units will impact the local real estate market.

"The 135-unit, private-market-rate complex will be a pretty new and significant chunk of the market," Kaiser remarked. "When you think about it, it's 135 dwellings being dumped into the market when it's complete. That's enough to move the needle in Prineville."

Another curiosity is whether such a development will positively impact what has been a substantial lack of rental vacancy in Crook County in recent years. Smith notes that rent vacancy remains low locally but is not as severe as it was a couple of years ago. People are no longer showing up at Prineville City Council meetings voicing concerns about housing, he said.

"It will be interesting to see how that (apartment complex) changes the market," he concluded.

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