The montana gap from bozeman to bend, how two cities are responding to growth gas near me app


They’re there for the mountains that form the crest of the Cascades. And for the access to the Deschutes River that edges along the city, past Bend’s Old Mill District where three smokestacks serve as evidence of the community’s past. The shell of two mills now hold shops, galleries and restaurants.

Until his retirement this month, Long served as Bend’s affordable housing managerfor 13 years, molding Bend’s response to the city’s housing crunch. That’s when Bend’s population tipped past 50,000 and qualified for some federal dollars to help keep it affordable.

City leaders are in the final stages of picking who will be Bozeman’s Jim Long — the first person charged with putting together the city’s affordable housing program. The role is supposed to connect the pieces between city officials, the nonprofits and those building, developing and looking for housing. No pressure.

Through its growth, Bend’s added an arts and culture community along with more indoor places to play. A Google search for food pulls up a map cluttered with options from breweries to Thai cuisine — though beer stops may outnumber restaurants.

“Bozeman and Bend’s natural amenities are the same, the mountains are still there,” Ward said. “But I think they became like a cool club. The cool boutiques, the restaurants, it makes it so much easier for more people to get off the plane, look around, and say ‘sign me up.’”

Bend was hit hard in the 2008 recession. Kemper, the director of Housing Works, central Oregon’s version of HRDC in Bozeman, said median home values dropped from $395,000 to $195,000. Very little was built over the next four or five years. Then as the economy began to recover, “Boom.”

Like Bozemanites, those who don’t make it in that former category tend to have roommates or most of their money going to rent. And that’s okay for a while, Kemper said, because many people are waiting longer for the life of kids and a house with a yard.

To afford the median home for sale in Bend, a shopper would need to make $81,400 a year. The median household income is $59,400. Those who are building considerable wealth through home equity can’t cash that out without moving to a less popular city.

He said when Bend’s downturn hit, the city could have done a few things. It could have bought more land while it was cheap to lower developers’ costs. But city hall didn’t have the budget for it. Going another step back, he said Bend could have built “a treasure chest” for affordable housing. But, then again, city leaders would have needed to bet on growth.

“You’re always going to be behind the curve,” Kemper said. “Bend has done more than most in terms of grappling with their affordable housing issue. If [Bozeman is] like Bend, where it’s a really desirable place to live, it ain’t going to change.”

Of course there are differences between Bend and Bozeman. Bozeman has a university with an international airport down the road. Bend has a branch of Oregon State University, a two-year college and quick access to major cities like Portland. The Oregon town also has strict land-use laws that protects green space and farmlands.

In raw numbers, Bend ranks second in Oregon for building the state’s most affordable housing units in the past decade, just behind Portland, which has Bend’s population times seven. Their definition of affordable means people making $51,000or less can live there and save some of their paycheck.

He did that through a fee-based program that relies on builders. The first of its kind in Oregon, it went into place in 2006. The city charges one-third of 1 percent of the value of every building permit issued. That’s whether it’s a new restaurant or a simple house addition.

Since it rolled into place, the fee program has collected $6.4 million. It’s loaned more than $14 million dollars (thanks to the recycling) leveraged nearly $78 million in state and federal funding and $28.4 million in private equity. All that led to the creation of 770 affordable units.

Long said it was a solution some builders and real estate agents didn’t appreciate. Soon after Bend rolled out its program, state lawmakers outlawed other places from following suit. They flipped that during Oregon’s last legislative session in a series of bills aiming to fix what lawmakers called a statewide affordable housing crisis.

“The unavailability of housing affects nearly everything else. Something has to give, and so it’s health care, it’s food, it’s education, it’s transportation,” she said. “If you’ve heard of death by 1,000 cuts, here we’re trying for recovery by 1,000 bandages.”

Here’s a sample of that list: Bend has an affordable housing developer incentive plan, expedited review and permitting, a low income rental property tax exemption, a cottage housing ordinance to encourage smaller homes on smaller lots and some exemptions for their version of impact fees.

“We really feel like we’re never going to figure out the solution if we’re not trying to see what fits for our city,” McConnell said. “Bend’s solutions may or may not be Bozeman’s. I’m a believer that each community needs to create what works for them.”

Earlier this week, Terry Cunningham went over his bullet-point list of “Bozeman’s housing crisis situation.” The list is primarily Cunningham’s tweaked speeches and ideas used throughout his successful 2017 campaign to become Bozeman’s newest commissioner.

This summer, Bozeman switchedfrom an incentive-based housing program to mandating some homes in new developments meet specific price points. It was a move aimed toward wannabe homeowners. That typically means people with decent credit and a steady job, who can live on the west end of town and have a vehicle to get around.

“For the cashier at Walmart making a little above minimum wage and who doesn’t have a car or good enough credit to get a mortgage, our affordable housing ordinance does nothing for that person,” Matsen said. “This is what Bozeman has to define. Are we trying to get to the school teachers and nurses, the kids coming right out of college, or help homeless people?”

When cities have to balance the cost of popularity, Ward offered a pick-your-poison kind of perspective: build a massive amount of homes in a short time (which can lead to disjointed cities) or find a way to adjust the economy so wages can keep up (which can leave some behind).

“Every place has a problem,” Ward said. “Bend and Bozeman, they’re not going anywhere. Cities can look at what they can do to mitigate the problem. But the main lesson is you’re unlikely to solve your affordable housing crisis until you make Bend not cool or Bozeman not cool.” THE MONTANA GAP