Highway 20 cuts east across Bend, Ore., from Pilot Butte on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. A pilot project will allow the city of Bend to develop residential property in some commercial areas.

Highway 20 cuts east across Bend, Ore., from Pilot Butte on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. A pilot project will allow the city of Bend to develop residential property in some commercial areas.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Oregon has approved code updates that will allow the city of Bend to build more housing closer to transit, businesses and other services.

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Bend drafted the changes to its development code last year, and the state Land Conservation and Development Commission approved those changes last Friday. The city says these adjustments will give more flexibility in addressing a critical housing shortage.

Bend is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and housing supply has not kept up with demand.

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“The recent growth — and when some are calling Bend a ‘Zoom town’ nowadays — means that our housing inventory is practically depleted,” said Lynne McConnell, affordable housing manager for the city of Bend.

The cost of housing for renters and buyers in the city has gone up much faster than wages, which has priced out many low- and middle-income people in recent years.

A report prepared for the city in 2017 says rent has gone up 36% since 2012, while renters’ median income has grown only 4.8%. Home prices, meanwhile, have risen 42% in the same time period, but home-owners’ median income has increased just 8.3%.

The state Legislature passed a bill in 2019 to give non-metropolitan cities like Bend the option to build housing on up to 40 acres of commercial zones. Former state Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, sponsored the legislation.

In Bend, that means possible residential development on Third Street, which is one of the city’s primary business corridors, or on Highway 20 east of Pilot Butte.

The changes in Bend align with the state’s gradual effort to grow denser. Oregon recently became the first state in the country to strike exclusive single-family zoning across much of the state.

David Brandt, the executive director of Housing Works, which provides affordable housing and rental assistance in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties, says building density will be critical in easing the housing crisis in Bend and elsewhere, calling changes to the city code a step in the right direction.

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