Editorial: The county has choices with affordable housing money

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Bend is a spectacular failure of affordable housing. Many people are priced out of the market.

The first item on the agenda for the Deschutes County Commission on Wednesday will make a slight difference. The county likely will take another step in the sale of land that will create 30 or 40 units of affordable housing. The plan is to also provide clinical space for Mosaic Medical. Mosaic provides health care to people regardless of their income or health insurance.

It’s a win for affordable housing and for health care.

But the deal has been the subject of some exchanges back and forth between the city and the county. Some at the city — Councilor Barb Campbell has been the loudest voice — want the county to give the city a better deal so it can create even more affordable housing.

The property is about 1 acre at NE 27th Street and Conners Avenue. The property appraised at $1,090,000. And the county’s plan is to sell it for $1 million. Housing Works the affordable housing developer will pay $100,000. The city of Bend’s affordable housing fund will pay the remaining $900,000.

The county does not have to sell the land at that price. It could sell it at half that. It could sell it for $1. And that would mean Housing Works and the city of Bend would have that much more money to put toward other affordable housing projects.

That’s what Campbell has suggested the county should do. “The City of Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and the Affordable Housing Fund are recognized Statewide as powerful forces for good,” she wrote in an email recently. “The Deschutes County Commission is undermining that good work, pulling funds away from the problems.”

Tony DeBone, Deschutes County Commission chair, told us the county has other important needs, such as expanding the courthouse. We’re going to quote his emailed response in full: “The 27th St. property is an asset property of the county. It is in a visible location and it was not specifically listed for sale. Housing works presented the plan for the adjacent properties to the board and we decided to support the project by making the land available. Housing works offered a fair appraisal price and that was agreed upon. The county has large capital needs coming up and that these dollars could be used for the expansion of county services like the near-term courthouse project. The funding package for the courthouse will come around when needed.”

And if you are reading this in the print edition, look over at the guest column by Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang. He argues the county should put the $1 million earned from the sale toward maximizing affordable housing.

So there are at least three options for commissioners. Keep the price the same and use the money for other county needs. Cut the price so Housing Works and the city can use the money for affordable housing elsewhere. Or, have the county use the money for affordable housing.

What do you think the county commissioners should do? You can write the commissioners at citizeninput@deschutes.org. Again, the commission meeting with this item on the agenda is on Wednesday.