The Nugget Newspaper - News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Continued growth forecast for Sisters


Last updated 2/26/2019 at Noon

"You are growing very fast and changing fast and I know I don't need to tell you that," Brendon Buckley of Johnson Economics told the Sisters Planning Commission at their February 21 meeting.

Since 2000, Sisters has grown roughly 185 percent with an increase of nearly 1,800 people, a much greater percentage growth than either Deschutes County or the state.

Buckley was explaining the draft results of his firm's Housing Needs Analysis (HNA), which analyzes the 20-year housing needs for Sisters for the period 2019-2039. The HNA will be compared to the City's Residential Buildable Land Inventory to reveal if Sisters has sufficient residential lands, of the appropriate zoning and types of units, to house the projected population increase.

As of 2018, the Portland State University Population Research Center estimated Sisters' population at 2,767 within the Urban Growth Boundary, making us the 103rd largest city in the state by population.

The number of current households stands at 1,047, an increase of 660 since 2000. The study details the make-up of households, with 70 percent being family households. There are 30 percent more families and 32 percent more housing units since 2000.

As of 2018, the city had an estimated housing stock of about 1,484 units for the estimated 1,047 households. This implies a high vacancy rate of 29 percent. The study concludes the high vacancy rate is likely due to the prevalence of vacation homes and investment properties, which are not occupied year-round.

Since 2000, there has been a general trend of growth among those aged 55 and older, accounting for 33 percent of the total population. All age cohorts younger than 55 have shown a decrease except for the one percent increase among 25 to 34 year olds.

As of 2015, the most recent year available, the Census estimated there were roughly 1,675 jobs located in Sisters. Local residents hold relatively few, while nearly 1,470 employees commute into the city from elsewhere. Of the estimated 700 employed Sisters residents, over 70 percent (488) commute elsewhere for employment. The increase of those 55 and older would account for the large number of non-working households and retirees.

Fifty-five percent of occupied housing units are owner-occupied and 45 percent are renter-occupied. In Deschutes County the ownership rate is 65 percent and statewide it's 61 percent. The ownership rate in Sisters has fallen from 58 percent in 2000.

The entire report covers a number of other measures including levels of income, types of housing units, price ranges, and housing costs vs. local income. The U.S. Census estimates that one-third of Sisters households pay more than 30 percent of their total income toward housing costs. Spending 30 percent or less on housing costs is a common measure of "affordability" used by HUD and others.

An estimated 19 percent of renters are spending 50 percent or more of the their income on housing. An affordable home for those in the lowest income category (less than $15,000) would have to cost $90,000 or less. Affordable rent for someone in this category would be $400 or less.

With a projected annual growth rate of 2.61 percent over the next 20 years, by 2039 the population could reach 4,749. However, since 2000 our population has grown by 185 percent. The challenges for the Planning Commission are many as they attempt to make predictions and plan for growth.

Commissioner Daryl Tewalt raised the question, "Will the community as a whole be able to provide the goods and services for the increasing population?"

Consultant Buckley affirmed Tewalt's concern, "Because you're growing so fast residentially, how much commercial land does the community have to build new businesses and services to serve all these people?"

Tewalt added, "If we can't provide goods and services then that's ultimately something that we need to consider."

Community Development Director Patrick Davenport indicated that the Economic Opportunity Analysis would look at the goods and services issue.

The completed HNA will be an integral part of the City's Comprehensive Plan Periodic Review project proposed by staff, pending formal authorization from City Council and the state to proceed. The document can also provide critical information necessary to update the City of Sisters 2010 Housing Plan and future policies related to funding options and potential amendments to the Development Code's regulatory environment.

The Planning Commission will be considering Development Code and zoning changes to address future housing needs so that the next time an application comes into the City for a new subdivision, there will be zoning and regulations in place to ensure the proper mix of housing is built to meet actual housing needs in the community. Those regulations may include changes to building heights allowed and units per acre in addition to types of dwellings.

Next steps in this process will be to finalize the HNA and reconciliation with the Buildable Lands Inventory, and to develop recommended policy measures to accommodate the needed housing.

A public event is planned for late March or early April to provide the public an opportunity to give feedback. Due to the state source of funding, the consultant work on this project must be completed by the end of June 2019. The deliverables will be adoption-ready documents, with the public process extending beyond June. The assessment is being funded by Oregon general funds through the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).


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