News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Challenges of affordable housing

There’s no affordable housing in Sisters. By definition there is none in Redmond either and essentially the same in Bend. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines housing affordability as 30 percent of one’s gross income. Doing the math, let’s say you are employed full time, defined as 2,080 hours per year and have a pay scale of $15 per hour, then your gross annual income is $31,200. HUD and most policy makers say you should therefore spend no more than $9,360 of that for rent or mortgage.

That’s $780 per month. Rental Source, a major online apartment-finder service, breaks out the median price of rental properties in Sisters at $1,373 per month: $967 for a one bedroom; $1,439 for a two bedroom; and $1,682 for three bedrooms. By comparison, the median rent in overall Deschutes County is $1,293, $1,568 in Bend and $1,208 in Redmond.

The same Rental Source has a total of two listings in Sisters as this is written: $650/month for a room and bath in a shared house; $1,045 for a one bedroom in Hayden’s Village at Cold Springs. For a family of four desiring a two-bedroom rental in Sisters, the family income would need to be $57,560 a year to meet the 30 percent advisable threshold. If two in the household are working full-time for an average of $13.84 per hour then they would technically be in the affordability zone.

When up-front costs are added in, typically a security deposit of at least one month’s rent and the first month’s rent in advance, the burden can be daunting. And while Sisters is generally pet-friendly, landlords are understandably cautious. If they even accept pets the added damage deposit can be insurmountable., another national housing finder lists only one unit in Sisters, 600 square feet for $1,175 for which one’s income is advised to be $15.81 per hour. Are there jobs paying $15.81 per hour in Sisters? Yes, quite a few actually. Drive through McDonald’s and you will be greeted by no fewer than three signs seeking workers from $15.50-$18.25 per hour.

The local manager says they are somewhat desperate to fill out their crews and have been for nearly two years. Nearly all their workers commute from Redmond.

If you buy gas at Sisters Pumphouse & Country Store, the Union 76 station, you may have noticed recently there was no gas available for almost two weeks. Not that fuel wasn’t plentiful but they had nobody to pump it. So, while Sisters has little to no affordable housing, there is a commensurate shortage of workers in the under-$20-per-hour pay range.

Here is a sampling of current job openings in Sisters: Sales associate at Dollar General; behavioral technician for autism-related disorders; wildland fire fighters, $17 to $21.25 per hour. Mike’s Fence, Suttle Lodge, FivePine, Personalized Nutrients, Laird, Ray’s, Dairy Queen, Black Butte Ranch, Sisters Bakery, and The Lodge in Sisters all have “help wanted” signs out. There are a dozen “help wanted” ads in The Nugget’s classified section this week.

It’s obvious by any measure that Sisters has a housing-inventory problem, affordable or otherwise. Every new development sells out rapidly, and existing stock is snapped up within days or hours of being listed. It’s impossible not to hear the woes of builders suffering from lack of raw materials, from lumber to concrete. Exacerbated by the loss of homes in Oregon last year by catastrophic wildfire — over 3,000 structures —building materials costs have skyrocketed. Combined with shortages of skilled workers, building costs are now close to $300 per square foot for modest construction.

A 700-square-foot (affordable) home commands $210,000 in building and land cost. Add in a reasonable profit and you might get a $250,000 single-family home. First-time or zero-down incentives that led to the 2008 housing bust have largely disappeared. At a minimum, it takes $15,000 in down payment and closing costs for so-called affordable housing. For a single worker making $13 to $20 per hour, that’s a near-impossible reach.

Sisters is 1.88 square miles, with next to no remaining plats for large-scale, low-end housing, or any housing for that matter. The law of supply and demand says that Sisters will have an affordable housing challenge well into the future and likely never to be fully remedied.


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