Sisters’ prospects for affordable housing dim

 

Last updated 1/24/2023 at Noon

BILL BARTLETT

The first six cottages in phase one take shape at The Woodlands project on Sisters’ west side.

Sisters Woodlands has made its first three sales and construction is underway. The planned development in the rectangle of North Pine Street, West Barclay Drive, and Highway 20, features some 359 homes and 44,000 square feet of commercial and light industrial space. In its infancy, Sisters Woodlands was imagined and touted as a practical option for workforce housing.

At the time, one of the project’s owners, Paul Hodge, was CEO of Laird Superfoods when Laird projected as many as 500 employees for its nearby operation; the operation has since moved to Utah, leaving zero employees and some 45,000 square feet of empty office and production space.

In the same time as Sisters Woodlands went from the drawing board to hard hats, the pandemic, massive supply-chain issues, inflation, and a doubling of home interest rates struck, destroying any notion that the Woodlands would be affordable by definition. Affordable housing is generally defined as housing in which the occupant is paying no more than 30 percent of their gross income for housing costs, including taxes, dues, utilities.

Sisters Woodlands has broken ground on Phase 1 and expects to deliver three homes in April. In the first phases, buyers will have the choice of cottages or townhomes ranging from 859 square feet to 1,250 square feet, priced in the high $500,000 to low $600,000 range. In round numbers a buyer can purchase 900 square feet for $575,000, or $639 per square foot.

For all of Sisters Country in December 2022, the average price per square foot of all 20 homes sold was $355; the highest, $627 for a $1.38 million home on Edmundson Road and the lowest, $254 for a sale in McKenzie Village.

Kevin Eckert, the principal designer of Sisters Woodlands, is chagrined at how the project has not lived up to his and the owners’ aspirations.

“Nobody is more disappointed than I,” Eckert said. “We tried everything possible to keep the costs such that a younger worker or family would be able to afford a home here. Given cost dynamics, it just wasn’t possible.”

The shortage of housing affordable to first-time homebuyers is acute and affects hiring in Sisters.

Sisters School District Superintendent Curt Scholl said, “We had at least three teachers for this year who accepted offers, but after searching for housing they had to rescind their acceptance.”

Indeed, the District is considering, as one of many options for the existing elementary school property, converting it into teacher housing when the new elementary school opens in 2024.

The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Sisters is about to start the search for new rector (pastor). Not having church housing (rectory, parsonage, manse) to offer candidates, they worry that they will be unable to attract any new leader given the price of housing.

A starting teacher at the District with a bachelor’s degree is “just under $40,000,” Scholl said. Salary for an entry-level firefighter/paramedic is $65,627, according to Sisters Camp-Sherman Rural Fire District.

Neither would technically qualify for a Woodlands or Hayden Home. Using $550,000 as the home price, with 10 percent down, the teacher or firefighter would have monthly payments principal and interest rates alone of $1,800 per month. Add in utilities, HOA fees, insurance, and other necessary occupancy costs, and our teacher or firefighter would be spending more than $2,100/month.

Thirty percent of the firefighter’s income is $19,688 or $1,641/month. Our teacher, $11,850/year or $988/month — less than half of what’s needed to qualify.

Granted, if either of these workers had a spouse or partner in the purchase, their combined income might allow them to qualify.

“It’s simple, no problem,” a mortgage broker quipped to The Nugget. “The teacher needs to marry the firefighter, case solved.”

Notwithstanding trying to make light of a worsening trend, if there were two new teachers sharing the household, they still wouldn’t qualify with interest rates close to 6 percent.

Eckert said the problem could possibly be assuaged with a change in the City of Sisters Development Code allowing four-story multi-family units.

“Three-story condos don’t pencil out,” he said.

Such code revisions have been met in the past with strenuous objection within the citizenry.

Sisters Woodlands is planned for five phases. The last will not be completed for six to seven years, Eckert said, so he’s holding out some hope that a combination of events just might allow a few units to meet the threshold for affordable housing.

Three homes in the Woodlands will be designated for Habit for Humanity housing.

When first envisioned, it was assumed that investors would buy units for rental property.

“In this high-interest environment, investors are staying on the sidelines,” Eckert said.

And buyers for second or vacation homes are being more cautious, realtors say.

 

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