Who gets to live here?


Last updated 4/2/2024 at 10:02am

If you work for a paycheck in Sisters, it’s hard to find a place to live. Really hard. Home prices have soared out of reach for most working folks, and there aren’t a whole lot of rental options — and they’re often not all that affordable when you find one.

That means hard-working people, often established for years in the community, are facing hard choices, wondering if they can stay in the community they call home. Business owners have a hard time finding staff, because working in Sisters often means commuting from Redmond or points farther away. When gas prices are high, that just may not pencil.

All of this will shape the kind of community we become. A vibrant community needs young families, and folks to work in our shops and restaurants and service businesses. We need teachers and first responders to be able to live in the community they serve. That vibrancy is under threat.

What can we do about it? That’s a tough question. It’s tempting to ask all kinds of Why don’t they just… questions: Why don’t developers just build more affordable housing? Why don’t they just build apartments that can only be rented by local folks? Why don’t they just get rid of short-term rentals?

As always, things are never as simple as we’d like to make them. Turns out that building “workforce housing” isn’t so easy and straightforward.

The Sisters Community will get a chance to wrestle with this vexing problem — one faced by communities across the American West — in a forum set for Sunday, May 5. “Who Gets To Live Here? The Search for Local Housing Affordability” is co-sponsored by Citizens

4Community (C4C) and The Nugget. It will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Sisters Firehouse Community Hall — and also live-streamed online. The event is free and open to the public.

Panelists include:

• Clayton Crowhurst, Northwest Housing Alternatives, housing developer

• Emme Shoup, City of Sisters associate planner

• Jennifer Letz, City of Sisters, councilor

• Kevin Eckert, BUILD LLC, partner and founder

• Peter Hoover, Sisters Habitat for Humanity, executive director

• Kellen Klein, C4C, executive director, (moderator).

Topics will include defining what workforce housing means — and what price-point we’d need to hit to provide it. There will be discussion of how the community got to where we are, and how we might move forward. Event planners look forward to ample time for robust discussion and audience questions and participation.

There is really no more important topic than this in Sisters — and it’s a thorny one. The desire to make the community affordable enough that a wide range of folks can live here clashes with concerns about growth. Growing too much too fast is a threat to the community’s character and identity — and so is hollowing out our demographics so only the (very) well-heeled can live and work here.

There are people working this problem, and it will be good for the community to get a chance to hear about that work. It’ll also be good for a wide range of folks to share their experiences and ideas. We all know that there is no silver bullet — if there was, we’d have fired it off already. But there are ideas and opportunities that we may be able to grasp before it’s too late. If that’s going to happen, we need to be alert and aware — and we need to realize that the they that should do something is us.

This forum is a good place to start. See you there.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit www.frontierpartisans.com.


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