News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Struggling with housing in Sisters

Julie Kehler is on a clock. What happens in the next few weeks will determine whether or not she can stay in Sisters. It all comes down to finding a place to live.

Kehler has to be out of her current rental by the end of May, and she has not been able to find a new place that she can afford.

"I've given myself till the end of this month to make a decision on what I need to do," she told The Nugget last week.

Kehler is one of many working people in Sisters who struggle with limited rental opportunities in Sisters. She is well-regarded and well-connected in the community, but that has not smoothed the road to a stable living situation.

"I work at The Barn as a bartender," she said. "I've been there for just over two years now. I also work with Seed to Table when they're teaching with the kids."

Kehler visited Sisters when she was in college, where two of her friends were young women who had been born and raised here.

"I visited here in college in, I think, 2013," she said. "And I fell in love. I thought it was an amazing community."

She moved here in 2017. Housing has been a challenge the whole time she's been here. She's lived with a houseful of roommates, with a partner, and worked as a ranch hand/caretaker in exchange for living quarters.

"I have to be smart with my budget, and creative," she said.

She can afford about $800 a month in rent - well short of the going rate for most rentals, which are limited in number. That pushes toward a shared living situation, but even that has been hard to find, and sometimes such situations come with restrictions that aren't workable - no dogs, or curfews that don't jibe with work and life.

"Nobody knows of anything," she said. "I would love not to pay more than $800. I could do that. It's really hard to find."

Kehler acknowledges feeling "defeated, burnt out, and resentful."

She's not mad at her community - just frustrated with a bind that seems to get tougher to break every day.

"I don't mean that in the way of angry and flip the table," she said. "I can feel a lot of empathy from people - and there aren't solutions."

It's the lack of solutions or a way forward that lead to a sense of defeat.

Defeat doesn't mean she'll be out on the street. It just means she'll be out of Sisters. And that hurts, because she loves the place, and believes she's contributed to her community.

"I have family I can rely on," she said. "They just don't live here (her family is in Wisconsin). The stress and anxiety of being a renter has made it so hard to push through making it work."

She feels support and empathy, but she also thinks there are a lot of people who don't understand the pressure.

"There's an undertone of, well, you just have to work harder or get a higher-paying job," she said. "Lots of people like me do these jobs - and lots of people like me have multiple jobs."

Kehler worked in wilderness therapy out of college, until the work no longer aligned with her values.

"The industry changed a lot in the last 10 years," she said. "It wasn't in line with my ethics and why I cared about that field, unfortunately. But I've never stopped working with kids."

She has a dream of launching her own business doing extracurricular puberty education with girls in fourth to eighth grade - but that would require renting a commercial space when she can't find a living space.

She likes the work she does now.

"I'm good at customer service," she said. "I enjoy interacting with people. I enjoy being part of a bustling scene - most of the time. I get to interact with cool people all the time. It's awesome."

Kehler would like to see living spaces that offer communal spaces like kitchen and common areas, while providing private sleeping quarters. And, she said, she would like to "not walk through the neighborhood I live in and see the three Airbnbs that are empty through the winter."

She's open to any opportunity that offers "a peaceful, stable living situation." And time, for her, is running out.

The Sisters community will wrestle with issues of affordability and availability of "workforce housing" - 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 Citizens4Community 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.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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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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