Building 'affordable' is a real challenge

 

Last updated 4/23/2024 at 9:35am



Kevin Eckert speaks bluntly when it comes to “affordable housing” in Sisters: “The era of single-family homes being affordable is gone,” he says.

Eckert is the principal of Build LLC, architects and designers of Sisters Woodlands, a housing development located on a portion of the former Sisters Ranger District property along Pine Street on the western edge of Sisters. He will be part of the panel sparking discussion of the housing situation in Sisters at a town hall sponsored by C4C on Sunday, May 5, at 4 p.m. at Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District’s community hall.

The forum is titled: “Who Gets To Live Here? The Search for Local Housing Affordability.”

It’s a question without clear-cut answers, as Eckert well knows. He and the developers of Sisters Woodlands hoped to create housing suitable for working people in Sisters — and they still hope to do so. The idea was to create homes that a teacher or a firefighter might be able to afford.

“We were in the fours ($400,000) and the fives ($500,000), which still isn’t ‘workforce’ (housing),” Eckert said.

But costs shot up as the project got underway and pushed the price point for their single-family homes higher than even that threshold of affordability. Land costs, higher interest rates, and the cost of construction militates against affordability. Eckert noted that infrastructure costs increased 35 percent over what had been planned for Phase 1, and will hit a 50 percent increase in Phase 2.

A single ubiquitous part is a good illustration of the spike in costs.

“It’s a sweep for an electrical connection,” Eckert said. “It’s a piece of plastic pipe.”

It’s “underground everywhere” — and the cost per part went from $8 to $45.

Eckert notes that Central Electric Co-op fees were double what he had budgeted, driven by scarcity and cost of components.

The designer has taken some heat as costs soared beyond what he had originally portrayed. He still hopes to create some housing that regular folks in Sisters can afford.

“We’re not done yet,” he said. “We’re rolling, but we’re not done yet.”

Sisters Woodlands is partnering with Sisters Habitat for Humanity to designate lots for the organization’s housing. Ten cottage lots will be integrated throughout the development as part of their final master plan approved by the City last year.

Eckert is optimistic that smaller lot sizes now allowed under City code will enable greater affordability in townhomes and condos.

“That decreases the amount of cost that’s dumped into the land by 30 percent,” he said.

He’s trying to get down to a price point of $350,000 for some of the housing, like condos along Highway 20.

“That’s your entry level home,” he said.

On a broader level, Eckert says that his “magic wand” is multi-family housing.

“Entry level is a co-op or multi-family home” he said. “It gets you into the American real estate game.”

Eckert is pleased to see efforts to address the need for middle-range “workforce” housing.

“I’m pretty inspired to see our local Habitat getting after their mission,” he said. “We’re open to partnering with any and all of those groups to meet that middle housing. I still see Woodlands as a mixed community. I really do... We’re not going to solve the housing situation. My goal is to make a ... dent in it, to have an impact.”

Eckert will join: Clayton Crowhurst, housing developer, Northwest Housing Alternatives; Emme Shoup, associate planner, City of Sisters; Jennifer Letz, Sisters City Councilor; and Peter Hoover, executive director, Sisters Habitat for Humanity on the panel.

The forum will address:

• The roots of Sisters current housing problem

• The state of housing affordability and availability in Sisters Country, and what’s at stake

• Which housing initiatives and policies are working, which aren’t, and what’s on the horizon

• What else is needed — from policy makers, developers, and other stakeholders

• Resources available for those seeking housing in Sisters Country.

Following the initial panel discussion, moderator Kellen Klein, executive director of C4C, will open the floor to audience questions and a broader dialogue.

Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire Department Community Hall is located at 301 S. Elm St. For more information on the forum format and accessibility visit https://citizens4community.com/events/spring-forum-24.

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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