Sisters to take on housing challenges

 

Last updated 4/30/2024 at 9:24am



Sisters City Councilor Jennifer Letz makes a stark — but hopeful — assessment of Sisters’ housing situation.

“I perceive it as bad, but salvageable,” she told The Nugget. “We’re not too far gone yet. I think we have the ability as a community to take charge of the housing situation and improve it.”

The community will get an opportunity to share a situation report on housing, and ideas on how to address the challenges of affordability, at a forum sponsored by Citizens4Community (C4C) and The Nugget Newspaper on Sunday, May 5. The forum is set for 4 p.m. at Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District Community Hall. Letz is one member of a panel who will kick off discussions.

Letz says she has long been concerned that Sisters would go the way of other “gateway communities” in the West and become an exclusive enclave. Think Jackson Hole, Aspen, and their ilk.

“That’s my fear,” she said.

However, she believes that Sisters still has a window of opportunity to bring policy and funding tools to bear to alter that trajectory.

“It’s not too late to change course and keep this a community for everybody — everybody who works here and is part of the community,” she said.

Peter Hoover, executive director of Sisters Habitat for Humanity, who has committed to increasing workforce housing, concurs. He says the first major requirement is community commitment.

“Basically, any community has to commit that having a diverse community and a diverse work force is vital to the health of the community,” he said.

The challenges are significant. Sisters’ median home price is currently over $700,000, out of reach for most working people, including professionals in many positions across the community.

Hoover — who will also be on the forum panel — noted that “$61,000 used to be considered very good salary. That won’t cut it for someone who is looking to buy a home.”

In fact, it doesn’t even come close. An income in that range, 60 percent of AMI (Area Median Income) can afford a home priced at $202,450, according to data from the Beacon Report, provided by Hoover. A person making $142,800 (150 percent of AMI) can afford a home priced at $520,000. There are such homes in Sisters Country, but not many available, and it does not come close to median home price.

That has an impact on business.

“There are many people who commute here from other areas because they can’t afford to live here,” Hoover said. That means “not having those people who are vital to our community be able to be part of our community.”

Letz says that the City of Sisters can do some things to make housing more affordable through policy. Some changes have already been enacted, such as reducing lot sizes and making the cottage code more usable. Letz is eager to see more work done in the policy arena.

The City has also directed funding into projects such as multi-family housing under development through the nonprofit Northwest Housing Solutions, which will be described at the forum. According to Letz, one important role for the City is to make connections between community needs, those with available land, and sources of funding.

If the City chooses to expand its urban growth boundary (UGB) — a proposition currently under study — the City will have an opportunity to influence how that “new” land is developed, such as mandating that a certain percentage be developed as “affordable” housing.

“If we do expand the UGB, we have the ability to do overlays on land annexed in,” Letz said.

Land is a critical element. Hoover has said repeatedly that finding land is more challenging than building housing.

“Land is one of our biggest challenges,” Hoover said. “There isn’t that much of it, and it’s darned expensive.”

“Clearly an increase in supply” is a key element of any solution to the current crunch, he notes.

Hoover commends the City for changing the cottage code overlay in the commercial zone, and for committing funding to housing.

“It takes these kinds of efforts from the City, from the State, and also from the community that this is important to make this happen,” he said.

Hoover said that Sisters Habitat is currently pursuing funding opportunities to build 30-plus units over the next three to 3-1/2 years in Sisters. Habitat is working off a community land trust model, in which Habitat retains ownership of the land beneath a home, a formula that works to make homes much more affordable.

Letz notes that Sisters has shown itself to be exceptionally creative in approaching challenges, and she thinks the community can meet this one, which she notes, is a top priority for City Council.

“I’ve been itching to have this conversation since I’ve been on Council,” she said. “This forum is a great place to start.”

She hopes that attendees will walk away inspired, believing that the situation can be improved, even if it can never be truly “solved.”

“Almost everything is a hurdle — it’s not a wall,” she said.

Letz and Hoover will join Kevin Eckert of Build, LLC, designer of Sisters Woodlands; Clayton Crowhurst, housing developer, Northwest Housing Alternatives; and Emme Shoup, associate planner, City of Sisters, on the panel for “Who Gets To Live Here? The Search For Local Housing Affordability.”

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.

 
 

Reader Comments(1)

York writes:

Sisters has become exceptionally creative in providing solutions to problem, by Ms. Lentz. Really?! We haven't seen an ANY creativity on the houseless issue here in how many years? Forever!!!

 
 
 

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