Kor Land Trust Executive Director Jackie Koegh tours the organizations construction site on NE Eighth Street in Bend Tuesday Afternoon.
By Suzanne Roig, The Bulletin. Article originally published on January 21, 2023
From the hallowed halls of the statehouse in Salem to the hallways of Bend’s smallest businesses, affordable housing is top of mind.
The Central Oregon worker shortage is directly tied to the affordable housing shortage in Bend, said Jon Stark, executive director for Economic Development for Central Oregon. Not having enough workers has the potential to put a squeeze on future economic growth, said Stark.
“It’s very real,” said Stark. “Employers need workers. It’s the No. 1 challenge for Central Oregon. Everything we are doing is all about increasing the size of our available workforce.”
Two groups have joined forces to create subsidized workforce housing in SW Bend that is only for Bend businesses. The requirements are that a business must offer up $2,500 toward an employee’s closing costs and have a workforce that is more diverse than the current population.
The southwest Bend pilot project is the result of a collaboration with the Bend Chamber of Commerce and a $100,000 grant from Providence Health Plan, an anonymous donor, and Kôr Land Trust. The group has teamed up to subsidize four workforce homes in SW Bend. Homeowners will be selected by lottery in May.
The project, on SW Poplar Street off of SW Brookswood Boulevard, is geared to help businesses retain their workers, said Katy Brooks, Bend Chamber of Commerce executive director.
Sharon Richardson, owner of the Sprouts Montessori Children’s House in Bend, is an employer who would apply to the housing program for herself or for one of her seven employees.
“As far as I know none of my employees are homeowners,” said Richardson. “I offer housing to a staff member that was a way to help her stay in the business so she could afford to be a childcare provider.”
The school, which cares for infants through age 12 in three locations in Bend, like other childcare operations, is in high demand with a wait list of more than 200 parents.
“Like housing, there’s a great demand for child care in Bend,” Richardson said. “I’m so excited about Kôr Land Trust and what they’re doing. Hopefully it can provide a home for me or one of my employees.”
Kôr offers affordable, sustainable housing for homeowners who earn 80% of the annual median income.
A teacher earning $70,529 would qualify for a home that is priced at $299,000, according to the city of Bend affordable housing website. The median single-family home price in in Bend was $724,000 in 2022, according to the Beacon Report.
If the Kôr employer program can help retain workers, then it’s successful”, said Brooks. “I expect to see many businesses putting their names into the (lottery),” she said.
Building More Homes
Kôr Land Trust got its start in Bend in 2014 and was the brainchild of Bend residents and business owners Jason Offutt and Amy Warren who wanted to create a nonprofit that builds sustainable affordable housing, said Jackie Keogh, Kôr Land Trust executive director.
Since 2020, the trust has been able to build, on average, about five single family homes a year, but Keogh believes that trust needs to step up and build 50 homes a year. In 2019, the city estimated that Bend needs about 6,500 affordable homes.
The trust has a plan in place now that asks employers to pony up $50,000, or a donation of land, in exchange for a home for their employees, Keogh said.
Housing remains the largest barrier to recruiting and retaining workers, Keogh said.
This fee represents the gap between what it costs to build a home and what a homeowner earning 80% of the area median income can afford and the amount the government chips in to help, she said.
“Affordable housing needs private money,” Keogh said. “Affordable housing benefits us in the community, but we have been unwilling to pay for it. But it will help with the recruitment of workers in the long run.”
In addition to the Poplar Street homes, Kôr and Hiatus Homes plan to build 40 houses off Simpson Avenue for interested employers who want to sponsor a cottage cluster of three to 10 homes their employees could own. Throughout the years, Kôr has completed five homes called Korazon, 12 homes that are being built and five homes on NW 8th Avenue.
Hiatus Homes, which has worked with the land trust on the bulk of these projects, is mostly funded by local investors that specializes in environmental sustainability, said Jesse Russell, company founder.
“Working with Kôr to create housing that is both affordable and sustainable has been a highly rewarding challenge,” Russell said. “We’re honored to be chosen to build affordable housing at a scale and quality that is greatly needed by our growing community.”
The goal is build a new community for homeowners to move in every year. Homeowners of these homes don’t own the land, which contributes to the bulk of the costs, Keogh said. The land trust holds the deed in perpetuity ensuring that the home remains affordable. Homeowners can retain 1.5% of the equity each year they own the property. Prospective homeowners do not have to pay a down payment.
“We will continue to build more homes, and we’ll be more intentional about who buys our homes,” Keogh said. “We have systemic housing issues.”