Bend considers small homes to ease rental shortage

BEND, Ore. — To ease a rental shortage, the city of Bend is thinking of making it easier for property owners to build accessory dwellings commonly known as mother-in-law apartments.

Such homes are allowed under city code, but the approval process required in older areas of the city makes it simple for a neighbor to block a project.

The proposal from the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee would allow accessory dwellings without a conditional use permit on all lots across the city and increase the cap on size to accommodate two-bedroom apartments.

If approved, Bend would be emulating an infill tactic used in Oregon’s largest city. Property owners in Portland used to build about 30 accessory dwellings each year, but the city received about 200 permit applications for the structures in 2013.

The increase followed a Portland City Council decision in 2010 to waive development impact fees for three years, in an effort to encourage construction of more small homes. The change allowed homeowners to save as much as $11,000 per project in city fees. City officials later extended the fee waiver through June 2016.

“It’s not too often you hear something come out where Bend wants to be more like Portland,” committee Chairman Andy High told The Bulletin newspaper.

High, the vice president of government affairs for the Central Oregon Builders Association, said it’s the quickest way to boost the rental supply. With a streamlined process, he predicted people could build these small homes in as little as two months. The Bend proposal, so far, does not include the waiving of any fees for accessory dwellings.

High said the committee will likely present the proposal to the City Council in late September. Earlier this year, City Manager Eric King asked the committee to pitch ideas to ease the housing shortage.

The Bend Planning Commission has also started to discuss possible changes to the city development code for accessory dwellings. Commissioner Laura Fritz said residents have expressed concern that it can be expensive to build accessory dwellings, and the new apartments can change the feel of neighborhoods.

Fritz said she heard “mostly concern about the integrity of the neighborhood, and getting a big (accessory dwelling) over a garage that is then looking down over this smaller property’s yard, so the privacy is lost.”

Jim Landin, an architect and member of the affordable housing committee, said he believes the real reason some people object to the accessory dwellings is that they will be occupied by renters, and some property owners worry renters won’t care as much about the neighborhood.

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