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Designing a Better Solution 

Creators of The Housing Game offer a serious look at the hurdles to affordable housing

Taking place Oct. 20 and 21, the Bend Design Conference touts itself as a "celebration of design culture in the modern world." This year, that celebration includes an effort to understand—and fix—the affordable and workforce housing shortage that exists in Central Oregon. Among the workshops happening at this year's conference is one titled "Bend Design Challenge: The Housing Game." It's an interactive game that puts participants in the shoes of those working to build affordable and workforce housing in Bend.

Participants begin by analyzing the basic nuts and bolts that developers start with, including the proforma analysis that helps developers calculate the financial return—or lack thereof—that they'll get from a particular project. That means factoring in the high cost of land, the sometimes-limiting development code, the local median income and other challenges that developers face when planning projects that working people can actually afford.

The idea was born from an effort by ScaleHouse—the producer of Bend Design—at the Future Fair, part of the Bend Livability Conference that took place in June. During that event, ScaleHouse asked people to share their biggest concerns about livability in Bend. The most pressing issue, according to participants, was housing, with 65 percent of the votes. From there, the idea for a Housing Game emerged, and the organizers formed a group that included local architects, contractors and designers who would create the game.

Beyond the game's initial numbers-crunching, the game gives participants a tangible view of the projects they're "working" on. Participants will use Lego pieces that represent the various features that go into a development project, including parking and living spaces.

The end game, says architect ML Vidas, is to help people who don't normally deal in day-to-day challenges of development see and understand the challenges, and then to apply their creativity to finding new solutions. Vidas is one of the handful of locals who helped design the game.

"If you've been in Bend for more than about five minutes you're aware of how difficult housing is, how expensive it is," Vidas says "Understanding the complexity of it is one of the things that the game is going to provide," Even further, it's intended to help locals contribute to the quest for solutions in a meaningful way.

"The City of Bend in its urban growth boundary process is right now looking at making changes to the development code. And the development code regulates things like how tall a building can be, how many parking spaces you need to provide, and those constraints have a tremendous direct impact on what can be built," Vidas says. "We as people that live here, we can have an influence."

One thing constraining developers, Vidas says, is the current parking requirement paradigm. Parking spaces take up a lot of physical space, but if parking structures could be built where people live, it could ease that developer pain.

As the Source Weekly went to press, the Housing Game workshop was nearly sold out, according to Heather Crank, owner of the Bend-based design collective Crahmanti."It's definitely gaining a lot of momentum and it's a really hot topic here," says Crank, who's serving on the volunteer committee that designed the game.

"If you don't fully understand the process—and I didn't at all—it just seems like 'well why can't they do this, they should be able to make affordable housing,' but it's super complicated," Crank says. "So we distilled that down to a very simple game just to get people participating and talking." The focus at the conference, Crank says, is to make the game fun, while also focusing on solutions.

Meanwhile, Vidas says she and the other architects who came up with the game are open to doing the game for other groups looking to understand the challenges of affordable housing—but for now, you'll have to attend Bend Design to get a taste...

Bend Design Conference

Oct. 20 & 21

Downtown Bend

$150 both days, $75 for students

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. While the pandemic reduced "hobbies" to "aspirations," you can mostly find her raising chickens, walking dogs, riding all the bikes and attempting to turn a high desert scrap of land into a permaculture oasis. (Progress: slow.)
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