When we interviewed candidates for Bend Park & Recreation District (BPRD) Board in May, then-sitting Chair Dan Fishkin told us that he would support waiving "system development charges" (SDCs), a fee that housing developers pay toward Park District (and City) projects, if the rest of the Board approved the idea. At the time, the idea to waive these fees was being presented as a viable means to encourage developers to build more affordable housing units in Bend.
Fishkin explained that his lukewarm support for waiving SDCs was not because he did not want to find a means to fund and support more affordable housing; quite the opposite, he did not believe waiving those fees would be enough incentive, and also would demand a hefty trade-off, like fewer parks and services for the very families it was trying to help find housing.
"The shortages of available land and the high cost of land are the primary impediments to developers building affordable housing and SDCs represent a comparatively small component in the overall cost of construction," Fishkin pointed out in a Q&A with the Source. He went on, "The problem of affordable housing is much larger than waiving a token amount of SDCs."
Fishkin did not win re-election and, in late June, at his final meeting as a member of the BPRD Board, they voted 3-2 to dismiss the idea. The next day, the daily newspaper ran with the above-the-fold headline, "Park board won't drop SDCs to ease Bend housing crunch," a statement that oversimplifies the issue and misleads the public discussion to believe that SDCs are the be-all, end-all solution.
Repeatedly, we have pointed out that waiving SDCs are not a magic bullet to produce affordable housing in Bend—and the mentality that this small gesture is a full solution is myopic. At best, waiving SDCs are one piece to a larger puzzle.
Moreover, we question whether BPRD is the best governmental body to be the point agency to support affordable housing. While BPRD waiving SDCs could encourage building of some affordable housing units, it also means that BPRD will have less revenue to provide much needed services for low-income families, like maintaining and building parks—which provide free public spaces for low-income families—and also would deplete the $1 million-plus Park & Rec spends annually for needs-based assistance for recreational programs.
Yes, there is a massive housing crunch in Bend. Housing prices continue to climb while vacancy rates remain below one percent, making it increasingly difficult for low-income families to find affordable housing. And, we certainly do not advocate for inaction.
Instead, we believe that BRPD Board took the right action by not giving a token gesture toward affordable housing—and, potentially, in the process, allowing supporters to crow that the affordable housing issue was solved. No, instead we hope that BPRD rejection of waiving SDCs sounds a three-alarm emergency, and inspires an all-hands-on-deck mentality that now is the time for big, active, and comprehensive plans to address this massive problem in Bend.
It is a big problem. It needs a big solution.