Bend, Its Lure and Its Problems

Susan Primak retired from the University of Oregon in 2013 and was also a master gardener in Eugene. She and her husband Paul decided to move to Bend in 2014. “We always set our sights on Bend, but we were waiting for that magic moment,” she says. 

Primak was ready to spend her free time outdoors and says the high desert climate has allowed her to bird watch, hike, kayak, fish and, most recently, she joined the Deschutes Land Trust — where she trained to complete bird surveys. 

Paul Primak says he misses the wineries of the Willamette Valley but grew up in the high desert climate of Lakeview, Oregon and worked for the Bureau of Land Management and for the Forest Service fighting fires. 

“The quality of life here is phenomenal,” Paul Primak says of Bend. “We could use a little bit more liberal congressmen, but there’s not much to complain about.”

When the couple began searching for real estate within their price range, Susan Primak says they had to raise their price mark to include the amenities they wanted like having a yard. “We compromised and we moved into the southwest part of Bend and found a house that was about 10 years old in a nice neighborhood, and it had a yard.”

However, Susan Primak says, “If we would have waited longer, I think it would have been less affordable.” 

As growth accelerates in Bend, the city has faced a slew of complications. Back in 2010, the city’s urban growth boundary plan was remanded, and over the past six years, the city has formed a special task force and technical advisory committees to assist with the UGB process. 

The six current city council members and the mayor now serve on the UGB Steering Committee, according to Anne Aurand with the city of Bend. As in Eugene, the UGB determines where and how the city is permitted to build and grow over the next 20 years. 

City Councilor Nathan Boddie says the council expects to submit a finished product to the state sometime during the summer. “Completing the process is important since we’re behind schedule adding new land to Bend from inadequate planning in years past.”

Bend’s infrastructure is deteriorating — its sewer system is at capacity and several upgrades are underway to address the issue, according to the city’s Sewer Infrastructure Project update. The city roads are also in bad shape. 

In March, Bend voters rejected a 5-cent gas tax that would have addressed the $80-million deferred maintenance street repair deficit. “We don’t have any more funds than before we proposed a fuel tax and most of our budget goes to police and fire,” Boddie says. “The city of Bend does not have any authority to levy taxes and many of our roads are on the brink of needing complete replacement if we can’t repair them, which is much more costly.”

And then there’s Bend’s housing crisis. For the past few years, the City of Bend’s Annual Action Plan Executive Summary has included addressing the “extremely low vacancy rate,” which “lead[s] to rent inflation.” Simply put, the demand for housing has been on the rise while the number of available rental units has barely budged. 

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis published in 2015, 1,100 rental units were in demand with only 50 under construction, and 3,325 sales units were needed with 440 under construction. 

Councilor Boddie’s best advice to anyone contemplating a move to Bend — patience. “We don’t have enough rental capacity, and affordable housing is scarce.”

But for some, capacity issues and rising housing prices haven’t halted their high desert dreams. Stella Dean and her husband relocated to Sisters in 2014 after spending 40 years in Eugene. Dean worked at PeaceHealth and the UO before purchasing a home in Sisters. 

Dean says, “A lot of relatively well-to-do retirees here makes it tough for people who are still working.” The Primaks volunteer at Family Kitchen — a nonprofit that prepares and serves meals to anyone in need — and Susan Primak says there are more people in need than you would expect. 

“I asked who are those people [in need], and a lot of them are from here, and they’ve either lost their housing or they have [encountered] other problems,” she says. “There are a lot of rental increases, and there is a discussion locally about affordable housing — it’s a problem.”

“There’s less access to reasonably lower income housing than there would be in Eugene,” Dean adds. 

Both Primak and Dean agree that provisions east of the Cascades are pricier. Dean says there is one main grocery store in Sisters. Primak says finding fresh, affordable seafood is difficult. “Even Cafe Yumm!’s prices are a little more expensive,” she says. 

For Dean, waking up to a view of the mountains every day and the high desert climate ultimately make her happy to live in Sisters. “I moved here because I wanted to get as close as possible to the life I want to live before it was too late, because I’m an outdoor person,” she says.