Bend, Ore., considers 'accessory dwellings'

'Mother-in-law apartments' being pitched to city

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photoAn accessory dwelling, also known as mother-in-law apartments, is seen Aug. 13 at a home in Bend, Ore. Bend is looking for strategies to ease the shortage of rental housing in the city. One option is to make it easier for property owners to build accessory dwellings.

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BEND, Ore. — The shortage of affordable rental housing in Bend has placed local officials in the unusual position of calling for the city to emulate an infill development tactic used by Portland.

Bend city councilors will soon hear a proposal from the city's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee that would make it easier for property owners in Bend to build accessory dwellings, commonly referred to as mother-in-law apartments. The small homes are already allowed under city code, but the approval process required in older areas of the city makes it simple for a neighbor to halt a project.

"It's not too often you hear something come out where Bend wants to be more like Portland," said Andy High, chairman of the committee and staff vice president of government affairs for the Central Oregon Builders Association.

However, High said that with a streamlined process, people could build these small homes in as little as two months.

"In my view, this is the quickest way to get rental housing up," High said. "This is a great way to put an issue out in front of the community to see how much we … care about affordable housing."

Members of the advisory committee said during a meeting last Wednesday that they do anticipate their ideas will run into some opposition.

The proposal would allow accessory dwellings without a conditional use permit on all lots across the city and increase the cap on size to 800 square feet, a change that committee members said is necessary to allow for two-bedroom apartments and to make the units pencil out financially.

High said the committee will likely present this recommendation, along with a couple of other ideas it is still developing to increase the supply of affordable rental housing, 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.

Portland is the most dramatic example in the state of the infill development that occurs when it is easier to build accessory dwellings. Property owners used to build about 30 accessory dwellings each year, but Portland received approximately 200 permit applications for the structures in 2013, according to the city.

The increase followed a 2010 Portland City Council decision 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. Portland also increased the allowable size of accessory dwellings, from the previous limit of 33 percent of the living area in the primary home to 75 percent. An overall cap on the size of the homes remains 800 square feet, according to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. City officials there have extended the fee waiver through June 2016.

So far, no one in Bend has proposed waiving any fees for accessory dwellings.