Former Bend, Oregon Mayor Says Cities Should Consider More Manufactured Homes

The following narrative was provided to The Bulletin by Allan Bruckner, former Bend, Oregon Mayor. Like many metropolitan areas across the country, Bend has a serious home affordability supply problem. Manufactured housing can be an important component of a broad solution, not only for Bend but also for communities across the country.

According to The Urban Institute, manufactured housing provided approximately 9% of all single-family housing nationwide over the past decade. Bend, Oregon, built almost none!

In fact, over the past 50 years, the only factory housing communities in the Bend area were built in the 1970s to the 1990s in areas that were under county jurisdiction and later annexed to the city. There have been no such major developments since the city’s large annexations in the 1990s. Why not? They sure could help alleviate Bend’s greatest housing need.

In an article in The Bulletin on Aug. 7, Esther Sullivan, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, noted, “The importance of manufactured housing for addressing our current affordability crisis is just immense because manufactured housing is half the cost to build a traditional site-built construction …. There’s just a lot of opportunity to capitalize on the cost savings that come from factory production.” And a chance for a family lifestyle not available in a large apartment building.

In a July 1 column in The Bulletin, City Councilor Melanie Kebler bragged about the city helping build (subsidize) 700 homes. In total, Bend claims about $140 million in low-cost housing investment, mostly federal money. But nearly 80% of these are apartment rentals, and only 20% are home-owned (none manufactured homes). Why? It is almost universally acknowledged that homeownership is highly desirable and beneficial to a community. A new approach addressing low-cost housing is clearly needed.

In July 2022, The Urban Institute, a prestigious non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C., published a research report titled: The Role of Manufactured Housing in Increasing the Supply of Affordable Housing. Two of the key points it made are:

FIRST: “The deficit of housing inventory, unaffordable prices, growing demand for low-priced housing and consumer willingness to own manufactured housing strongly suggest that manufactured housing can be an important component of a broader solution …It plays a dominant role in the low prices segment of the market.”

SECOND: “Controlling for size, prices for manufactured homes are half the prices of their site-built counterparts, on average. In 2021 the average price, excluding land, per square foot for site-built homes was $144 compared with only $72 for a manufactured home. The difference can be attributed to factory-built construction, which is less labor-intensive and more automated. Factory-built construction is also less prone to weather-related delays and waste, which speeds up the process and reduces cost.”

If Bend is to seriously address the need for true low-cost housing, it needs to actively solicit and create substantial manufactured housing developments.

Failing to pursue new approaches and act aggressively is denying low-income families the opportunity to live in their own single-family homes in Bend and the accompanying financial advantages. It forces those that want their own home and do not want apartment living to move to other communities and face long, costly, time-consuming, and polluting commutes for employment opportunities.

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