Van Vliet says persistent unemployment and underemployment have been most responsible for the inability of Oregonians to afford rents, as well as contributing to foreclosures. Hiring is slowly improving, though most of the new jobs are in the Portland metro area “so the recovery is going to be lopsided, and that’s going to put rural communities further behind,” she says. The five counties still suffering seasonally adjusted unemployment in excess of 12% in February were all rural: Crook, Grant, Harney, Jefferson and Lake. The statewide rate was 8.8%.
Within the state’s urban areas, Bend and Medford stand out as the least affordable housing markets, though both may be improving. In 2010, 48% of mortgage holders and more than 64% of renters in the two fast-growing metros were housing burdened. Since 2006 the burden hadn't changed for homeowners, but renters’ burdens grew 22% in Bend and 12% in Medford. Meanwhile, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s All-Transactions Home Price Index, an indicator of single-family home prices and refinance appraisals, dropped 40% for Bend and 30% for Medford.
Bend also witnessed the most dramatic surge of another indicator of unaffordable homes: foreclosures. In Deschutes County, notices of homeowner default shot up from 45 in 2007 to 314 in 2010. John Helmick, CEO of Eugene-based Gorilla Capital, which buys, remodels and resells foreclosed homes, says that after peaking in 2010, this indicator is finally brightening in 2011: “Throughout all the 20 Oregon counties in which we track the data, we saw an average of 25% decline in the number of new foreclosures being filed, and we see that same decline continuing in 2012.”
Jaynee Beck, a realtor with Duke Warner Realty in Bend and president of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors, also has reason for cautious optimism on the ability of new buyers to afford a home. “Our market has really done a big correction,” she says, “and it’s brought a lot of the buyers back to our market that were priced out of it in the boom.” That includes many locals who grew up and worked in Bend but had to commute 45 minutes away to find affordable housing when the minimum price in Bend was about $300,00.
“Now we actually have homes under $100,000,” says Beck, “so those people can come back to Bend.
Brandon Sawyer is research editor for Oregon Business. He can be reached at brandons(at)oregonbusiness.com.