To attack Bend's housing problems, the city is looking at changing city rules and regulations, using grants and loans and — perhaps — creating a new tax.

It would be a construction excise tax, a tax on building permits.

Let's be clear. There are only discussions about such a tax at this point. No tax has been approved. No rate is set. It's not even clear who would have to pay. The tax did come up, though, in a city subcommittee discussion on Monday.

If you want to have an impact on the debate over such a tax, the time is now — not the night it comes before the Bend City Council for a vote.

Bend already has a similar tax for affordable housing. Since 2006, the city has collected 0.33 percent of the total valuation on all building permits submitted to the city. That has collected more than $6.4 million. The city uses that money primarily to fund loans to help make affordable housing projects happen.

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The new fee would be supplemental to that one — potentially on the building permit valuation of commercial and industrial developments. One rate city staff has mentioned is 0.67 percent. That might raise over $1 million a year, according to previous city projections.

The city is conducting a survey of the development community right now to find out why multifamily housing projects don't get done. There are all sorts of obstacles that get in the way. For instance, providing enough parking can be an issue for apartments. City and park system development fees can raise the per unit cost of housing by thousands. And a new apartment complex can trigger enough expected traffic to require an improvement at a nearby intersection. That can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of a new complex.

Money is one way to help make those problems go away. The new tax could be used to create a pool. Developers could apply for the money and councilors could make awards based on the relative merits of the various projects.

The city should do all it can to identify the codes and regulations it can change or get rid of so more housing can be built before it considers creating a new tax. And it already is making an impressive effort to do so. 

— The Bend Bulletin

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