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Lack of housing leads to hiring woes for Central Oregon businesses, study finds

Businesses in Bend are having a more difficult time hiring new workers as housing prices remain out of reach for many.
Bradley W. Parks
/
Businesses in Bend are having a more difficult time hiring new workers as housing prices remain out of reach for many.

In Bend, it’s not uncommon to find many restaurants closed on Monday and long wait times at certain businesses.

Employers in Bend are finding it increasingly difficult to fill empty positions and the region’s high cost of housing is often a direct factor, according to a new study produced by the Bend Chamber of Commerce.

More than 200 local businesses responded to the survey, with 81% saying that the sky-high cost of housing in Bend has made it difficult to hire workers.

Bend Chamber of Commerce CEO Katy Brooks said the issue has become more pronounced in recent years as prices continue to balloon. Such industries as retail leisure — which historically pay lower wages and comprise large swaths of Bend’s tourism economy — have been particularly hard hit.

“Businesses simply can’t attract people to come to Bend and live here if they can’t either find a place that’s open or afford any place that’s open,” Brooks said.

In some cases, high housing costs have forced some businesses in Bend to shut down altogether, according to Brooks. OPB called owners of three businesses that recently shut down in Bend, all of which did not respond before publication.

Rising costs for housing are not a situation unique to Bend, or even Oregon. Prices for homes and rentals nationally surged over the past two years as demand increased, a situation worsened most recently by inflation.

State economist Damon Runberg, who’s based in Bend, said the city is a microcosm of how housing directly affects other areas of the economy. The more money residents have to pay on housing, he said, the less they can spend on leisure and on other items.

Given that much of Bend’s tourism economy has traditionally relied on paying lower wages, it’s a problem Runberg expects could take years to resolve.

“This is such a major problem right now that even a minor correction might not be enough to solve the affordability crisis for these employers and the workers,” Runberg said.

However, Runberg said the large number of homes and apartments under construction in the city could slowly ease prices.

One of those entities struggling to hire is the City of Bend. Tiana Morris, with Bend’s human resources department, told OPB that hiring for certain positions has been difficult since working remotely isn’t an option for many positions. She estimated that, at certain points this year, candidates rejected around 10% of job offers due to relocation issues.

“I would say there’s no department that’s exempt,” Morris said. “We feel it everywhere.”

For private businesses, the struggle to fill empty positions is leading to a subsequent loss in revenues. Sixty-seven percent of businesses who responded to the chamber of commerce survey said their revenues decreased because of their inability to hire new employees.

A shortage of available workers is nothing new for Central Oregon. During the summer, job openings greatly exceeded the number of unemployed workers, meaning some jobs took weeks to fill. It coincided with what was nationally simplified as “great resignation,” the perception that many were slow to return to the workforce as COVID-19 restrictions began to subside.

But the authors of the survey said the reality is more complicated. The report said a tight labor market is expected to ease, but that the affordable housing crisis is more systemic and could hinder businesses for years to come.

And while Bend has a reputation as a fast-growing city, a lack of housing could hinder that. Runberg said Bend’s population grew faster than other cities during the pandemic, but it was slower than in the years just before COVID-19.

Housing, he said, could be the ceiling that tempers Central Oregon’s surging population.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Joni Land