Monday, April 17, 2006


Economic Cleansing

Bend, Oregon, where I live, is undergoing a major boom. New construction is everywhere, from strip malls to condos to McMansions.

This is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Property is so valuable that $100,000 houses are being bought and torn town to put up $300,000 homes. Up on the high ground, where the views are, homes regular go for over a $1,000,000.

Not bad for an old logging town that went downhill when they finished cutting all the trees. It’s like, now, the old mining towns in the Rockies: once half-empty towns have been in reborn as upscale ski resorts and retirement communities. Vail, Aspen, Park City, Silverton, People from California, among other places, who were, even, blue collar workers, sold their homes (that they’d long since paid off) and headed for the hinterlands. L.A. tract houses are now worth a half-million, so up here they could buy views, a little space, and something called “peace and quiet.”

The only problem is that before the well-off-retired, ski-ers and yuppies and trust-fund hippies, there were retired loggers and mill-workers and teachers and such folks. Their incomes weren’t—and aren’t— too great. A lot of them, if they couldn’t afford a regular house, bought mobile homes and put them into trailer parks. Usually, since it would be just a couple, they bought single-wides. Now the trailer parks are being sold and sub-divided for strip-malls and homes “in the low 300s”. And there’re now, in the newer better mobile home parks, regulations against single-wides. A lot of those older mobile homes aren’t in great shape, either—like their owners. Nobody wants to buy a single-wide anymore—the last one I saw advertised was thirty years old and under $20,000. That was about six months ago. Last month, the tenants in that particular park got their eviction notices.

Around here, with terrible housing prices, the workers—now mostly service workers—are being forced to live elsewhere. There’s no public transportation anywhere in this county; a dial-a-ride service is available within the city limits, but it’s booked up for days and days in advance and the arrival times have a forty minute “window.” Trips to and from destinations can take upwards of an hour. That makes it hard to get to work on time—if you can find affordable housing in town. Unless workers have their own transportation, they’re pretty-much screwed.

The building boom in central Oregon has affected other near-by communities, as well. Their housing prices are rising and trailer parks in those locales are also falling in the hands of exploitors—er, developers.

Tonight, at least, the City Council is going to begin considering an ordinance requiring some sort of help when people are forced to move from these places: help in finding new housing, help in moving expenses—that would be the appropriate thing to do, anyhow. What I wonder about is whether the city council will only require the subdividers to help relocate people within the city limits. Around here, the big time real estate folks get to call the shots; I expect their idea of help will be to figure out a way to just get the people moved outside the city limits. And leave them there.

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