HERMISTON - Three years after an economic boom that brought hundreds of new residents to Hermiston, the tight rental market is beginning to ease up.

Three new multifamily developments are going up around town, and several other apartment complexes are back on the market following renovation.

But if you're a family with children and a modest income, you might be out of luck. A three-bedroom house at $750 a month might be out of your price range. Most of the apartments on the rental market are one- or two-bedroom units that would be a tight squeeze. And if you have a dog, forget it.

The rental market in Hermiston has been hot for years now thanks to the number of people who come to town for temporary jobs, said Donna Tassie of A-1 Property Management.

"Right now we have quite a few rentals on the high end, but many of the more modest rentals in the $400 to $500 range are pretty much filled," she said. "We're a real mobile community. A lot of people know they're only going to be here a year or so, so they don't want to buy."

Even with more apartments coming on the market, the number of people looking for a place to rent is still high, said Lezlee Gunsolley, president of the Columbia Basin Board of Realtors. A multifamily complex being developed by the Umatilla County Housing Authority will only provide homes for 32 low-income farmworker families when it opens early next year. Other subsidized apartments offered by the housing authority have a one-year waiting list. And the dearth of rental options is driving a boom at local RV parks that allow long-term residents, Gunsolley said.

"It's going to be tough to find an apartment for some time to come," she said. "I don't think that's going to change unless apartment buildings start going up."

Ironically, many of the people who are having trouble finding a place to rent are in Hermiston to work in construction, Gunsolley said.

While many renters are just happy to find a clean, convenient and affordable place to hang their hats for a while, a growing number of people are looking for high-end apartment complexes that include such amenities as a swimming pool, community center and a gym, said Hermiston Chamber of Commerce Director Rod Davis.

"It's a niche that hasn't been filled in Hermiston's rental market," he said. "More and more people are looking for something with a lifestyle."

Davis said Hermiston's market is also ripe for another housing trend that's become popular in cities across the nation: mixed-use developments that offer retail shops on the first floor and apartments above.

"That kind of development creates a sense of place," he said.

Home buyers have

lots of options

If you're in the market to buy a house, the good news is there are plenty of new single-family homes coming on the market. But depending on what you're looking for, it could take awhile to find the right place. For example, if you're in the market for a new home priced at $120,000 and up, you'll have lots of choices. The market for mid-range homes between $90,000 and $120,000 is a little tighter. But Gunsolley said buyers looking for something below $90,000 are probably looking at a manufactured home.

The market has seen big changes from just a few years ago, when Hermiston's population seemed to grow overnight as people arrived from all over in search of jobs with the Umatilla Chemical Weapons Depot, the Union-Pacific Railroad exchange, the Two Rivers Correctional Institution and other employers. Back then, people were scrambling to find a place -any place - to live, Gunsolley said.

"At one point, we had so many buyers that there was a waiting list for single family homes," she said. "People came to town and there wasn't anyplace for them to live."

Skyrocketing demand drove up prices for both new and existing homes and set off a building boom that continues today. The city of Hermiston reports that construction permits are up this year, with 295 issued through mid-November 2002 compared to 256 by the same time last year. Many of the permits are for housing subdivisions.

"We're finally seeing an adjustment in the market," Gunsolley said. "There are lots of subdivisions going in. In fact, there are so many new houses that prices are getting close to the driven-up prices of the older homes."

Right now, it's a buyer's market, she said. But competition for affordable homes is keeping the action hot.

"The market is still very good," she said. "I come to work at 8 o'clock, and I feel like I should stay until 10."

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