The state has placed new requirements on cities considered “severely rent burdened,” but Hermiston and Pendleton don’t fit that criteria.
The state defines severely rent burdened cities as those where more than 25 percent of rental households are spending more than half of their income on rent.
Hermiston, in particular, is a good place to be a renter according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and used by the state. Of all the cities in Oregon with a population over 10,000, Hermiston has the second-lowest percentage of severely rent burdened households, at 15.5 percent.
Pendleton comes in at 18.7 percent, with only eight of the cities coming in lower. Overall, 27 of the 49 cities in Oregon with a population over 10,000 are considered severely rent burdened.
The data is being tracked by Oregon Housing and Community Services, a government agency that promotes affordable housing through measures ranging from downpayment assistance programs to housing choice vouchers.
Ariel Nelson, communications liaison for the agency, said OHCS published the list of severely rent burdened cities as part of House Bill 4006, which passed during the 2018 legislative session. The data concerning households spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent is gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau as part of its annual American Community Survey.
“That’s a data point we often use at the agency,” she said of the 50 percent statistic.
Each year, cities that meet the criteria of “severely rent burdened” will have to complete a survey about housing affordability and conduct at least one public meeting to discuss the causes and consequences of rent burdens and possible solutions to reduce the number of rent burdened households in the community.
Since Hermiston and Pendleton fall below the 25 percent mark, they don’t qualify as “severely” rent burdened.
Hermiston assistant city manager Mark Morgan said he couldn’t say for sure exactly why Hermiston had a relatively low number of rent burdened households, but Hermiston is “obviously a totally different market than some of the metro areas.”
The cost of purchasing a home, for example, is much lower than Oregon’s largest cities, leading some residents to make the jump to home ownership rather than pay prices on the higher end of Hermiston’s rental market.
“More people here who want to own, have the ability to own,” he said.
Morgan also said he hears from landlords in the area that if rents in Hermiston get too high people often decide they can pay just as much in the Tri-Cities while living closer to amenities such as Costco.
Hermiston has 2,537 renter households, many of which contain multiple people, according to the survey data. The city hasn’t had luck in recruiting a new apartment complex is several years, although Morgan said it’s “not for lack of trying.”
“Their response is that they can’t get the rents they need,” he said.
There have been some smaller rentals such as duplexes built in the past few years, as well as the new Cimmaron Terrace town homes off Theater Lane. He said there are some larger rental complexes in the works.
According to the rent burden data put out by the state at the beginning of the month, Pendleton has 2,660 renter households, with 497 of them considered severely rent burdened. The city has experienced a recent housing boom and in November approved the sale of property on Westgate for a 200-unit housing complex by I&E Construction.