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Poverty with a view? A look at Bend's cost of living

By Alicia Inns
Published On: May 16 2013 09:30:00 PM CDT
Updated On: May 17 2013 03:22:20 PM CDT

In a special report, NewsChannel 21's Alicia Inns talks with a returned Bend resident whose ups and downs mirror the High Desert economy's roller-coaster ride.

BEND, Ore. -

Chelsie Buchanan's story is all too familiar.

"It was heartbreaking, one of the hardest things we've ever had to do," she said.

Buchanan moved to Bend 12 years ago. Her husband lost his job in construction during the recession and they, along with their son, were forced to move back to the Valley.

"Just not knowing what was going to happen then, leaving this place that we love," she said recently.

When it was time for their son to start school a few months later, Buchanan decided to move back, found a job -- and again, lost it.

Roger Lee, the director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said when the housing market was tanking, it was relatively inexpensive to live in Bend.

Now that prices have turned around, there's little inventory left on the market. And people who were once buyers are now renting -- driving the prices and our cost of living up.

"Some people would say it's a function of income," Lee said. "The higher the income, the higher the ability to spend on things -- and in some cases, the higher the attraction for competition for those things like housing. And that's what causing higher rent or higher home prices."

According to the Central Oregon Renters Association, the average rent for a four-bedroom house jumped from $1,255 in 2011 to $1,489 last year.

The population also paints another picture. Since 2000, Oregon's population has grown by 12.25 percent. The Bend area -- nearly three times as much.

"It's been the fastest-growing city in Oregon for years and years, and that creates pressure on prices as well," Lee said.

According to bestplaces.net, a data collection website, Bend has a higher cost of living overall. That includes housing prices, food and transportation and health care -- all more expensive than the U.S. average.

Comparing those numbers to cities of our same size., Bloomington, Indiana is cheaper than the U.S. average and Bend. Asheville, North Carolina is above the U.S. average overall, but still cheaper than Bend.

"I think many people realize this is a great place to live, but that doesn't necessarily convince a board of directors that it's a good place to locate your business," Lee said.

Despite the numbers, people are not fleeing. Some are becoming entrepreneurs.

"People are saying, 'You know what? I'll move back there and create my own job,'" Lee said. "We are meeting with on average 200 companies, entrepreneurs a year,"

And what the recession did not do is change Bend's attractiveness. The streams, skiing, sunshine and abundance of beauty are a big draw for Central Oregon.

"Look at what your paying for -- this is an amazing place to live," Buchanan said.

Still unemployed, Buchanan says she'll do what it takes to support her son. But she sees no reason to leave -- not now, or any time soon.

"Life is hard, but it's better in Bend, and I truly believe that," Buchanan said.

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