May 29, 2007 in City

Rent too much? Some try a tent

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

BEND, Ore. – Low-wage jobs have inspired some even lower-rent solutions for young people moving to Central Oregon.

For Jeff Michael, home is a one-person tent pitched in his friend’s backyard.

Michael, 21, is squatting there while he waits for rafting season to start next month – and a job as a rafting guide that will pay about $90 per day, plus tips.

In winter, Michael works winters at Mount Bachelor ski area, teaching snowboarding for $11.50 per hour.

In between, it’s a little harder to get by.

“If I could find a job I loved and find a house I could afford, this would be a great place to raise a family,” he said.

The median home price was $347,750 in the first quarter of the year, according to the Central Oregon Association of Realtors. In order to afford that, a household must make more than $70,000 per year, real estate brokers say.

But the average wage earned in Deschutes County in 2006 was $16.02 per hour, or $33,329 per year, according to the most recent data from the Oregon Employment Department.

Regardless of pay, young adults ages 20 to 34 are moving to Deschutes County at more than twice the rate for the state, according to a 2006 population report from the Portland State University Population Research Center.

“I definitely am going paycheck to paycheck,” Michael said. “I had six overdrafts (on my checking account) last month, but luckily they only charge for the first five. I don’t care, though, it’s just money.”

Young, adaptable and mobile workers are critically important to local economies that are absorbing retiring baby boomers and struggling to lure qualified workers, according to a 2005 report from the CEOs for Cities organization.

Michael, originally from Salem, has been a renter in Bend since he moved five years ago. Between snowboarding, rafting and working other service-level jobs, he’s been studying outdoor recreation leadership and commercial tourism at Central Oregon Community College, which he hopes might lead to him starting his own recreation business.

Bend resident Joy Oliveria, 27, says she makes sacrifices to live in Bend and support her active lifestyle.

The roller-derby girl works part time as a pizza-delivery employee for Round Table Pizza for $8 per hour, plus tips, while taking community college classes. She also has been a snowboard instructor for the past four seasons at Mount Bachelor, recently getting a raise to $10 per hour, and has bounced around from various odd jobs, including at Sunriver Resort Marina and cleaning houses.

“I’m willing to deal with a crappy job just to have fun,” Medford-born Oliveria joked.

But she admits she cannot afford to live in Bend.

“At my age,I would have thought by now I would be able to own a house,” she said. “But since I’m constantly struggling with part-time, seasonal jobs, I just can’t save up the money.”

Michael says part of the problem is Bend has grown too big.

“I’d like to move to a smaller town, like where Bend was five to 10 years ago,” he said. “I could have afforded a house when I first moved here, but now, there’s no way I could afford to. Not for the job that I choose.”

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