Affordable housing discussions at local government meetings have prompted testimony that rent prices have become too high for many families to pay.
What those people likely didn't know at the time was that the increase of rental prices in Prineville is proportionally the second-highest in the entire country.
According to a study recently released by Lending Tree, Prineville's average rental prices have increased by 45.7 percent ($394.44) since 2011, second only to fellow Central Oregon community Bend, with an increase of 54 percent. The average increase nationally is 7.55 percent or $79.89.
Lending Tree included the rental increase data in a report that made use of data from Zillow and AtoZDatabases. It examined the cities throughout the country that have changed the most in recent years, considering such metrics as cost of home ownership, rent values and changes in foreclosure rates as well as increases in business storefronts and levels of diversity.
The study found that renting has increased overall since the 2008 housing market crash. Millennials are not buying houses as often as the previous generation, and the percentage of young people who currently own a home is at a 30-year low.
Toni O'Hara, owner of locally based Viking Property Management, was surprised to learn that Prineville ranked second nationally in rent price increase. She attributed the degree of change to the low rent prices prompted by the recent recession.
"I do know that 2011 and before, rents had to go down because the economy then was going down," she said. "Now, they are just trying to get them back up."
The virtually nonexistent supply of rentals is also feeding into the price increase.
"There are not the many houses out there, so a lot of owners think they can raise the rent because people are going to take it," O'Hara said. "It is so hard. I see so many people who can't afford $1,000 or more a month. That is getting to be the standard on three-bedroom homes."
The national ranking for rental prices also surprised Daryl Rothenbucher, co-owner of Wild West Property Management. He agrees that the lack of rental supply is to blame for the escalating rent prices, but added that Prineville's proximity to Bend is impacting them as well. He notes that the low supply is a region-wide problem, and since Bend prices are so high — higher than in Prineville — people choose to look for homes in neighboring communities.
Another development that people often say is driving rent prices up is the surge of data center construction workers that have temporarily moved to the community.
"It seems like a lot of them coming out get paid a per diem to be in a place here," O'Hara said. "They can pay a lot higher than a lot of families around here can."
However, she is quick to question that cause, noting that a lot of people who work on the data centers did not move here from another community.
The current state of the rental market has prompted more home owners to get out of the landlord business entirely. O'Hara said that five of her homeowner customers have sold in the past year.
"It seems like we are losing more old (rentals) than getting new ones," she said.