Carlie Yenne moved to Central Oregon this year to work as a case manager at J Bar J Boys Ranch, and while she’s waiting to move into a house in La Pine, she’s staying at the Main Street Bunkhouse in Prineville.
She pays $720 a month for one of 12 sparsely furnished rooms on the second floor of a historic downtown building. The stairs that are accessible from the street lead to a door with keypad entry. Inside, there’s a laundry room, men’s bathroom and women’s bathroom off a brightly lighted hallway. The bunkhouse offers free Wi-Fi, but residents bring their own televisions, microwaves and bedding.
Yenne looked at vacation rentals in Bend where she would at least have access to a kitchen. She also considered renting a room in someone’s house, which would save her $100 a month. But the bunkhouse is just what she needs for now. “I’d much rather have a room to myself,” Yenne said. “It’s smack dab in the middle, and it’s really nice.”
Main Street Bunkhouse is like a modern-day boardinghouse, a form of temporary, affordable housing that hasn’t existed in Prineville since at least the 1940s. Owner Patrick Brady is betting the next phase of construction on Facebook’s Prineville data center will bring a surge in demand for cheap places to stay. In fact, he created the bunkhouse in response to the last wave of workers.
While the city of Prineville defines Brady’s business as an extended-stay hotel because it’s more than 10 units, Brady calls it a boardinghouse. There’s no front desk, and he doesn’t rent by the night. He advertises on Craigslist, not Airbnb.
A geologist who also owns an environmental remediation firm, Brady said he modeled Main Street Bunkhouse on his experience living in van camps in the Arctic. “Just clean, safe, basic accommodations,” he said.
While the demand for affordable temporary housing is apparent, not many entrepreneurs have tried to build a business around it. Instead, workers end up renting hotel rooms for weeks at a time, renting rooms in houses, in-law apartments or parking their RVs on private property. Some of the construction workers even bought second homes in Prineville with the intention of turning them into rental property later, said Jessica Lay, owner of the Vintage Cottage store on the first floor of Brady’s building at 395 N. Main St.
During the last data center construction boom, Lay encouraged Brady to convert the second floor of the building, which was an office suite at the time. People were constantly coming into the shop and asking permission to roll out a sleeping bag on the floor upstairs, she said.
Prineville officials say they’ve approved more than 100 new housing units, from RV parking to single-family homes, and the city of nearly 10,000 people will be ready for the hundreds of workers expected to show up when work gets underway next year.
“I could see a small town like Prineville not wanting to put a bunch of infrastructure in,” said Drew Lindsey, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 280. “When they’re gone, what have you got?”
At the project peak, around this time next year, more than 300 electricians will be working in Prineville, he said, so the union has encouraged people in Prineville to create more temporary RV parking.
Brady began working on Main Street Bunkhouse in August 2016, and at that time he had a 100-person waiting list. By the time construction was finished and he was ready to open last spring, the work trailers were disappearing from Facebook’s property on the hill overlooking town, he said.
So Brady found a new market in people who are having trouble finding a permanent home in Central Oregon. One of his tenants last summer was Amy Pettijohn, who has lived in Prineville since 2012.
“I got one of those lovely notices where they’re like, ‘We’re not going to renew your lease’,” she said. “I still hadn’t found anywhere by the end of the 60 days.”
The bunkhouse was like being back in a college dorm, she said, except she rarely saw any of the eight other people who were staying there at the time.
Jim Long, affordable housing manager for the city of Bend, thinks boardinghouses, which were a common place for fishermen and loggers to live when he was growing up, should make a comeback.
“There are a lot of people that have a minimal amount of income that might be able to afford a room at a boardinghouse, but they can’t afford an apartment,” Long said. “I’d love to see somebody come to town and try to develop those.”
Brady said Prineville officials were concerned that the prices at Main Street Bunkhouse, which are about half the going rate for hotel rooms, would make it a trouble spot in the downtown, which is seeing buildings renovated for shops and brewpubs.
“The city said, ‘We don’t want this to be a flophouse for drug addicts,’” he said. “I screen people. I’ve had a couple get past me. We kicked ’em out.”
One of Bend’s first boardinghouses, the historical Lucas House, on Hawthorne Avenue west of downtown, is now occupied by Bunk + Brew, which opened this year. Bunk + Brew is registered as a boardinghouse, but it’s marketed as a hostel — cheap, communal accommodations for tourists, said co-owner Frankie Maduzia.
Bunk + Brew offers private rooms and rooms with multiple bunk beds, plus a shared kitchen and bathrooms. The setup is probably more akin to historic boardinghouses, but the maximum stay is two weeks. People in Bend don’t seem familiar with the term hostel, Maduzia said.
“We just tell people we’re like a European-style lodging, essentially,” he said.
With beds available for $20 to $45 a night, depending on the season, Bunk + Brew is one of the cheapest places to stay in the area, short of camping, Maduzia said. While he’s had some guests who were working in town or between living situations, most are tourists, he said. The hostel appeals to adventure travelers who just want a place in town with a shower, he said.
Bunk + Brew turned a profit in two months, he said, so now he and his partner are contemplating an expansion. “The wheels are turning.”
Brady expects that Main Street Bunkhouse will evolve with the city of Prineville. Neighboring building owners are renovating storefronts, and more people are spending time eating and drinking downtown. The property could be more like a traditional hotel in the future, he said.
Brady, who figures he’s spent $500,000 on the building since 2004, said his long-term goal is to keep its historical character.
“We have to see what the markets are, and the markets are going to change,” he said.
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