Pending legislation would give state government broad new authority to prod Oregon cities and the Portland metro area to promote more housing production — and penalize them if they do not.
The legislation, in the form of a proposed change to House Bill 2889, is seen as one step toward achieving the stated target of Gov. Tina Kotek to increase production to 36,000 units annually. She said in her inaugural remarks Jan. 9 that Oregon must make up for a decade-old shortage of 111,000 units plus provide for continued population growth — and more housing is the only long-term solution for homelessness.
Oregon’s land use planning program, which turns 50 years old this year, confines development within the urban growth boundaries of cities — Metro, for the Portland region — and protects much of the rest for farming and forestry.
Though some critics have proposed doing away with urban growth boundaries, Rep. Maxine Dexter says it is time for Oregon to devote more attention to development within them, without sacrificing the original intent of the 1973 law. She said the proposal builds on legislation that Kotek, in her previous role as House speaker, shepherded through the 2019 session.
Dexter, a Democrat from Northwest Portland who leads the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness, said this in an opening statement Thursday, Feb. 16:
“We must prioritize housing at the top of our list, rather than at the bottom, if we are to make sure that Oregonians for generations to come have access to safe and affordable housing in a state that continues to protect its forests, farms and water.”
In essence, the amended bill would enable the Department of Land Conservation and Development — the state land use planning agency created by the 1973 law — to work with other state agencies, cities and Metro to assess housing needs and help them set allocations and production targets. Cities of less than 10,000 would be exempt.
If local governments are unable to comply, the state planning agency is empowered to work with them to do so. But the Land Conservation and Development Commission, the agency’s policy-making arm, would be able to issue enforcement actions that could result in a halt to all building activity.
The proposal has been the focus of a work group consisting of a range of interests.
Mary Kyle McCurdy is deputy director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, the land use watchdog group founded in 1975 by Tom McCall — the governor who advocated and signed the 1973 law — and lawyer Henry Richmond. She said it will go far to carry out the promise of one of the law’s requirements, adopted in late 1974, to ensure adequate housing.
“The land use planning program alone will not solve today’s housing crisis,” she said. “As you have heard, we need funding for infrastructure and to subsidize the housing to meet the needs of those at certain income levels, among other things. But it can ensure we do not fall into this cycle again, and that Oregon lives up to the promise of Goal 10.”
She said that for more than 40 years, most housing has been built on land zoned for single-family residential use, the most expensive alternative. (At Kotek’s behest in 2019, the Legislature opened up such zoning for siting of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.)
Sitting next to McCurdy as she testified was Dave Hunnicutt, president of the Oregon Property Owners Association, a nonprofit that began as Oregonians in Action in the 1980s. They are usually on opposite sides.
But Hunnicutt said the proposal would improve the prospects for development because “local process is one of the barriers.”
But some key groups — namely home builders and cities — were not yet ready to endorse the proposal despite their participation in the work group.
Samantha Bayer spoke for the Oregon Home Builders Association, Oregon Property Owners Association and Oregon Realtors. She said the proposal is a good start.
But she added:
“The success of Oregon Housing Needs Analysis (proposal) must be measured by actual units produced, Oregonians housed, and the costs of housing decreasing. If these core metrics do not improve, it is not successful, irrespective of how we calculate and plan for future housing needs. As currently drafted, HB 2889 is heading in the right direction to ensure a brighter future for Oregon.”
Ariel Nelson, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, offered a three-page list of technical questions about the proposal. Erin Doyle is a lobbyist for Washington County, which has the most urban unincorporated areas in the state. Some but not all communities have planning agreements with the county, and Doyle said the pending legislation should clarify how they would be affected.
A number of local officials filed statements but did not testify in person or via video. Among them:
• Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty: “It’s important that cities are focused on doing the work they must do to create the right conditions for more housing, and equally important that Legislature and DLCD acknowledge there are many things outside a city’s control that affect housing production results.”
• Wilsonville Mayor Julie Fitzgerald: “While local jurisdictions set policies and regulations that promote the production of needed housing, they do not build housing and cannot control market-based factors … that influence housing construction and pricing.”
• Bend City Manager Eric King: “The amount of affordable housing that the city can support is dependent upon the amount of federal and state funding that goes to the city for deed-restricted affordable housing. While (the proposal) will provide the city with the number of units of affordable housing will be needed, the city will need additional resources to support their development.”
• Alan DeLa Torre, a manager in the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability: “The city of Portland supports HB 2889 in general and specifically the changes related to accessible housing. We encourage the committee to continue engaging advocates and local jurisdictions focused on accessible housing for older adults and people with disabilities.”
• Christina Dirks, interim policy and planning director for Home Forward, Multnomah County’s housing agency: “Our current housing and homelessness crisis demonstrates that Goal 10, our statewide land use planning goal addressing housing, has not been adequately implemented at the local level nor has it been sufficiently funded or enforced on a state level ... Now is the time for reform.”
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