Adams: Legislature peddles harmful fix to housing insecurity
Every few years, someone comes by to remake my city in their own image.
If you live in a city, this might have happened to you. Where I live, each time the citizens pushed back because city planning and visioning is, by state and local rules, supposed to be driven by a local participatory process. Cities are vested with the right to "home rule." Citizens are vested in the right to have a say. Now the state Legislature has over-stepped by forcing multifamily dwellings into all single-family zones.
In my city, first came a city manager with his densifying "Opportunity Zone." Next, it was a mayor and a Metro councilor pushing a "Metro Town Center" on two sections of our city. Metro's model boosted housing density, doubled allowable building heights, while actually lowering the traffic standards and allowing a greater amount of congestion.
Next, the city manager attempted to shift local ordinances by dramatically densifying allowable practices in each zone, even including the dreaded zero lot line option that caused such misery in California. That failed because citizens pushed back, but when the state of Oregon stripped city-dwelling citizens of the right to vote upon annexation requests to their city, the only way to push back was for cities to take the state to court.
Mind you, this all went on while the normal legal infill construction continued in my city at breakneck speed. This normal locally legal infill is what I consider "fair growth" because it accords with our laws and codes. Not everybody loves this, but we can all respect that owners of property have the right to develop under the local laws and codes that were formed by their community.
But what the state Legislature has done this year with House Bill 2001 indefensibly violates local zoning by forcing multifamily dwellings into all single family zones. Check today to see if your district representative signed on. Vexingly, mine did, while ignoring an eloquent letter sent by our mayor showing exactly what is wrong with the state negating our local participatory land-use process and shifting density costs onto our already stressed municipal capacity.
What I find tragic is that the state Legislature has adopted the Home Builders Association model of your future. Look at Portland, where this general model has not helped with housing insecurity because the root drivers of insecurity were ignored. Now the root economic causes of housing insecurity and real solutions are being ignored by the state Legislature that has bought the Home Builders' false narrative that zoning causes housing insecurity.
Those who grew up here remember the vast agricultural fields and summer jobs picking crops. They can attest that our city has done more than its share regionally to provide housing of various types. Never mind the extraordinary rate of building we have sustained year upon year. Never mind our vast townhouse enclaves, our many apartments, and the continued growing acres of houses. Never mind that we have always exceed Metro's housing goalposts. Never mind that since the statewide-mandated accessory dwelling unit laws went in, most dwellings can be duplexed with an accessory unit sharing the sewer line. Never mind that our local laws and codes provide a fair path for developing housing on almost any lot in the city. Never mind that most commercial zones allow housing on the upper floors. Never mind that our laws, codes and guiding vision documents were legally enacted with the input of hundreds of citizens and stakeholders over scores of year.
For years, the Home Builders Association has peddled the false idea that municipal zoning causes housing insecurity. The apartment developer coalition has joined them in lobbying for the extinction of single family zoning in the name of housing choice. But this model ignores the root causes of housing insecurity and restricts a choice many families value.
Sadly, the state Legislature has bought into the profiteers' false narrative. The state's assault on single-family zoning harms neighborhoods and diverts policy for really solutions which are structurally driven. Their overreach into city and citizens' rightful authority absolutely should be fought in court — or better yet, rescinded by a future legislative majority that knows better.
Rebecca Adams is a resident of West Linn.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.