With enough land, Cornelius looks to diversify housing
While Council Creek to the north and the Tualatin River to the south limit Cornelius' potential for expansion, the city is confident there is more than enough land available to meet a rising demand for housing.
Cornelius community development director Barbara Fryer told members of the Cornelius City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 21, that the city needs to develop 84 of 303 acres available and zoned for residential development to hit housing targets that include varying types of units.
"The evolution of zoning has always been to protect single family homes. Zoning was created so that industry wouldn't be located right next to single-family homes to protect the value of those homes," Fryer said. "Now we are working on ways to integrate a variety of housing types within those housing areas."
According to the report Fryer presented to the council, Cornelius has 2,668 housing units, including 1,220 single-family detached homes, which are considered low-density housing. By 2040, the city will need another 972 of those units.
Cornelius also has 906 units in medium-density complexes of two to four units and will need another 636 by 2040. There are currently 542 units in high-density apartment complexes, and 246 are needed by 2040.
Fryer noted changes to Cornelius' development code are required under House Bill 2001, which passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown in 2019.
The new law requires cities to allow "middle housing," which includes duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters and townhouses, on residential land previously reserved for single-family housing. The provision goes into effect for cities with a population of 25,000 or within a metropolitan service district, like Cornelis, on June 30, 2022.
"Instead of building one house for $500,000, we can build four for $250,000 each in the same space," Nathan Teske, executive director of housing nonprofit Bienestar, said. "And we're creating an asset that somebody can buy as opposed to rent."
While the land and zoning may be there, financial barriers to construction and staffing to organize affordable housing projects persist.
"The cost to maintain single-family unit or small properties is often higher than it is at multifamily properties with more commuting time to multiple locations, and most funding sources for affordable housing are competitive. Larger, multi-family projects typically better align with those competitive processes," said Komi Kalevor, who is executive director of the Washington County Housing Authority. "Land costs are generally high throughout Washington County, which encourages building at the highest density possible. There is a great need for affordable housing, and it can be met more cost-effectively though multifamily development."
Earlier this month, Forest Grove broke ground on a complex dubbed The Valfre at Avenida 26. That apartment complex is tentatively scheduled to open in fall 2022, with 30 of 36 units being two- and three-bedroom apartments for low-income households.
A crucial $3.7 million of the $13.5 million development cost is being covered by a a $653 million affordable housing bond approved by Metro voters in November 2018.
Similar bond funds will help Cornelius break ground on 113 units of high-density multifamily housing. That is expected to happen before the end of September.
Local housing advocates see the new zoning law and bond revenue as a start.
"There is no way to sugarcoat it. Greater Portland has a lot of work to do," said Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González, who grew up in Cornelius and now lives in nearby Hillsboro. "Our region needs to build a ton more housing in every neighborhood."
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