Finding the 'missing middle'
A bill aimed at combating the state's affordable housing crisis has drawn sharp criticism from representatives in cities the law would affect.
House Bill 2001, introduced by Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, requires cities with populations greater than 10,000 or counties of more than 15,000 to allow for "missing middle" housing in single-family residential zones. Missing middle housing residential developments include duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, rowhouses, townhouses, clustered housing and smaller apartment complexes.
The units are considered the "missing middle" because they are a step between small single-family homes and large apartment complex units. These type of developments are often sparsely constructed in municipalities.
Troutdale's City Councilors objected to the bill citing that it removes a city's entire ability to plan their community by effectively eliminating single-family housing zoning requirements, said Troutdale Mayor Casey Ryan.
"Does it even matter as what we do as mayors and citizens," he said. "This is a slap in the face."
The Troutdale City Council agreed, and councilors unanimously approved a letter of opposition to HB 2001 at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26. In neighboring Fairview, city councilors also objected to the measure on similar grounds and directed city staff to draft a resolution opposing the state bill.
Fairview Councilor Keith Kudrna said other state legislation aimed at combating the affordable-housing crisis, such as requesting cities update their zoning code to allow for accessory dwelling units (also known as mother-in-law apartment or granny flats), were strong recommendations, and HB 2001 goes much farther.
"This is flat-out saying, 'it will happen,' and I am so against it," Kudrna said. "One of the things this bill does is it takes all local authority off the plate, and I am extremely uncomfortable with that."
A strong stance
At a public hearing for HB 2001 on Monday, Feb. 11, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said finding solutions to the state's housing shortage will require a forceful stance.
"Oregon is a great state to live in. A lot of people keep moving here — and we don't have enough housing for them — so the cost of housing skyrockets," she said. "HB 2001 addresses this challenge head on by allowing more homes to be built in highly restrictive neighborhoods, and I support its passage."
Not passing state laws to address the housing crises will lead to unintentional segregation, she added.
"… if we continue on the same track, single-family zoned neighborhood throughout Oregon will become invisible gate communities of privileged white families. It's already happening, and it has to stop."
Mayor Ryan disagreed with that sentiment.
"Maybe at one point neighborhoods were formed to keep people out, but that's not going on anymore," he said. "Troutdale is not the upper echelon. We have plenty of mixed apartments and duplexes along with the single-family housing developments."
The housing crisis is a complicated issue, and a one-size-fits-all solution being forced from the state will not likely solve the crisis, he noted. Ryan emphasized creating more housing options in single-family zones could be debated on its own merit, but the state should not make cities' land-use decisions.
Kafoury said in an email on Friday, March 1, that the bill would help many Oregonians find more affordable homes to buy or rent.
"I'm supportive of this concept because it is the first major effort to address the root cause of the housing crisis — the shortage of housing," Kafoury said. "Speaker Kotek knows that there is still work to be done and she has emphasized that this bill is a start — with opportunities for amendments."
Kotek also supports the bill as a way to combat the state's housing shortage.
"The state's housing crisis has continued for far too long and demands a bold set of solutions from the Legislature this session," Kotek said during the bill's hearing on Feb. 11. "We must protect tenants in an unpredictable rental market. We must increase emergency housing assistance. We must publicly finance more affordable housing across Oregon. And we must smooth the way for more construction."
The League of Oregon Cities opposes HB 2001, and Kotek's arguments don't hold up, said Erin Doyle, the league's intergovernmental relations associate. The organization agrees with Troutdale and Fairview that the proposed legislation takes away local control.
"The land-use system is based on state goals and local action, and this bill turns that on its head," Doyle said. "It does not lead to good overall planning, disrupts trust with citizens, and has no guarantees that any of the units proposed will be more affordable to median income earners."
Those who support the bill claim missing middle redevelopment will increase the housing supply, but this type of redevelopment is slow and can take years to impact a neighborhood, she said. League representatives are also concerned that this type of rezoning will have unintended consequences.
"Nothing in the bill allows for cities to address concerns that redevelopment will lead to displacement for moderate-income families as older stock is replaced by newer, market rate units and those of modest means will be pushed further away from city centers," Doyle said.
Finding common ground
Instead of outright opposing the law, Gresham is seeking a compromise, said Eric Chambers, Gresham's government relations director. If HB 2001 passes, the city wants to maintain planning decisions by demonstrating they have already achieved the bill's goals.
"Gresham currently has more existing density, and a higher percentage of 'middle housing' than most cities in Oregon," Chambers said. "When communities can show that they are providing a full range of housing options at the local level, we have advocated that those communities should be able to retain local control and flexibility to continue doing so."
Approximately 16 percent of Gresham's housing market is considered the missing middle.
"In addition, with some conditions, middle housing of various types is already allowed in five out of seven of Gresham's low-density zoning areas," he said.
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, who represents parts of Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village and Troutdale, supports HB 2001 goals, but would also be willing to work toward compromises such as Gresham's proposition.
"We really need affordable housing, and this is one tool cities could use very carefully," Monnes Anderson said. "These multi-unit buildings would fit it in to the community in a nice way."
The bill is still being debated in the state house, and it would need to pass that chamber before the state senate votes on the measure.
Once HB 2001 passes the house, Monnes Anderson will meet with constituents who oppose the measure and see if she can come up with any solutions.
House Bill 2001, as introduced, would:Require every city with a population higher than 10,000, and county with more than 15,000, to allow — within their urban growth boundary — the siting of duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and cottage clusters in areas that allow detached single-family housing. Give jurisdictions until Dec. 31, 2020, to design a code unique to their community to allow these housing types in single-family zones. The local jurisdiction could include reasonable regulations related to siting and design. Direct the Department of Land Conservation and Development to write a housing code for jurisdictions that do not develop their own middle housing code by the December deadline.
n Require local jurisdictions to defer system development charges until the certificate of occupancy is issued in order to make it easier for property owners to develop middle housing.