Senate clears bill to ease motel conversions to housing
Gov. Kate Brown is the final stop for a bill easing the conversion of hotels and motels to emergency shelters and low-cost housing.
The Senate approved House Bill 3261 without changes on a 19-8 vote. It would bar land use challenges in cities and counties to such conversions, which are being paid for by federal money under Project Turnkey. The House passed it on March 31.
The Legislative Emergency Board, which meets between sessions of the full Legislature, approved $30 million on Oct. 23 for purchases in wildfire-affected communities. The board approved $35 million more on Nov. 9 — reversing an earlier vote — for purchases elsewhere. The money is administered by the Oregon Community Foundation.
Sen. Jeff Golden is a Democrat from Ashland whose district was ravaged by the Almeda fire that destroyed at least 2,500 homes in Talent and Phoenix around Labor Day.
He said the bill was intended to avert any issues with conversions. Many of the displaced residents from the Almeda fire were low-income families with few alternatives for housing.
"It's a proactive measure, because we are still early in this process," Golden, the bill's floor manager, said. "We haven't reached the stage of processing these applications for a change in use."
The bill applies to buildings within urban growth boundaries, and outside areas zoned for heavy industrial use. They must have access to transportation, and be outside floodplains or other designated hazard areas.
Local governments can still apply other restrictions, such as building codes, occupancy limits and "reasonable" site and design standards.
Housing is defined as "affordable" if qualifying residents earn less than 60% of the area median income.
Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, voted for money for wildfire-affected communities but against the money for other areas during the E-Board meetings. She said she now supports the effort by the Oregon Community Foundation, which informed her and the other Senate co-leader of the Legislature's joint budget committee in detail on its progress.
"But this bill causes me some alarm," Johnson said before she voted against it. "I am worried about community standards and whether or not a project that was described early on as voluntary and in consort with local government now becomes highly prescriptive."
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.