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Prusak: 'Ensuring our communities have adequate housing is too important for us to ignore or fight against.'

Rachel PrusakI was troubled by conversations at the recent West Linn City Council meeting where some members openly advocated breaking state law by refusing to implement legislation aimed at improving housing stock in our community and across the state.

Disagreements about public policy are certainly appropriate, but these conversations have been filled with confusing and misleading information that runs contrary to both the intent and the letter of the law that passed in June. As your state representative, and as someone who voted to support this bipartisan legislation, I feel it's important to correct the record and answer some frequently asked questions.

First, House Bill 2001 was the result of bipartisan efforts to ensure the legislation worked for communities of all sizes across our state. It brought together a diverse coalition of supporters from across the ideological spectrum, such as the AARP, the Oregon Association of Realtors, land use groups like 1000 Friends of Oregon, and co-sponsors that included Democrats from across the state and both central and southern Oregon Republicans.

The reason for this widespread support is clear: Oregon is in a statewide housing crisis. It's impacting communities all across the state and addressing this crisis requires multiple solutions.

Read our story from July 1, 2019, on House Bill 2001 passing the Legislature.

For one, we need to increase our housing supply and offer individuals and families more choices. House Bill 2001 does this by re-legalizing middle housing in areas where those options were banned. The only opposition I heard throughout the process was from a few local elected leaders, not the communities we represent. After hearing their concerns, I joined with fellow legislators in advocating for changes to improve the legislation.

While HB 2001 provides a broad framework of what local jurisdictions must allow in areas that are zoned for detached single-family housing, it also leaves flexibility for these jurisdictions to determine where all other types of middle housing (including triplexes, quads, cottage clusters and townhomes) will be allowed in each neighborhood. The revisions made to the bill also address concerns about the potential impact of additional housing on local infrastructure. Cities that have deficient infrastructure in specific neighborhoods can get extensions to delay the bill's implementation in those neighborhoods. Additionally, the bill provides local governments with state money that can be used to update their infrastructure master plans.

For those who worry this might change the character of neighborhoods, I hear you and understand. However, the evidence shows that neighborhoods incorporating middle housing, change gradually, over the course of multiple decades. The city of Portland, for example, has allowed duplexes on corner lots since 1991 and today, nearly 30 years later, less than 5 percent of all corner lots have a duplex on them.

This bill guarantees local jurisdictions have the power to regulate siting and design of middle housing, which helps to ensure new construction is compatible with other homes in the neighborhood.

As a nurse practitioner who cares for the elderly in our community, I know the ability to age in place is one of the biggest concerns for seniors. According to the census, by 2030, one in five people in the United States will be age 65 or over; by 2035, older adults are projected to outnumber children for the first time in history. But many seniors can't find homes that are affordable or appropriately sized in their existing neighborhoods. This is one of the key reasons I joined with the AARP to support this legislation. We must plan for our changing demographics.

Ensuring our communities have adequate housing is too important for us to ignore or fight against. I'm committed to being a resource on the state level so we can meet the goals of expanding housing choice and encouraging transportation options, while prioritizing the preservation of neighborhood character and existing homes.

I hope the West Linn City Council joins the effort to build a better community for everyone.

Rachel Prusak has served as state representative for House District 37, including West Linn, Tualatin, Durham, Rivergrove, and parts of Lake Oswego, Stafford and King City, since January 2019. A Democrat, she lives in West Linn.

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