Expanding cities would lower home prices a bit
How many requirements should the Metro Council impose on cities that want to open up more land for housing?
Council members debated that question last Tuesday afternoon when they considered requests from four cities to expand the urban growth boundary that designates where new development can occur. Beaverton, King City, Hillsboro and Wilsonville have asked the council to expand the urban growth boundary, or UGB, by 2,200 acres to accomodate a total of 9,200 more housing units.
A recently released staff report says the proposed developments could reduce owner-occupied home prices slightly in the Portland area. "If developed, the four proposed UGB expansions would result in modest reductions in housing prices for owner-occupied housing by providing additional housing supply," reads the draft 2018 Urban Growth Report released July 3.
But during a preliminary discussion about the requests, some members of the council thought the requests would provide too many owner-occupied single-family homes and not enough transit-oriented affordable apartments.
Councilor Bob Stacey said the region needed more "city spaces," which he described as walkable neighborhoods with a range of different housing types served by "cost-effective transit."
Others thought it was unrealistic to expect much inexpensive housing in expansion areas because they will require a lot of expensive new infrastructure — streets, sewers, water lines and parks — to support the new homes.
"It's important to consider whether the cities making the requests are providing affordable housing in areas (within their boundaries) that aren't so expensive," said Commissioner Craig Dirksen, who noted Wilsonville already has the highest percentage of multifamily housing of any city within Metro's boundaries.
The decision-making process is new for both Metro and the cities. Under state land-use planning laws, Metro must make periodic adjustments to assure a 20-year supply of buildable land within the UGB. Originally, in order to preserve as much farm and forest lands as possible, the council only expanded the boundary onto "marginal" lands, even if they were not suitable for development. As a result, not much housing has been built in some of the previous expansion areas, despite the regional shortage of homes for sale that is contributing to the affordable housing crisis.
In recent years, Metro designated urban reserves adjacent to cities where future development could occur. It then invited cities to submit detailed proposals for expansions if they were willing to support the growth in them.
The four requests now being considered by the council were submitted earlier this year. The Sherwood City Council withdrew a fifth preliminary application in the face of community opposition.
The largest request is from Beaverton, which wants to expand onto 1,232 acres in the Cooper Mountain urban reserve area for 3,760 homes. The next largest request is from King City, which wants to expand onto 528 acres in the Beef Bend South area for 3,300 homes. After that, Wilsonville want to expand onto 271 acres in the Advance Road (Frog Pond) area for 1,325 homes. And Hillsboro wants to expand onto 150 acres in the Witch Hazel South area for 850 homes.
But when it adopted the new process, the council also added requirements it wanted to see addressed in the requests.
In addition to explaining who will pay for the needed infrastructure improvements, the cities must address such things as whether they have reduced barriers to mixed-use; encourage walkable development in their downtowns and main streets; and implemented best practices for preserving and increasing the supply and diversity of affordable housing in their existing urban areas.
An appointed 10-member City Readiness Advisory Group that studied the requests agreed all four fell short in some of these areas. Metro planner Rebecca Hamilton told the council problems included remoteness from transit service, a lack of housing choices, and a lack of affordable housing.
Both Hillsboro and King City wrote letters to the council challenging these claims. Among other things, they said their requests were concept plans with a lot of details to be filled in if the expansions are approved. Hillsboro noted the cities did not have the opportunity to present their requests to the committee.
"The city feels that if there had been an opportunity for jurisdictions to present the proposals to the (City Readiness Advisory Group) and respond to their questions, some of their conclusions would likely be different," reads the letters signed by planner Laura Weigel.
Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett said discussions will be held with the four cities during the next few months. The elected regional government is not scheduled to make a final decision on the requests until Dec. 13.
Even if the council approves all the requests, the 9,200 new homes they might make possible are just a fraction of the 300,000 more homes of all kinds the Metro report says are required by 2038.
"We need more housing, particularly housing that is affordable to people with modest means," reads the report. "We need a greater variety of housing to match our changing demographics; we need more middle-income jobs; and, we need to do a better job of engaging diverse communities in decision making.
To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to tinyurl.com/y98z62og.
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