Mayor Russ Axelrod adresses affordable housing bill concerns
After the West Linn Tidings, and other news outlets reported that members of the West Linn City Council were considering challenging affordable housing rules mandated in House Bills 2001 and 2003, which passed the Oregon Legislature in the last session, Mayor Russ Axelrod clarified some of his sentiments expressed at an Oct. 21 work session on the bill.
"It was a broad work session discussion, and I and others 'thought out loud' during the meeting. Some of what I and some others said came off as insensitive or harsh," the mayor stated at the Council's Nov. 4 meeting. "Those comments got reported in media, and spread to many legislators and community partners, and they created an impression that the City is not aware of the history of zoning laws in this country and the impact that those laws have on communities of color and low-income residents. They also created the impression that we did not appreciate the sincere desire of the Legislature to address these important issues. For that I want to apologize to the community and our stakeholders, and also commit to doing better in the future."
During the initial work session when the council discussed HB 2001 and HB 2003 on Oct. 21, Axelrod — along with councilors Rich Sakelik and Teri Cummings — said they would be interested to see if other communities would be interested in joining them to challenge the rules mandated by the bills, even if it meant taking on a lawsuit.
At the time of the bills' passage this summer, there was a fair amount of opposition expressed from local leaders across the state.
"Now would be the time to casually start a movement to see where other cities are and see what impact this could be and to maybemodify it, which would make sense for cities, or to actually fight it," Sakelik said at the October work session.
These members of the council expressed frustration that the bills might not actually generate affordable housing in communities like West Linn.
Community Development Director John Williams, who presented HB 2001 and 2003 information to the council at the October work session, said that the bills don't currently specify any kind of price control to ensure that the new housing is truly affordable. He explained that developers might look to take advantage of West Linn's high market values.
"In a city like West Linn, we're probably going to see some duplexes that are not gonna be cheap," Williams said.
The state will start working on the details of the housing mandates, a process which Cities throughout the state are allowed to participate in, and the rules will apply starting in 2022, according to Williams.
Another area of frustration for Axelrod was that much of the City's infrastructure was not built to withstand the higher density housing that these bills are supposed to bring.
"As one small example in West Linn, much of our City is not served by transit or other safe modes of transportation other than the automobile," Axelrod stated Nov 4. "Our long-range planning includes developing these other modes of transportation and focusing our housing density and opportunities for affordable housing more along existing transit corridors like State Hwy 43 so we can eliminate or greatly reduce automobile use, increase safety, and lower our carbon footprint and climate impact."
According to Oregon Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, who voted to support the affordable housing bills, the rules allow cities with insufficient infrastructure to delay implementing the bill in those areas that need improvements.
Axelrod pointed out the ways the City has already begun to try and accommodate diverse housing, along with future opportunities for the City to engage in the planning process.
"We are reviewing our standards and fees to better address the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), working on revised zoning and infrastructure plans for our vital transportation corridors, like Highway 43, and we have been participating in the Clackamas County County-wide Housing Needs Assessment Study to help guide our long-range planning to create more diverse housing opportunities," he said. "We also anticipate working closely with the League of Oregon Cities (LOC) and the State of Oregon this next year to prepare the model ordinance documentation and approaches that will help our cities meet the requirements of the new law."
Though Axelrod took responsibility for his words at the October work session, Cummings and Sakelik chose a different approach.
"In the fourth paragraph of the Oct. 24 Tidings article, titled 'Councilors not keen on affordable housing bills,' after stating that Mayor Axelrod expressed a desire to challenge the bill, which I agree did happen, the reporter then claimed that councilor Sakelik and I were interested in defying house bills 2001 and 2003 and used the word 'defying' again in the next paragraph," Cummings said. "The word "challenge" is correct because we are interested in questioning house bill 2001, its impacts on our city and we believe in home rule, so that's where that's coming from. But the use of the word 'defy' is not appropriate. 'Defy' is a stronger, more powerful word often found in comic books that means 'to not allow something or willing to sever ties or dissolve all bonds of affiliation or obligation' and that is not true in this case."
Cummings did not compare the uses of the words "defy" and "fight," which Sakelik used when suggesting how the City might approach the bill.
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