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Residents acknowledge need for 'missing middle' options, but don't want to live nearby

As it works to comply with House Bills 2001 and 2003, a pair of housing bills passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2019, the city of West Linn has learned most of its residents are aware of the need for more dense housing in the community. They just don't want it in their own neighborhoods.

PMG SCREENSHOT: CITY OF WEST LINN - Middle housing includes townhomes, duplexes, triplexes and cottage clusters. The Legislature passed the bills to encourage the development of middle housing — duplexes, triplexes, townhomes and cottage clusters — as a way to address the state's growing housing crisis.

The bills require large cities across the state, including West Linn, to update their housing needs analysis as well as codes and ordinances currently in place that limit the types of housing developers can build. HB 2003 also requires cities to adopt housing production strategies detailing how they will meet future needs.

Planning Manager Darren Wyss updated the West Linn City Council on the city's progress in complying with the bills at a work session Tuesday, July 6, detailing forecasted housing needs and summarizing the results of two community surveys about housing options.

According to Wyss, West Linn's current housing stock is 84% single-family homes, 8% multifamily (developments like apartment buildings that are denser than middle housing), and 8% middle housing.

Based on population projections for the area, planning consultants hired by the city estimate that over the next 20 years, West Linn will need to add 1,000 new homes.

To make this work with the city's available, buildable land, 137 of the new units must be multifamily housing and 131 must be middle housing.

Wyss told the council West Linn will "need to find a way to promote the middle housing to meet these needs in the future."

Part of the city's planning for HB 2001 and 2003 included two community surveys gauging citizens' appetites for various types of middle housing and the impacts of denser housing.

Wyss told the council one of the main takeaways from these surveys was that West Linn residents recognize the need for more housing variety and affordability, but don't want it in their own neighborhoods.

A memo from Wyss to the West Linn Planning Commission provided further insight into residents' opinions given on the survey. According to Wyss, those who took the survey expressed support for affordability for renters, single adults, seniors and young families and a general desire for the community's housing to be more affordable.

However, survey-takers also had a number of concerns about greater density housing in the community, including traffic congestion, inadequate infrastructure, overcrowding at schools and negative impacts for property owners. In the memo, Wyss also noted sentiments from the survey include "preference for less dense, single-family neighborhood character," general opposition to population growth, "concerns that housing affordable to renters and/or low-income residents will affect neighborhood character" and "the sentiment that current residents earned their way to living in West Linn."

According to Wyss, there is enough buildable land in West Linn for up to 1,000 new housing units, but zoning for most parcels currently bars middle housing.

Wyss said the planning consultants hired by the city recommended rezoning city land that only allows for single-family housing, which currently accounts for most of the city. Wyss noted the city will have the opportunity to do this as it plans development at the Willamette River waterfront and as it improves Highway 43.

Mayor Jules Walters noted how important it was to continue the work to make housing more affordable in West Linn.

"We have needs here for people to be able to live here — our first responders and our teachers," Walters said. "I know I spent a lot less on my house when I moved here, and I probably would not be able to afford it today."

Though HB 2001 and 2003 don't require subsidized housing, Walters highlighted the importance of affordable housing by pointing to the short supply of government-subsidized housing units in West Linn (10 according to Oregon Housing and Community Development) and the number of homeless families in West Linn (111 "households" currently unsheltered, staying in temporary shelters or with friends or family).

"We also have people who are aging out of their home and would like to move into a smaller, single-level home, or we have people with grown children and we'd like those children to have the chance to move back to West Linn if they could afford it," Walters added. "So having that missing middle housing stock would be, I think, a bonus for the city."

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