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Regional Interests

Oregon Legislature approves expanded options for building of affordable housing

An apartment complex goes up in Portland. The city voted to tax new residential and commercial construction to help fund affordable housing projects.
An apartment complex goes up in Portland. The city voted to tax new residential and commercial construction to help fund affordable housing projects.

A bill expanding options for the development of affordable housing is headed to the desk of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown for a signature following final approval by the Senate 25-5 on Tuesday. The bill was passed initially by the Senate 23-5 on April 21, and last week by the House 46-3.

Senate Bill 8 will restrict local jurisdictions’ ability to deny affordable housing developments on land not zoned for residential use within urban growth boundaries and allow for increased density in certain situations.

The bill will make it easier for public housing authorities, nonprofit organizations, and religious institutions to push affordable housing projects through local zoning and conditional use development processes.

According to Sen. Kayse Jama, the Southeast Portland/North Clackamas Democrat who carried the concurrence vote Tuesday on a few minor amendments from the House, the bill also establishes standards under which local governments must approve applications for affordable development, as well as granting developers the right to have their attorney fees waived if they prevail in a Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) hearing.

The House amendments to the bill included three changes. First, it lowered the time period under which a project would be considered an affordable development from 40 to 30 years. Secondly, lawmakers restricted affordable developments to be allowed on publicly-owned land zoned for commercial use or owned by a religious organization, meaning a local jurisdiction wouldn’t be forced to require the development to apply for a change in zoning or conditional use permit in those situations. Lastly, they prohibited affordable housing development on land designated for heavy industrial use.

“The House amendments reflect the agreement made by a variety of stakeholders,” Jama said. “All of these changes were adopted unanimously by the House housing committee.”

Sen. President Peter Courtney, the bill’s chief sponsor, said the effort is about more than creating new opportunities for affordable housing, it’s about creating them specifically where they’re needed.

“If the only apartment you can afford is two towns over and a 70-minute car ride to your work, I don’t think we’ve solved the problem,” Courtney said in a statement Tuesday. “SB 8 is about building affordable housing where people want to live.”

The bill has broad support from a wide number of organizations that operate within the sphere of affordable housing development including stamps of approval from the Oregon Housing Alliance, Thousand Friends of Oregon, Home Forward and the Native American Youth and Family Center.

The passage of SB 8 and expected signing into law by Gov. Brown means new opportunities for organizations such as Storyline Community and their partners at the Clackamas Land and Housing Cohort. The organizations have formed a coalition with other groups like the Portland-based Leaven Community which advocate for creative housing solutions and affordable development in the metro area.

Rev. Sara Gross Samuelson, one of the lead organizers with Storyline Community, said that the cohort was grateful to hear the legislature has moved on this bill to allow organizations like hers more flexibility in responding to the housing needs of their communities and neighbors.

“This is legislation that removes barriers for our communities to get closer to building affordable housing,” Gross Samuelson said. “For our faith communities leveraging their land, this ensures some protections like land-use attorney fees being waived, which for many of our faith communities would stop the process of development all together when the fees become cost-prohibitive.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting