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Oregon bill would make it easier to build affordable housing


SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Democrats want to design their way out of Oregon’s housing crisis and are considering a proposal clearing the path for developers to build more apartments and townhouses.

The move comes on the heels of a landmark rent control measure and is meant to be part of a multi-pronged approach to combat the state’s housing shortage.

Speaker of the House Tina Kotek said Monday the effort will “increase housing choice and the supply of more affordable housing.”

House Bill 2001 would end single-family zoning. Cities with more than 10,000 people would be required to offer, in addition to single-family homes, what’s known as “middle” housing options. That means building more residential structures with multiple dwelling units, like duplexes and triplexes.

Proponents hope the idea will give residents more affordable housing options in cities and suburban neighborhoods, while allowing for more development. If passed, Oregon would become the first state to eliminate single-family zoning. Minneapolis voted to restrict the practice last December,

The Oregon measure also responds to criticisms from the state’s recent rent control law, which broadens tenant protections and limits the amount landlords can increase rent per year. Economists have warned that the state needs to focus on housing supply, and that rent control could dissuade developers–making the housing crisis worse.

Builders in Oregon have not been able to construct enough houses and apartments to meet the demands of the thousands of people moving to the state for jobs and in some cases, for a lower cost of living. Many people move to the state from California.

The plan is meant to alleviate a rental market that’s reaching capacity. A study from the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest found that only 63 new housing units were created for every 100 new families in Oregon from 2010 to 2016.

And that’s made it near impossible to find housing in the state’s major cities. In Portland, 95 percent of all apartments were occupied in 2018, according to RealPage, which provides data to the real estate industry. The cities of Salem and Eugene also had occupancy rates over 95 percent.

Economists say the high housing demand has caused rents to skyrocket. One in three renters pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent, far higher than the 30 percent recommendation set by Congress.

But homeowners have slammed the idea to ease zoning restrictions, flooding the Legislature with written testimony saying the measure will destroy the character of neighborhoods and lead to overcrowding. Some city officials have also come out against the idea, saying it encroaches on local control.

Meanwhile, lower-income residents maintain that the proposal is necessary, as it’s especially difficult to find diverse and affordable housing options near urban areas. Brandon Narramore, a Portland resident, said he’s just one of the many young renters that can’t afford to live in a single-family home or in any of the luxury apartments being developed.

And his situation isn’t just unique to Portland. Narramore added that his brother, a mill worker from Medford in southern Oregon, also struggles to find affordable housing that fits the needs of his young family.

“I do not believe my nephew should be blocked access to the good schools and amenities of nice neighborhoods because zoning maps outlaw the types of housing his father can afford,” he testified.

Follow Sarah Zimmerman on Twitter at @sarahzimm95 .

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