From the Field: Oregon Advocates Celebrate Huge Wins for Zoning Reform and Affordable Housing Funding

Oregon housing advocates had a breakthrough legislative session in 2019. Overall, 15 bills passed to expand renter protections and to provide greater funding for affordable homes and supportive services. Earlier this spring, Oregon established itself as a leader in the housing movement by codifying the nation’s first statewide rent regulations to prevent exorbitant annual rent increases and to protect against evictions without cause (see Memo 3/4/19). The legislature’s additional achievements, including the investment of over $330 million to address affordable housing needs, are the result of years of growing momentum built by strategic campaigns by a host of organizations and coalitions, including NLIHC state partner Oregon Housing Alliance and its members.

The new changes to zoning laws in Oregon have made the most headlines since the legislative session ended in June. Through House Bill 2001, all cities with populations above 25,000 must now allow what the state defines as “middle housing” on property zoned previously only for detached single-family homes. The definition of middle housing includes duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses. All cities with a population above 10,000 must allow duplexes on properties that previously allowed only single-family homes. This effort toward up-zoning is expected to increase housing production in a state where there is an extreme shortage of affordable homes, even for middle-income people. While not banning single-family zoning outright, HB 2001 is considered the most aggressive and innovative state-level effort to preempt local zoning codes that deliberately block dense development and rental housing. This legislation is part of a growing movement to counteract single-family zoning, joining successful previous local-level efforts in Minneapolis, MN, and Grand Rapids, MI.

Preservation of affordable homes also had a big win in 2019 through the passage of House Bill 2002. The new law requires more notification be given to the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS) prior to the expiration of affordability obligations and conversion to market rents. HB 2002 provides a right of first refusal that can be asserted by potential owners who would preserve affordability and prevent market-rate conversions. Advocates also secured $25 million in lottery bond proceeds to preserve and maintain existing affordable housing.

Another of the many notable funding victories in Oregon was the passage of House Bill 2896, which updates Oregon law regarding manufactured home parks and allocates $9.5 million to a loan fund to preserve and repair manufactured housing throughout the state. Most manufactured home parks in Oregon were built prior to 1980 under looser building codes and are increasingly dilapidated. HB 2896 will create new opportunities for community-based nonprofit housing providers to acquire and improve these housing options. It also creates an innovative pilot which included $2.5 million to help homeowners with low incomes replace their aging homes.

House Bill 2916 addresses the growing prevalence of makeshift encampments built on public space by groups of people experiencing homelessness. Such camp sites are now all too common in cities on the West Coast, including Portland. HB 2916 expands the definition of transitional housing so that local governments and service agencies can more directly involve themselves and regulate these spaces to provide for greater public health and safety for the occupants. The bill also declares a state of emergency to allow the expansion of transitional housing options to make fewer such sites necessary. 

“We are beyond thrilled to see so many of our top priorities to create housing opportunity moved forward in this year’s legislative session,” said Alison McIntosh, policy and communications director at Neighborhood Partnerships, which convenes the Oregon Housing Alliance. “There is more work to be done, but I think the results in 2019 will increase housing stability, reduce rent escalation, expand housing options, and provide more tools toward ending homelessness. We are grateful for the leadership of Governor Kate Brown, Speaker Tina Kotek [D], Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer [D], Senator Shemia Fagan [D], and so many others in this historic legislative session.”

For more information on the affordable homes bills passed in the 2019 Oregon legislative session or the organizing undertaken to get them introduced and passed, contact Alison McIntosh at: amcintosh@neighborhoodpartnerships.org

Read the Oregon Housing Alliance’s breakdown of legislation passed in 2019 at: https://bit.ly/2KBctYp