Questions for the candidates: Betsy Johnson answers OPB’s questions on housing

By OPB staff (OPB)
Aug. 3, 2022 11:30 a.m.
Former Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson.

Former Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson.

Kaylee Domzalski / OPB

Editor’s Note: OPB is reaching out to the three leading candidates to become Oregon’s next governor to see where they fall on the issues. Here are unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson’s responses to our written questions about how to address the state’s housing crisis:


Housing supply in Oregon has not kept pace with the population growth, and the state continues to fall behind every year. What is your plan to increase housing stock?

The first thing I’m going to do to fix our housing problem is stop making it worse as Tina Kotek and Kate Brown have done in the ten years that they have been the architects of Oregon’s affordable housing disaster. The most important thing Salem needs to realize is that politicians don’t build affordable housing, and every time they pass legislation to mandate it, all they do is add costs that make housing more difficult to build and more likely not to be built at all. This is a market phenomenon that can be met by market forces if the liberal extremes would get out of the way. My plan, as governor, would be to be a partner with the housing industry to help meet their needs for accessible land, transportation, and infrastructure options while keeping those who want to dictate market behavior out of the way. The state has a role to play in where and how communities expand but not in arrogantly determining what pencils out for those who build houses for a living.

What is your plan to increase housing affordability?

As stated above, my plan is to make the state a useful and dependable partner in getting market forces what they need to succeed, namely buildable land, infrastructure, and transportation system support and fewer mandates on exactly what housing must look like. We need all types of housing in order to reduce overall housing costs within Oregon. Developers know how to make projects pencil out when they can depend on government to approve permits and assist in providing public services in a timely and predictable way. Right now, we make both harder, not easier.

Should the state’s land-use laws be changed? If so, how? If not, why?

Of course our land use laws need updating. Just ask Intel, who just moved a $20 billion project to Ohio because they couldn’t even get the governor to engage finding a solution to making land available under our overly complicated system. As one of the first friends of 1000 Friends of Oregon, I believe deeply that we need to preserve the boundaries that have helped us grow strong communities both urban and rural. To preserve that goal, we must show intelligence and flexibility in the way we respond to the realities shaping the world around us. To pretend we are done making land use laws is the height of arrogance and disregard for the needs of everyday Oregonians who want to be able to live here. As governor, I would bring together community leaders, developers, elected officials and planning experts to make sure every voice gets heard in this process, but Oregon needs to move forward and stop resting on its laurels as we lose the very things that have made it special, like the combination of livability and affordability that has uniquely defined our state.

Should there be a quicker, less burdensome way to expand the urban growth boundaries? If not, why? If yes, how would you accomplish that?

We need a quicker, less burdensome way to run a state, let alone our land use system. The urban growth boundary system was conceived of as a way to preserve the identity of our smaller urban areas and to protect forest and farmlands. As such, the system was set up concertedly to stop development. Now the housing shortage requires us to reconsider the process so that we can allow planned development while still protecting the same essential goals. As governor, I would not seek to dictate specific land use provisions but would instead lead to bring stakeholders together to establish shared values and drive the process to outcome. We can preserve the goals of our land use system while still meeting the need for more housing and jobs.

What needs to be done to address racial disparities that exist in Oregon housing today due to public policies that were discriminatory in the past?


First, we must acknowledge that policies absolutely play a role in either reinforcing or dismantling racism. As governor, I would focus on understanding exactly what land use laws have kept people of color from being able to secure equal opportunity. We need to guarantee equal access to loans and approval, as we strengthen accountability and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. These problems persist mostly because elected officials give them general lip service but don’t drive specific changes.

Should Oregon be subsidizing more housing? If so, where and what type of housing? And where would the money come from?

Housing subsidies are an essential part of providing housing affordability for lowest income Oregonians, and I would continue to invest in them. That said, we need to recognize that subsidies are a small part of the solution to affordable housing availability, and we could never find enough money to provide subsidies to meet the need for available housing stock in Oregon. Finally, for subsidies to work at all, we need a different approach that focuses more on accountability and processes that are too often led astray by politics, malfeasance, or ineptitude. I am deeply suspicious that the state knows how to build or run housing effectively, so I would seek to partner with builders, banks, and community leaders to make sure we are investing in the right things and getting what we pay for.

What are your thoughts on Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order to consider how to reduce climate pollution when creating new housing?

Every time Governor Brown has failed to lead to secure enough votes for a special interest group through a Democratic supermajority in the state legislature, she has issued executive orders to try to use the state bureaucracy to go around the democratic process. This one is the worst. It is a misuse of power, abuse of trust, and a bad way to run a state. It gives appointed bureaucrats the ability to override local community laws and standards justified vaguely by greenhouse gas reduction without clear goals or accountability. I would crumple it up, throw it in the trash, and light the trash can on fire in a controlled burn.

Do you think the “middle housing” bill to allow for the creation of duplexes and triplexes on any lot of a city with a population of more than 10,000 will work as planned? Does it need to be tweaked at all?

I don’t know. I do know that we need to be willing to take chances and use new tools to ensure that we are preserving and growing communities that meet our values and our need for livable, affordable places to call home. I voted for this bill, but I believe we need to watch market reaction closely and strengthen the connection between home builders, community leaders, and elected officials much more as we begin to find our way forward. No law is going to fix all of our problems, but we can make progress when we truly work together across political, financial and social divides. We are not doing nearly enough of that in Oregon these days.

Who would you appoint to lead the head of the Department of Land Conservation and Development?

If I named a name now, you can be damn sure that person would never get the job. It would also prove me a hypocrite. I have said, and I believe, that appointments need to be made in a manner that respects bipartisanship and takes the best people and ideas from both parties. Right now, the governor largely rewards political allies, and the legislature throws up its hands. I would not appoint someone without consulting both sides and stakeholder groups to solicit nominations and include those voices in the selection process. I am willing to lead but unwilling to continue processes that I believe weaken our democracy and the performance of our state.

Have you ever been a landlord? If so, could you share details of what type of property you owned or own?

I don’t know the first thing about being a landlord, but my husband separately owns two houses that have other people living in them. He does not charge rent for either so I’m not sure whether that meets your criteria.

What housing policy have you either sponsored or voted on has been the most meaningful and why?

For too long, politicians in Oregon – state and local – have said one thing and done another when it comes to housing. They talk about the need for affordable housing yet pass regulations, rules, taxes, fees, and zoning that makes housing more expensive and less available. Simply spending tax dollars on worthwhile housing programs and publicly subsidized housing, does not make you an effective advocate for more affordable housing of all types for more Oregonians. As governor, I will work with people who know how to build housing of all kinds to make more housing available at an affordable cost for as many Oregonians as possible.