The Oregon Mass Timber Coalition will receive more than $41 million from the Biden Administration to expand the use of mass timber in housing — particularly affordable housing that could help ease the state’s housing crisis.
“This is a really big win for the state,” said Keith Leavitt, the chief trade and equitable development officer for the Port of Portland, which is part of the group. “This competition was fierce.”
The competitive grant was awarded through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. The mass timber coalition includes state agencies and Oregon’s top research universities, in addition to the port.
Mass timber is a broad term describing engineered wood products made by binding layers of wood together to form solid timber panels or beams. Proponents say it’s strong enough to replace steel in multistory buildings.
The port has embraced mass timber, which it used to build a nine-acre wooden roof for Portland International Airport’s renovated main terminal.
Now, the port wants a factory built that would mass-produce affordable housing — using mass timber.
“We will be able to put more supply of manufactured housing — up to 2,000 houses per year — into the market,” Leavitt said.
To that end, the port is redeveloping its 50-acre Terminal 2 into a manufacturing hub for mass timber. It plans to use part of the new grant money for infrastructure development at the site. A private operator would run the future factory, selling mass timber pre-fabricated homes at a price that low and middle-income customers could afford.
The grant also contains money for a fire-testing facility at Oregon State University, and an acoustic research laboratory at the University of Oregon, which would be housed at the port. That facility would test how sound travels through mass timber structures. That’s needed to promote widespread acceptance of mass timber housing, said Anshuman Razdan, UO vice president for research and innovation.
“You don’t want to live in these manufactured houses,” he said, “and hear everything that goes on outside of the house.”
The Oregon Mass Timber Coalition says it will work with Sustainable Northwest and the Oregon Department of Forestry to develop criteria to ensure it uses sustainably harvested timber. The grant includes money for reforestation projects in the Willamette National Forest.
Razdan said the project’s economic impact should extend beyond housing.
“There has been a 50-year decline in the timber-related employment in the rural communities,” he said. If mass timber can gain traction in housing, “there’s going to be manufacturing-related jobs that are going to be created between the forest and the pre-fabrication plants, hopefully throughout the state.”