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Oregon Effort To Add Density In Many Neighborhoods Gains Momentum

By Jeff Mapes (OPB)
April 8, 2019 11:47 p.m.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek’s plan to increase density in single-family neighborhoods around the state appears to be gaining political momentum.

The bill was unanimously approved by a House committee Monday after the Portland Democrat agreed to make several changes. Republicans said their initial worries that the legislation would trample on local control have largely been satisfied.


“I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I actually like the speaker’s bill,’” said Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, after Kotek unveiled the changes at a hearing last week.

The measure requires the Portland metropolitan area and cities of more than 25,000 in the rest of the state to allow a variety of multi-housing options in neighborhoods now zoned exclusively for single-family homes. These include up to four units of attached housing, cottage cluster and townhouses. The bill also includes more liberal rules for converting existing houses into multiple units.

Cities between 10,000 and 25,000 in population would have to allow duplexes in these neighborhoods under the terms of House Bill 2001.

The bill has been one of the Legislature’s major efforts to deal with a shortage of housing that has led to major price increases, both for would-be homebuyers and renters.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, has his own bill to boost housing supply. Senate Bill 10 would allow denser development along major transit corridors.

Courtney said he’s now slimming the bill so that it doesn’t cover the Portland area, which has its own planning process for transit-oriented development.  Instead it would affect five other cities in the rest of the state: Salem, Eugene, Springfield, Medford and Bend.

Both measures sparked heated debate in many established neighborhoods. That’s particularly true in Portland, where the city is also working on its own controversial plan to increase density.

The measures have “little to do with affordability, if anything,” said Portland resident Dean Gisvold, arguing that it would instead open new opportunities for upscale development that would damage the existing character of neighborhoods.


Gisvold is involved in Portland’s Irvington neighborhood association and is a longtime board member of Central City Concern, a nonprofit that provides service to homeless people.

Kotek told reporters Monday that the latest version of her bill won’t satisfy its most fervent critics. But she said that she’s been able to win over a wide variety of groups.

“What this [bill] is saying is that there should be more choice in single-family residential neighborhoods,” Kotek said. “Single-family homes are going to look different in the future.”

Kotek agreed to several changes sought by city officials. Among other things, her legislation now gives cities more latitude to consider issues such as sewer and water capacity when looking at adding density.

Erin Doyle, a lobbyist for the Oregon League of Cities, said the revamped bill is a “significant improvement” over the original version. But she said there are still concerns that “you basically shackle us to the state’s version of how communities should look.”

1000 Friends of Oregon, a group supporting Oregon’s land-use laws, has been a key backer of the bill. Mary Kyle McCurdy, the group’s deputy director, said the measure’s value is in providing a wider range of housing choices in neighborhoods close to jobs and services.

“It’s not just lower-income Oregonians who are having trouble finding a place to rent or buy,” she said. “It’s middle-income Oregonians.”

Kotek also made changes to assure home-builders and realtors that her bill could not be used to quickly assume a big increase in the potential housing supply within the urban growth boundary. They had worried such an assumption would make it harder to develop on the fringes of metropolitan areas.

Shawn Cleave, a lobbyist for the Oregon Association of Realtors, said that Kotek realizes that “we need a combination of moving us both up and out” when it comes to new development.

Kotek’s bill was sent to the Joint Ways and Means Committee. From there, it could go directly to both the House and Senate floors. Courtney’s bill now resides in the Senate Rules Committee.

Courtney said in an interview that the state for years could focus on largely on preventing unchecked suburban sprawl. Now, he said, the state must look at the supply of housing in existing neighborhoods.

“We do have to accept that we’re going to have to allow some infilling [in those neighborhoods] we didn’t have to do up to now,” he said.