Infill on Steroids Gains State Traction: Riles Residents

By Midge Pierce

A bill known as a “Build Baby Build” legislative bill under the idea of addressing emergency housing statewide is fueling what critics call a widespread assault on Oregon cities’ self-determination and livability. Adding insult, the bill is barreling through the state legislature without adequate public hearing.

House Bill 2007 would essentially eliminate single family residential neighborhoods by making multi-plex infill housing mandatory across the state. The bill would permit duplexes and ADUs everywhere in cities and towns of at least 2500 residents.

Critics call it a stealth bill that is Infill inflation modeled after Portland’s controversial Residential Infill Project (RIP). A major difference is that HB 2007 would extend dense Infill well beyond the city’s current plans for Housing Opportunity Overlay Zones.

Watchdogs are howling, “Wake up Oregon. This is Infill on steroids.”

As initially proposed, the bill would speed approvals for affordable housing, a move lauded by all who have witnessed heartbreaking sagas of skyrocketing rents and rising property taxes displacing young and old. But opponents say the Oregon Home Builders Association (OHBA) and others twisted it into a bill that over-rides local zoning and undermines city controls. The bill would allow building to maximum density and heights potentially disregarding critical local planning tools like discretionary design reviews.

As outrage mounted last month at an informational meeting in Salem, House Speaker Tina Kotek slammed opponents as racist NIMBYS. Arriving late to advocate for the “high-yield” housing bill she sponsored, she condemned “race-based housing policies” and said opposition is “grounded in Nimbyism” by well-heeled residents using discriminatory practices that restrict others from building wealth and power.

The special hearing was convened by Southeast Portland State Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer who chairs the Human Services and Housing Committee. After the meeting was scheduled she realized it lacked testimonial teeth because the bill had already left her committee.

Apologizing for the snafu, Keny-Guyer said the sheer number of bills introduced to the legislature have made it impossible to hold public hearings within submission deadlines. Though she called preservation as important as affordable housing, the explanation did not clarify why 7 of 9 invited speakers were bill supporters.

Given the lack of public input and concerns about the bill’s potential impact, the League of Women Voters is among those withholding support.

With little public awareness and flawed process, the Kotek bill deemed the lovechild of the Oregon Home Builders Association is poised to move through House Ways & Means and on to the Senate for approval before the legislative session’s targeted end this month.

The bill is supported by 1000 Friends of Oregon. While 1000 Friends support is ostensibly based on protecting the urban growth boundary by steering density into city centers, Deputy Director Mary Kyle McCurdy’s focus at the Salem meeting mirrored Kotek’s admonishments about equality, justice and race-based motives.

According to McCurdy, high income homeowners condone exclusionary practices like historic designations to keep diversity and density out of neighborhoods. “Misuse of national districts push (diverse populations) to the edge and prevent change.” The comment was considered a slap at efforts in Eastmoreland, Laurelhurst and Peacock Lane to establish National Historic Districts.

McCurdy also said amendments to the bill for market rate housing reflect changes in socio-economic and demographic backgrounds that indicate more singles move here than families – a statement critics call self-perpetuating.

The sole preservationist invited to the meeting was Restore Oregon’s Peggy Moretti who charged special interest groups with hijacking emergency housing legislation.  “HB 2007 has become a “Frankenstein monster of pieced together provisions” that weaken historic protections in the name of housing at all costs. Emphasizing Restore’s mission to preserve and re-use, Moretti said 1000 Friends “was forgetting who their friends are.”

Rip, Replace, Rebuild Everywhere spells environmental Ruin, according to attendees, unable to testify, who report some 100 million pounds of demolition waste hauled to landfills in recent years. They also claim that because of high construction and land costs, newbuilds are considerably more expensive than existing houses – a reason developers use for tearing down one modest home to replace with three pricey ones.

At the Salem meet, sustainable urban development international consultant Michael Mehaffy confirmed that more housing supply does not lower costs if the supply is more expensive than what it replaced.

Demolition alternatives proposed by Restore and other preservationists include internal conversions, tax breaks for home and apartment rehabs and construction focused on undeveloped areas of Southeast and Gateway that have sufficient capacity and transient options.

“The greenest house is an existing house,” is a frequent mantra heard at Portland landuse meetings since HB 2007-like concepts were first introduced by Portland’s controversial Residential Infill Project (RIP).

Like HB 2007, RIP is backed by 1000 Friends and its local arm, Portland for Everyone (P4E), popular for its free food during happy hours at local brewpubs to lobby activists and house-hungry millennials. The group’s Infill Everywhere position is pack density into city cores near jobs and services to accommodate future growth.

On its website, P4E denounces  “jurisdictional downzoning”, praises contingencies for religious organizations to build housing on their land and hails walkable neighborhoods that encourage new residents to move here without cars – an aspiration daily disputed by Southeast traffic clogs as new arrivals rush in with 4-wheels.

“Not everyone can live close in,” fumed a longtime SE resident stuck at a Division Street intersection.

Everyone agrees affordable housing is critically needed. The how, what and where are flashpoints. While SE neighborhoods are increasingly divided, others from Beaumont and Multnomah Villages to Goose Hollow, are pushing back on what they consider underhanded tactics that began when RIP planners disallowed demolition as a topic for its citizen stakeholder advisers. Planning consultant Eben Fodor, who has filed objections with the City for RIP’s failure to disclose the “nature, magnitude and consequences” of up-designation, thinks HB 2007 “seems like another developer wish list, compliments of a developer-funded legislature”.

Even citizens outside Portland attack HB 2007 for legislative over-reach. During the Salem meet, a generally pro-bill architect from southern Oregon said towns did not want Portland-style development policies foisted on them.

The Homebuilder’s Association had not responded to an interview request at this writing.

Infill on Steroids Gains State Traction: Riles Residents

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