Governor Kotek’s housing bill, SB 1537, is among the biggest news of our 2024 legislative session. 1000 Friends of Oregon supports the majority of the bill, but one major component – a provision that bypasses land use law to allow large urban growth boundary (UGB) expansions – is something we can’t support.
Helping cities produce housing that meets the needs of our communities is core to Oregon’s land use system, and we want to see a bill passed that stays true to this.
If you’re a supporter of Oregon’s land use system and want to see our state take meaningful action to address the housing crisis now, this SB 1537 explainer is for you as you consider providing testimony on this year’s major housing bill.
The majority of this bill is excellent
Despite our commitment to amending this bill, we don’t want to change much. We need to act fast to address Oregon’s housing crisis, which at its core is a crisis of affordable housing availability. SB 1537, though needing improvement, makes great strides toward that.
It offers much-needed infrastructure funding, focusing a $200 million investment package from existing state resources on infrastructure for housing construction. That’s an excellent start (you may have heard we’re big on infrastructure funding for housing), as long as these limited public dollars guarantee affordable housing within our existing urban growth boundaries.
It incentivizes climate-smart housing, funding grants for new affordable housing construction to incorporate energy-efficient design. This potentially reduces energy costs for residents with low and fixed incomes, and stabilizes operational costs for owners. We can’t get behind this fast enough.
It also creates the Housing Accountability and Production Office to to support housing production in local communities with transparency, clarity, and pathways for relief. We think this is a crucial component of reducing barriers in building the affordable housing our neighborhoods need.
We hope the bill passes this session – we just need one really important change to get this right.
Why ask for an amendment?
Right now, a wholesale disregard for Oregon’s land use laws is written into SB 1537 in the form of UGB expansions that sidestep the law. We can’t get behind a bill that disregards Oregon’s land use laws.
What’s worse: Data shows that we don’t need substantive changes to the UGB expansion process: Since 2016, 95 percent of proposed expansions got it, and 80 percent of those were approved within a year of local adoption. Oregon also already has well over 10,000 acres of vacant land, designated for residential use, inside our cities’ UGBs. And many Oregon cities and towns have vacant and underutilized buildings where owners are seeking infrastructure funding to make new housing possible, many in prime locations along main streets, centers, and corridors.
The argument that UGBs limit our housing production is misleading and overused. The truth is, privately owned for-profit homebuilders introduced the UGB expansion amendment that doomed last year’s housing bill, and they’ve succeeded in pushing for its inclusion in this year’s bill. They’re aiming for more rambling, expensive homes at the edge of urban services, pulling resources away from our downtowns, main streets, and existing neighborhoods. We mean it when we say that not all housing is equal, and Oregon needs a bill that carefully hones in on this fact rather than caving to powerful interests.
The housing Oregon needs is affordable housing for our essential workers like our nurses, farmworkers, grocers, and public employees like teachers. Considering that two-thirds of the people who need housing in Oregon have moderate and low incomes, that’s who we should prioritize. To do so, we need to build affordable housing where people already have community ties, jobs, and resources, and where people won’t need a car to survive.
Affordable housing isn’t just about the price of rent – it’s also about the entire cost of living in a place and reducing as many barriers to accessing services as possible. Location matters just as much as housing type.
Takeaway talking points for SB 1537 testimony
- YES to infrastructure funding that prioritizes affordable housing within existing urban growth boundaries
- YES to climate-smart incentives
- YES to the Housing Accountability and Production Office
- YES to prioritizing building in livable, walkable neighborhoods
- NO to unnecessary UGB expansion loopholes that push already-marginalized people farther from their communities and resource networks