In Short

Democratic opposition to housing bill could thwart Kotek priority

By: - June 24, 2023 2:41 pm
Farmland in Oregon

An amendment to House Bill 3414 would make it easier for local governments to extend urban growth boundaries, something environmentalists fiercely oppose. (Getty Images)

Plans at the state Capitol to end the legislative session early on Saturday are quickly dissipating, as lawmakers and lobbyists navigate a new conflict over a land-supply bill.

The House and Senate initially intended to head to the floor at 10 a.m. but repeatedly postponed their plans. By 2 p.m., House Democrats were cloistered in intense discussions in a caucus room while the Senate was just beginning work.

The biggest issue, according to lawmakers, staff and lobbyists, was House Bill 3414, a top priority of Gov. Tina Kotek. The measure would limit local governments’ ability to block homes from being built and allow a new Housing Accountability and Production Office to enforce requirements that cities build enough homes to keep pace with need.

The most contentious amendment, added within the last few days, would allow any city to add up to 150 new acres for housing to their urban growth boundary, the invisible line that limits where cities can grow. Cities already periodically review and apply to the state Department of Land Conservation and Development for permission to expand their growth boundaries, but HB 3414 would allow an additional expansion. 

According to the department, Oregon needs more than 550,000 new housing units for a range of income levels to accommodate population growth over the next 20 years and to account for the current lack of housing, especially among people who lack unstable housing. Kotek set a goal of building 36,000 homes per year. 

Environmental groups, including the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and 1,000 Friends of Oregon, strongly opposed that amendment and have been lobbying Democrats hard to revert to an earlier version of the bill. Many Republicans, some Democrats and Kotek support the current version.

Part of the negotiated end to the walkout was an agreement that House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, and Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, would allow the bill to come up for a vote. 

A spokeswoman for Kotek said the office didn’t have any updates on the process. 

Mary Kyle McCurdy, deputy director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon, said the influential land policy group is skeptical that adding more land to urban growth boundaries will result in enough more housing, particularly affordable housing, being built. She noted that Bend, Redmond and later Pendleton were allowed to add more land outside their normal urban growth boundary process as part of a pilot project several years ago and said that houses still haven’t been built. 

“What we should have learned is that even when land is free, as it was in Redmond where it was publicly owned, land supply is not the primary obstacle to building housing,” she said. “It’s land readiness.”


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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.