A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

More middle housing: Some have doubts

Written February 8th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

Maybe this, on Madison near Second, qualifies as one type of middle housing the legislature wants.

Albany is working on changing its development code to allow more “middle housing” as demanded by the legislature, but some on the city council doubt that it’s a good idea or that it’ll work.

The doubts surfaced during a work session with consultants and the planning commission Monday.

Councilor Bessie Johnson does not believe housing will become cheaper unless developers build dwellings of cardboard. So just requiring cities to allow the construction of more duplexes and rowhouses won’t make housing more “affordable” to more people.

Councilor Dick Olsen wonders how much of the housing desired by the state would be occupied by owners. He worries that the mandated changes will turn parts of town into slums.

Councilor Matilda Novak is concerned about parking problems once more people are concentrated in groups of triplexes, quadplexes or condos. She’d also like to know how the legislature can demand such changes in a home-rule state such as Oregon.

In 2019, the Oregon legislature passed House Bill 2001, saying it wanted to make housing more available and less expensive.

The law says cities must allow duplexes to be built on any lot or parcel zoned for single-family houses. Also, triplexes, quadplexes, “cottage clusters” and townhouses must be allowed in areas zoned for detached single houses. (Cottage clusters are dwellings arranged around a central open space. I think we used to call them courts.)

Cities are allowed to regulate the siting and design of this “middle housing,” but the standards they adopt must not cause “unreasonable cost or delay.”

The Land Conservation and Development Commission has translated the law into a set of administrative rules that cities must obey in carrying out the legislature’s mandate.

A team of consultants is working with Albany officials to draft new code language. The new city standards must be adopted by June 30, 2022. If they’re not, the state will apply its own “model code” to Albany development.

How all this works out, nobody knows. It may turn out that HB 2001 is built on false assumptions about what Oregon residents need and want. You’d think that if there was no demand for detached houses on postage-stamp lots, builders would stop building them.

In which case, all this angst and expense about changing development codes in every Oregon town over 25,000 will have been in vain. (hh)

A tent behind the Employment Department in Albany on Jan. 3: Don’t expect middle housing to solve homelessness.

31 responses to “More middle housing: Some have doubts”

  1. thomas earl cordier says:

    I am pleased that a few councilors object to ever increasing mandates from Salem.
    Suggest — Just say No, see you in Court if the rulers choose to press the issue. Fed’s and States do no follow “the law” so under equal treatment under law provisions; no negative consequences will be applied

  2. Son of Jacob Jacobson says:

    In regards to the “new” City Council: Met the new boss….same as the old boss.
    Once again, the recalcitrants on the Council doing their utmost to deny reality.
    And we thought Albany’s obsession with the past ended with the purging of Konopa and Kellum! Guess not.

    • Richard D Kellum says:

      Son of whoever should check his facts before opening his mouth and making himself look foolish…

  3. William Ayers says:

    The tail is wagging the dog.

  4. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Does it really matter whether the coercion is coming from the feds, state, or the city?

    What is wrong here is the threat of force being used on a private property owner to act in an involuntary manner.

    Zoning laws and development codes mandated by any level of government are a violation of private property rights.

    Legislative fiat on the use of private property, regardless of which level of government it comes from, is anti-freedom.

    And please, no gross exaggerations about sky-scrapers or preserving the character of a neighborhood. Social ownership of property turns “private” into “public.” It’s un-American.


  5. Katherine says:

    I am building an ADU. I am in the permit process with the City of Albany. For me the new state law gave me more flexibility to build another unit on my property. Property owners who live in single family zoning are not required to do anything to their property. They now have the option to add another dwelling unit if they choose to do so. There are also restrictions to the cottage cluster , duplex and triplex options. It all depends on lot size and other issues.

  6. Son of Jacob Jacobson says:

    I love how the author includes the incendiary photo of a tent set-up at the Employment department, as though the presence of a tent is representative of what “might” happen to Albany now that HB2001 is the law of the land. The question needing asking is what makes this particular picture picture germane to the discussion of expanded zoning definitions. The author also cites unnamed “…doubts surfaced during a work session with consultants and the planning commission Monday.” Unfortunately, the author does not cite anything Planning Commission members or consultants might have said either in support for or against what HB2001 intends. Instead, the author only quotes those Council members who are previously on record opposing HB2001. A careful read of the author’s judicious drafting/editing does little to enlighten a wider audience. Instead, the text simply supports the author’s disdain for anything coming from Salem.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “Unfortunately, the author does not cite anything Planning Commission members or consultants might have said either in support for or against what HB2001 intends. Instead, the author only quotes those Council members who are previously on record opposing HB2001.”

      Careful there! Since it was a virtual open meeting to the public, you could have drawn your own conclusions vs. making nonsensical accusations…

      • hj.anony1 says:

        Ray K. always pumping the brakes on the “slippery sloop”! Be careful indeed!

      • Albany YIMBY says:

        Usually happens that people that are against something are more willing to testify or show up to public meetings, while people in favor don’t have the incentive to spend some of their free time talking about something they do not care of that they agree with.

        Also, public hearings usually draw participants from overwhelmingly older/whiter/wealthier backgrounds so their particular interests are over-represented.

        Online meetings are helping somewhat but some alternative and inclusive outreach with surveys and random interviews to Albany residents may help democratizing the process.

  7. Bob Woods says:

    The marketplace will decide. Builders build to sell, and duplex/fourplex or whatever can clearly be viable if designed and priced to fill the market.

  8. Chris Hanson says:

    HB2001 will not have any impact on making housing more affordable. What is will do is increase density (probably one of the objectives), make congestion worse, and it will increase sprawl.
    Density, people per foot of land, will increase slightly. That is logical. Congestion for sure will get worse. Have you tried to drive down a street like in SW Albany between 10th-14th? There is barely room for a vehicle with all of the street parking. A lot of the parcels in this part of town are deep and should accommodate ADU’s. Street parking will increase- even though the ADU may have parking underneath. How many renters actually use a garage for parking? Sprawl, this will create more incentive to live in smaller towns like Millersburg where lots sizes are larger and HB2001 doesn’t apply. Then, over time, Millersburg will have to expand it’s UGB and sprawl will increase. In the meantime, Albany will be hurt.
    Regarding housing affordability, all this will do is increase the percent of investor owned housing and speed up the widening of the spread between homeowners and renters. There is also a negative economic development impact with this, but I think I am out of room and will post on that later.

    • Sharon Konopa says:

      Thank you, Chris! The same points I made when testifying against HB 2001, in 2019. I wish more people would have been active in fighting against this bill, which had bi-partisan support and predominantly by metro legislators.

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      Do you know what makes congestion worse? Sprawl. Do you know what’s the main culprit of sprawl? Mandatory parking minimums, exclusionary single-family zoning, and lack of density.

      You guys need to travel more:

      Let’s see “awfully dense” cities of around 50000 people around the world:

      Speyer, Germany https://i.pinimg.com/originals/a4/6a/f8/a46af8fec781d16ef0ac18e0dcb5b6b2.jpg
      Narbonne, France https://i1.wp.com/www.travelsewhere.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/DSC_0796-8.jpg?fit=1080%2C720&ssl=1
      Alexandria, VA (150000 people but still) https://assets.vogue.com/photos/589121e58c64075803ace14c/16:9/w_1280,c_limit/social-alexandria-virginia.jpg
      Hereford, UK
      San Miguel de Allende, Mexico https://planbviajero.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/que-visitar-en-san-miguel-de-allende.jpg

      • Sharon Konopa says:

        With all due respect AlbanyYIMBY, if the type of density you seem to desire and have a community without vehicles, then you have many choices to move to in this world. Even our first settlers to Albany had horse and wagon to get around. Because you want Albany to change, is everyone to give up their vehicles?
        Sadly, you seem to degrade people of color by assuming they can not own a home in a single family neighborhood. I have at least five great neighbors who’s households are of color on my street, in my single family neighborhood. All races live in a single family neighborhood, just as all races live in multi-family. I want the American dream for everyone to have the option of living in a single family neighborhood. If that is not someone’s choice for a place to live, then there is 50% of Albany’s housing stock in rentals to choose from, including lots of single family homes if they can not afford to buy a home. Are you not wanting people of color to live in a single family home? If so, isn’t that encouraging segregation?

        • Albany YIMBY says:

          So… Like it or move out. Got it.

          It seems that you hate every quality that makes a city a better place to live in. Now that you have more free time I recommend several readings:

          The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

          Suburban Nation by Andres Duany

          The Color of Law by Richard Rothschild

          The High Cost of Free Parking by Howard Shoup

  9. Birdieken says:

    How long until the government gets into the construction of housing? Define the amount of housing a community needs, force the building of needed units then requiring local funding in the name of social justice or housing as a right.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      …we need to build millions of apartments and homes throughout the country that will remain affordable in perpetuity….

      At an initial cost of at least $2-$3 Trillion….with a T. Housing for all ain’t cheap.


      • HowlingCicada says:

        “At an initial cost of at least $2-$3 Trillion….with a T.”

        Wouldn’t it have served us much better than the comparable amount spent chasing “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq? Not saying that we should or shouldn’t do it, just pointing out warped priorities based on preconceived political notions of “worthy” and “unworthy” people and causes.

  10. Albany YIMBY says:

    “Councilor Bessie Johnson does not believe housing will become cheaper unless developers build dwellings of cardboard”

    Dear Bessie. Most of the cost of housing is due to the land and not the construction itself. Building a fourplex with 4 units of 1000 sq ft each is only a bit more expensive than building a 4000 sq ft McMansion because you need to add 3 more kitchens and bathrooms, but that cost is not prohibitive for the developer that can now sell 4 houses instead of just one. About the quality of housing, Bessie you should really travel more and see which constructions have more quality, an apartment building in Berlin or a single-family home in Albany, Oregon.

    “Councilor Dick Olsen wonders how much of the housing desired by the state would be occupied by owners. He worries that the mandated changes will turn parts of town into slums.”

    Dear Dick. Excellent dog whistle for talking about Black and Brown people. It reminded me of reading “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein, and finding out all the creative ways segregation was enforced (and still is seemingly), pushing Blacks, Latinos, and the poor to degraded areas close to waste sites and landfills. Maybe Councilor Olsen may want to determine where can working-class people live so they don’t bother him. https://www.rewire.org/how-discussions-of-neighborhood-character-reinforce-structural-racism/

    “Councilor Matilda Novak is concerned about parking problems once more people are concentrated in groups of triplexes, quadplexes or condos. She’d also like to know how the legislature can demand such changes in a home-rule state such as Oregon.”

    Dear Matilda, storing your car for free in the street is not a right in the Constitution. If parking becomes more difficult because we have more neighbors, some people will start actually using their garages to keep their cars, they may rent some space in yards or lots, or people will simply walk a little further from where they live. Mandatory minimum parking has destroyed American cities since the 50s, especially their downtown, and made the cost of construction more expensive. As the best expert about parking in the world Howard Shoup wrote: “A flood of recent research has shown that parking requirements poison our cities, increasing traffic congestion, polluting the air, encouraging sprawl, raising housing costs, degrading urban design, preventing walkability, damaging the economy, and penalizing everyone who cannot afford a car.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-20/how-to-reform-your-city-s-bad-parking-requirements

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Anyone who knew anything about Councilman Dick Olsen’s decades of standing up for working people, the disadvantaged and the poor in council discussions and votes would not make unfair and ignorant comments like the one above. (hh)

      • Albany YIMBY says:

        Dear Hasso, first of all, I appreciate the freedom of speech in your space and how you’re enabling discussion here. Thank you.

        I agree with you most of the times but not in this issue. Councilor Olsen is assuming that everything that is not home ownership is eventually going to become a slum. How is that fighting for the working class? Is it logical to assume that every hard-working person that can’t access buying a home is a troublemaker? Who is the working class in America right now, are they homeowners or renters? It seems to me that if Olsen is opposing renters to be able to live in different or more central parts of town, next to other wealthier homeowners, at the end, he’s promoting segregation in housing “we live here, they live there”. The profile or renters in Albany is clear: Latinos and poor whites. Join the dots.

        “The reference to the fear of ending single-family housing in favor of “low-quality apartments” is a thinly-veiled dog-whistle at lower-income individuals—who are overwhelmingly people of color. Single-family zoning, a policy that restricts construction in an area to single-family homes, has helped perpetuate segregation for decades after civil rights laws were passed. The zoning ordinances prevent communities from building more affordable housing options, like apartments or duplexes. This can prevent lower-income families from gaining access to schools and other resources in areas that heavily use this zoning. In blunt terms, activists like Minneapolis organizer Kyrra Rankine have called this type of zoning “the new redlining.”” https://www.motherjones.com/2020-elections/2020/08/mccloskeys-republican-national-convention-suburbs-racist-dog-whistle/

        • Hasso Hering says:

          You don’t know anything about what Olsen is assuming without knowing the guy. Don’t build an argument on a partial indirect quotation. How do you know that encouraging home ownership is not an attempt to prevent the conversion of neighborhoods into enclaves owned by out-of-town investors rather than people who have a stake in local conditions?

          • Albany YIMBY says:

            It happens that I know they guy, I have talked to him and I know where he lives. He’s a nice guy that keeps a wonderful property.

            I also think that you offer several assumptions:

            1) That new owners will be out-of-town
            2) That out-of town owners have no interest in keeping their properties in good shape.
            3) That we can’t keep owners of rental properties accountable, either from town or out-of town.

    • Al Nyman says:

      ALBANY YIMBY deserves a 10 story apartment in his back yard. And the cost of housing is driven by the government with their fees and their causing a scarcity of available land. Nice comment Hasso.

  11. sonamata says:

    I agree with everything you said here (can we PLEASE stop harping on parking?!), but not about Dick’s comment. There are reasons besides discrimination to advocate for making owner-occupied housing a priority, especially if affordability (and reducing income inequality) is a goal. Homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages get to basically lock in housing costs after purchasing their home, and then benefit from wealth-building through equity, appreciation, and preferential tax treatment. Renters get to hope their inevitable rent increases don’t outpace their wage increases (lol) if they ever hope to save enough to own the place where they live.

    The competition with investors for starter homes in Albany/Corvallis/Salem is ridiculous – first-time buyers cannot make full cash, no contingency offers on fixer-uppers. Existing down payment assistance programs are relatively useless as they’re only available to low-income borrowers (~$52K max for a couple), and even with $20K in down payment assistance, there are hardly any homes in the price range for which those buyers qualify.

    • Dick Olsen says:

      Thank you sonamata, You make the points I’ve been trying to make for the past 49 years that home ownership is the key to Thomas Jefferson’s ideal, ie the “pursuit of happiness”. I love my renter neighbors, but, I know some of them are waiting for a chance to buy a house in the neighborhood.


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