A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

The muddle over middle housing

Written September 9th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

A street in West Albany: Will HB 2001 transform such neighborhoods over the next few decades?

When it passed House Bill 2001, the 2019 legislature outlawed the kind of zoning that allows only single-family houses in Oregon cities above 10,000 population. But as the Albany City Council was reminded Monday, it did not restrict the construction of single-family houses.

It’s an important distinction. Among other things it means that developers will continue to build single-family houses as long as people want to buy them, and as long as building them pays more than other kinds of housing.

The council talked Monday with Patrick Wingard, a Eugene-based regional representative of the state Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Among the points that emerged was that exactly how the new law works in some cases will have to be spelled out in rules the deparment hopes to publish by the end of 2020. Until then, some of the effects on Albany and other cities will remain vague, and the city staff will not know how to proceed.

Albany will have to amend its development code by June 2022. One thing is clear: The city will have to allow duplexes on all lots zoned for single-family use, including established neighborhoods. The law also says other versions of “middle housing” have to be allowed in single-family zones, but it’s unclear to what extent cities can regulate these. They include triplexes, quadruplexes, and cluster housing.

Mayor Sharon Konopa, who strongly opposes the law, says it’s unfair that it exempts cities under 10,000, meaning that Millersburg, Tangent and Adair can keep their exclusive single-family districts.

She is also concerned about the effect on Albany’s historic districts. Vacant lots in the districts could sprout duplexes and other middle housing, but could those be held to standards requiring compatibility with historic surroundings?

Under the law, regulations on the siting and design of middle housing that is required to be permitted must not, “individually or cumulatively, discourage the development of middle housing types … through unreasonable cost or delay.”

Excactly what that means nobody knows until a few contested cases are decided by the courts. Or until the next legisature, or the one after that, changes the law again. (hh)

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22 responses to “The muddle over middle housing”

  1. Ben Roche says:

    This policy clearly allows.wealth distribution to further migrate to the real estate investors, and make the dream of home ownership harder to achieve when the lots become more.scarce and expensive.

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      On the contrary, single-family zoning has been a major hurdle in allowing the poor and especially minorities to access property.

      For example, you are a developer/investor in Corvallis, Albany, or Portland. You own a 2-acre lot and you can build just one house of a max of 2000 sq ft. What are you going to build? A luxury house or a starter home? Of course, the luxury house because you can invest $300k in construction all sell it for $400k or $500k.

      Now, the same lot would allow for a fourplex. Building a fourplex is more expensive because your have 4x kitchens and 4x bathrooms, but still it is similar to building a very large home. Instead of $300k, the investor spends $450k. Now even selling each of them for $150 gives you two outcomes: Affordable housing for the middle class, more benefit for investors. I don’t see anyone losing in this equation.

      If you still want a large home and lot for a relatively low price you can always live in Tangent or Millersburg.

      • Jon says:

        The fault in your claim is that the owner could segment that lot into multiple lots, depending on the zoning, an build multiple 300,000 houses on it to make more money than with the one on the big lot.

    • Dick Olsen says:

      Thank you Ben Roche, You are exactly right. Measure 2001 will eventually result in a few wealthy landlords and the rest of us paying rent the rest of our lives for some sort of multifamily dwelling. Doesn’t look like a great neighborhood to me. My neighborhood (8th and Broadalbin) was sliding toward being a slum when we moved here in 1966. We got it rezoned from apartment house to single family in 1970 and it along with the Hackleman neighborhood has gradually revived to become a desirable places to be.

  2. Albany YIMBY says:

    Dear Hasso, I have read the bill extensively, and for Albany, being more than 25000 inhabitants, it doesn’t even apply the duplexes regulations of cities over 10000 people, but also it will need to allow triplexes and fourplexes, as well as townhouses and cottage clusters.

    Our Not In My Backyard mayor can whine and complain all she wants, but starting 2022 this is going to be the rule of the land. For homeowners is going to be fantastic. People with large yards would be able to build 2-4 small cottages to rent, offsetting mortgage costs if done wisely. For renters is going to improve offer and lower prices.

    Her concerns about historic surroundings are ridiculous, cities are living entities and they need to evolve and adapt to the needs of today, we cannot fossilize our cities just because they look pretty, or we have a romantic idea of what is best for us. Being honest, most of homeowners in the Monteith area won’t destroy their historic homes to build a fourplex, and what I can foresee is probably some ADUs and cottages wherever possible, which is good because it doesn’t affect the character of the residential neighborhood and allows for more citizens to live in downtown, which is good for business as well.

    I’ll just finish reminding our mayor that section 2(5) of HB 2001 states that: “Local governments may regulate siting and design of middle housing required to be permitted under this section, provided that the regulations do not, individually or cumulatively, discourage the development of all middle housing types permitted in the area through unreasonable costs or delay.”

  3. J. Jacobson says:

    Konopa’s disdain for Tina Kotek’s housing preferences is well understood. Her desire to prevent State government from mandating apartments or duplexes because of her negative perceptions of renters has an interesting analog from back in the heyday of the Civil Rights movement. The topic back then is somewhat different than Konopa’s complaint, but the Mayor’s tactics and beliefs seem aligned with one of the more despicable characters from the 1960s. But don’t take my word for it. Here, in their own words, is evidence of the fellow traveler’s commonality.


    • Albany YIMBY says:

      Thank you for the link, very illustrative.

    • Pat says:

      I remember hearing her say, in an interview on the radio earlier this year, that it would “change the character of neighborhoods.” That reasoning was as racist and classist in the past as it is today.

      • Jon says:

        Maybe consider some homeowners don’t want renters in their neighborhoods who don’t have any interest in being part of the neighborhood, who don’t care about the property, who don’t care about others’ property rights or personal rights, and who are, in general, poor neighbors. That certainly isn’t all renters. Good renters can be great neighbors. Bad renters screw it up for everybody.

  4. Jim Engel says:

    Yimby…this kind of ruling seems to be working in many of the mega-large 3rd world cities. They are called slums! People living cheek to cheek! I’m also a “Not In My Backyard” person & your liberal notions can go to weird Portland. Tent dwellings are springing up all along the freeways up there. Pleasant sight & I’m told VERY economical.

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      I’m sure you love streets in Munich, Paris, London, or Barcelona when you go on a trip to Europe. They are not third world slums as far as I know and you won’t find many lots of single-family housing in there but nice boulevards with apartments and shops, people actually walking and getting healthy going places with their own feet because everything they need is within a mile radius.

      • Jon says:

        That’s an absolutely meaningless argument. You can’t build businesses (your “shops”) in residential areas.

  5. Ray Kopczynski says:

    It was interesting to hear city staff (Jeff Blaine) indicate that at this point, he did not see any major infrastructure improvements that would have to be made in existing neighborhoods in the foreseeable future due to the possible changes. Any/all new developments would be built to accommodate the new rules.

    “Under the law, regulations on the siting and design of middle housing that is required to be permitted must not, “individually or cumulatively, discourage the development of middle housing types … through unreasonable cost or delay.”

    I think it’s still folks looking for reasons to potentially block in-fill development on existing lots and might be construed as a property owners rights issue

    • hj.anony1 says:

      Yah, lawsuits. More lawsuits.

      We need to figure a way to pay for FIXING & MAINTAINING the ROADS WE HAVE now!

      • Albany YIMBY says:

        If you improve density, you’ll have more taxpayers per surface of land, thus easier to maintain roads.

        That’s beside the ridiculous width of many streets in Albany in proportion to their traffic. We really need to downsize and narrow many of our streets.

        • Jon says:

          Well, sure, because why would you want traffic to be able to use the road when your increased population is parking on both sides blocking it?

  6. C. Jeffery Evans, AICP says:

    House Bill 2001 violates the Fair Housing Act in that it forces greater residential density; which means very small single story or two- and three-story homes. These will be inaccessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs)[according to the CDC, 17.8% of the population uses mechanical aids for mobility].

    Additionally, this will limit our housing choices to larger residential properties in neighborhoods that are deteriorating. This will be short term as these older neighborhoods will be targeted for the construction of inaccessible residences.

    Eventually PWDs will be forced into the smaller — exempt — towns where critical urban services [buses, inaccessible rights-of-way, etc.] are limited or non-existent.


  7. Adam says:

    How utterly wonderful to “experience” the wonders of living arm pit to arm pit in Europe as a TOURIST. Me, I grew up there and it’s a whole lot different on a day to day basis. It’s not romantic, it’s not quaint and it’s not fun. But I guess some of us like to hear the guy next door fart and flush his toilet; I’m not one of them.

    I live in a wonderful single family home development and it’s just great. If I wanted to live closer to more people I would have moved into an apartment and not purchased a home. Changing the rules (HB2001) after the fact (in this case development rules) will not change things, it just creates more friction. All in the name of equalization, giving something to one group at the expense of another. Why should I have to move to Millersburg or Adair Village to keep what I got when I purchased my house? How about instead those that want a home work harder and save until they can afford one like I did.

    My prediction…. this law will be challenged all the way up to the State Supreme Court. In addition, home owners will start to form legal entities (CC&Rs and HOA’s) within their neighborhoods that restrict multifamily dwellings. Communities that already have legal restrictions will become more valuable and more sought after as time progresses which will only increase the level of “housing inequality”. Developers and Real Estate agents are already using these as selling points.

    I have been lifelong liberal buts its legislation like HB 2001 that really challenges that commitment.

    • Albany YIMBY says:

      I really understand you, believe me I do. We all like to have our small lot where we can do what we want and have our piece of the American dream.

      The problem that arises is that this is not sustainable anymore. American cities rely too much on the automobile, sprawl kills: literally with car accidents and slowly with obesity, heart disease, pollution, and stress. It is also not fair for communities like blacks, whose communities were completely torn down to build the massive freeways this system needs to work.

      It is also unfair for the poor, that don’t have gas to put in their tanks, the disabled and elderly that can’t drive, or children whose freedom we’ve taken away.

      And a quick reminder that this law does not force anyone to turn their properties into fourplexes, it just gives you the option.

      And I’m sorry both things aren’t compatible, but the right for people to be housed is more important than the right of not hearing your neighbors, or having a group of poor people living in the neighborhood.

    • centrist says:

      My childhood years were spent in a rowhouse which was in a block 1/8 mile long. Thankfully the walls were brick, so the neighbor sounds were unintelligible.
      My grade school population was over 3000 for 8 grades. Class size was in the 100 range.
      Moving to a place with climbable trees, grass, and unpaved open spaces to play in was wondrous.
      I can’t say that I back the play for high density housing. Land use planning of long ago placed marginal land as agricultural and gave it protection. I get that protecting food and trees from incursion is important, but the line of compromise is far from the line of regulation.

  8. Jon says:

    I don’t know the nuances of the process, but wouldn’t this count as an unfunded mandate? The State ordering the City to change its laws which requires a great deal of process and bureaucracy is ordering them to squander limited City resources to pay for this idiocy.

  9. billh says:

    Where in all of this conversation is the fact that building costs don’t go down, a second 900 sf home on a lot is going to cost somewhere in the vicinity of $72,000 if you are lucky, add that much value to your RMV for property tax, and if financed, the entire property would need to be financed or refinanced. If a construction loan is involved the cost goes up more, and even then, a lender would probably now consider the property a duplex and the rate goes up. It is pretty much a folly to think that this adds affordable housing to the community. If I did it and rented it, the rent would still be $1,000 per month going up 7% per year plus the COLA. By the way, HUD provides a table annually for market level rents. “Affordable Housing” as defined by HUD uses these table as well as family size and income when considering eligiblity for rent subsidy.


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