No ‘Cookie Cutter Approach’ to State Housing Bill

Springfield Council looked at housing density and parking in the rule-making process for HB 2001 during a work session

HB 2001, a housing bill passed by the Legislature in July 2019, requires cities in Oregon to build for higher density housing, which can impact affordability, racial and economic equity and can help lower greenhouse gas emissions. At a June 22 Springfield City Council work session, city staff gathered feedback from councilors about the state rule-making approach to HB 2001. The city pushed back against how the bill should be implemented. 

City Council agreed city staff should raise concerns brought up in the work session with committees working on the rule-making process in Salem and decided to wait to conduct further public outreach on Springfield’s own draft housing code until they know more about how HB 2001 will be implemented. 

HB 2001 requires cities in Oregon to allow multi-unit housing on properties zoned for single-family houses within the urban growth boundary. Springfield City Planner Mark Rust said that HB 2001 “requires cities to allow duplexes on every lot that is a single family home zoned residential.” He added that the bill allows “higher” middle housing types, including triplexes, fourplexes, town homes, and cottage housing, in areas of the city that are zoned residential and allow single-family homes.

Rust said the rule-making process for the bill, overseen by the Department of Land Conservation Development (DLCD), is framed by several larger discussions. The Green House Gas executive order signed by Gov. Kate Brown directs DLCD “to basically do everything in their power to meet certain greenhouse gas goals,” Rust said. This includes the higher density housing required by the bill.

The second issue framing the mandated increase in density outlined in HB 2001 is equity and affordability. Multi-unit housing increases density, which makes housing more affordable to marginalized people and lowers housing costs overall.

Rust said “for all intents and purposes” the DLCD is “proposing to mandate that we quadruple our density.” The DLCD rule-making approach would increase density in Springfield’s low-density residential zone from a maximum of 14 units per net acre to up to 56 units per acre on a lot by lot basis, according to the city website.

Rust identified two different directions rule-makers in Salem have created for undefined language in HB 2001. The bill states that higher middle housing be allowed “in areas” of a residential zone that allow single-family homes. 

Rust said rule-makers favored the “whittle down approach” to interpreting what “in areas” designates. With this approach, all areas zoned residential that allow single-family homes will allow other middle housing “except specific areas where a jurisdiction can justify they shouldn’t be allowed.”

The other approach takes a smaller baseline for what “in areas” designates, and would include locations close to services such as public transit and existing higher-density areas. Rust said this approach “is doing what has been done for a hundred years with zoning which is putting the higher middle housing in the areas where single-family housing doesn’t want to be.”

Councilor Leonard Stoerh said “the general drift of the ‘whittle away’ approach seems closer to the intent of the 2001 bill.” He said, “I think I would probably prefer the ‘whittle away’ approach of the two.”  

Mayor Christine Lundberg and councilors Joe Pishioneri and Sean VanGordon expressed concern that DLCD’s direction for rules about implementing HB 2001 will overrule the draft residential code Springfield released for public input at the beginning of 2020.  

VanGordon said, “The whole packet sort of smacks of bureaucracy that’s gotten out of control.” He said he supported HB 2001, but that “the work around zoning and standards and development really needs to happen at the city level because we are the closest to it.” 

“What drives affordability in housing is not centralized planning in Salem,” VanGordon said.

 City Council President Pishioneri said he was concerned that by not allowing municipalities to decide their own strategies for the increased density required by HB 2001, DLCD is “shooting themselves in the foot.” He said areas of Springfield do not have the water, electric and sewage infrastructure to support increased density. He says he believes the cost of rebuilding such infrastructure to accommodate higher density could deter developers from building dense middle housing at all, since they are required to provide the infrastructure for the structures they build. 

Rust noted that the rules DLCD is making for HB 2001 will require reduced parking compared to parking requirements in Springfield’s Transportation System Plan (TSP). Under the TSP, which was updated at the beginning of June, two parking spaces are allowed for each dwelling when no paved on-street parking directly abutting the property is available, according to the city website.

“Now the state is basically unwinding what we did locally,” Rust said. He said the DLCD will likely recommend that no more than one parking space per unit is allowed.

Lundberg said the DLCD’s approach is heavy handed and that the department should respond to the concerns of cities like Springfield about the rule-making process for HB 2001. “I see that what they are trying to do is mix housing, climate change, transportation and equity, and throw it all in one pot and then try to figure out how to make the rules for us in some kind of cookie cutter approach.”

Lundberg said she didn’t want DLCD and other state agencies to have “too much say over what we are doing and give us a chance as communities to figure out how it is going to work.”

“I’m very supportive of the work we are already doing and the way we’ve done it,” Lundberg said.

She agreed with a city staff recommendation that staff continue raising concerns around DLCD’s approach to HB 2001 and testify at state hearings to make a case for an implementation strategy that is supported by Springfield’s draft housing code. She also agreed with the recommendation that the city wait to conduct public outreach on Springfield’s draft housing code until the city knows more about DLCD’s suggested rules for HB 2001.

The discussion about the housing code and the bill aimed at racial and economic equity comes at a time when Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd have dramatically, and necessarily, heightened  attention to systemic racism.