AHC representatives traveled to Salem yesterday, June 22, 2017, to testify on HB 2007 at a hearing of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources. There was an overflow crowd who came to testify, the vast majority of whom had serious concerns about the bill. Because so many attended, only a few were selected to speak, and AHC board member and past president Fred Leeson was among them. Read his testimony below, along with that of AHC executive director Stephanie Whitlock.
The AHC is carefully following HB 2007. We will keep you posted on new developments on the fate of the bill, the future of which is still in question. It’s still important to express your view and you can do so by writing the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources at [email protected] and by writing your own legislators.
Testimony submitted by Stephanie Whitlock, AHC Executive Director, to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources, June 22, 2017
In what is a well-intentioned attempt to establish greater equity in housing, HB 2007 has the strong potential to create greater inequity. It incentivizes the pace of residential demolitions that remove our most accessible, affordable housing for renters, low income residents, and other vulnerable populations. It is notable that much of the modest, affordable housing stock that currently already exists is in historic neighborhoods. These are areas with diverse, multi-layered histories that are protected and preserved by mere virtue of being part of an historic district.
I’d like to address some of the rhetoric around this bill that has maligned historic preservation as being racist and even equates historic districts to redlining. This is a sadly outmoded perspective on historic preservation, which at its root seeks to uncover and bring to light the different voices and experiences of all people in our society. Our organization, the Architectural Heritage Center, has been deeply invested for many decades in preserving the history and historic properties of diverse communities across Portland, past and present, from Old and New Chinatown to the Jewish community in south Portland, and presenting these histories publicly.
A substantial project we have worked on since the mid-1990s has focused on the documentation and preservation of properties associated with African American history in Portland. We have published a book on the issue in two editions, produced grade-school curricula, and have written two National Register nominations for relevant single-family houses associated with African American history. A current project we are working on will determine the qualifying criteria for more of these buildings to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
The former founding director of the Architectural Heritage Center, Cathy Galbraith, has for over two decades been behind the local fight to protect African American properties. Since 2014, at least 60 of our African American-related buildings have been demolished and the pace is only accelerating. As Ms. Galbraith wrote in her letter to the Ways and Means Committee opposing the current version of HB 2007, “Many of our African American building resources are small and modest, providing renters and homeowners alike with affordable housing; these are the very houses being targeted for demolition and construction of huge and expensive new replacement houses…This is gentrification and it is in full swing. Long-time homeowners are finding that they can’t afford the rising property values and taxes in their old suddenly ‘hot’ neighborhoods; rising rents are displacing long-time residents, as owners struggle to also pay those same taxes and must raise rents to do so.”
HB 2007 will have the opposite effect of what it is intended to do. Not only will it lead to the destruction of our existing affordable housing, but it will sacrifice—to the market—our historic resources, ethnic neighborhoods, and our diversity.
We urge you to adopt the amendments to HB 2007 that have been thoughtfully proposed by the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources. PCHR is comprised of the Architectural Heritage Center and a number of other Portland-based preservation organizations and groups.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Testimony presented by Fred Leeson, AHC Board Member, to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources, June 22, 2017
I am Fred Leeson, a board member and past president of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation and the Architectural Heritage Center in Portland.
If you need an affordable car, you don’t start out in the new-car showroom at the Mercedes dealership. Yet that is an apt analogy for the impacts of HB 2007.
We know that is true because in Portland we have seen more than 1,000 single family houses demolished in the past few years, and nearly zero, if any, affordable houses were built in their place. It makes perfect sense: You can’t pay $400,000 to $700,000 for a house to tear down and replace it with anything affordable. To make way for these expensive new houses, we have displaced renters and reduced choices for entry-level buyers.
In a society increasing dividing into the “haves” and “have nots,” HB 2007 assures housing for the “haves,” since it encourages more demolitions, under the deceptive guise of “affordability.” It will provide for more $1 million homes and a new breed of duplexes costing close to that for each half.
HB 2007 attempts to make historic districts the guilty party in the housing crisis, because for-profit builders cannot plunder those neighborhoods as easily as others. Funny, historic districts comprise less than 2 percent of Portland’s area. Yet our historic districts provide excellent opportunities for increasing affordable housing through accessory dwelling units and reconfiguring larger homes into multiple units.
We are accused of being NIMBYs, but in fact we say Yes in Our Back Yards…the perfect place for ADUs. There are several within walking distance of my house in an historic district and they blend well with the context of the neighborhood.
If you are serious about a housing crisis, let’s get the best minds in the room, include ALL stakeholders, and do it right. HB 2007 is the wrong approach.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Fix Problematic House Bill 2007 (May 23, 2017)