Oregon House Bill 2007 remains a concern to the Architectural Heritage Center and our partners due to its targeting of historic districts as a detriment to increasing the supply of affordable housing. In truth, no historic districts in Oregon, or any we know of anywhere in the nation based on our research, specifically prohibit the construction of affordable housing.

Historic districts do preserve a specific moment in time that we pass on to the future to be shared by all – an open-air museum like a park or natural treasure – but they can adapt and evolve. Estimates vary from 3 to 5% in terms of how much land in Oregon is occupied by designated historic districts, but by any means of measurement the amount is small. Historic areas nationally and statewide explore and commemorate a broad and diverse range of eras, skills, and human accomplishment – from the prehistory contained in the East Lake Abert Archaeological District in Lane County to the engineering and construction feats represented by the historic Columbia River Highway, to the apartments, houses, churches, and schools in Portland’s Irvington neighborhood to the commercial development continuing to provide economic impact and heritage tourism opportunities today on many of Oregon’s traditional Main Streets in towns like Astoria and Jacksonville.

HB 2007 should have a laser-like focus on provisions for streamlining the creation of true affordable housing. The term “needed housing” is too broad to address and solve the severe problem many communities face. More than a century-worth of studies show that homes for the extremely needy cannot be built without substantial public subsidy. You can try this contemporary app from the Urban Institute for yourself.

We strongly support the use of tools such as Accessory Dwelling Units or the sensitive and logical transformation of a single larger dwelling into multiple living spaces to suit the needs of people seeking various sizes of dwellings. We do oppose the wholesale demolition of good old houses, which unsustainably deposits old-growth timber and other long-durable building materials into landfills — especially when those relatively affordable homes are replaced by much more expensive ones in sad contrast to equitable housing goals, and which do not increase density. As noted in a 2015 memo from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability on Housing Affordability & Residential Compatibility:

“Residential demolitions have been the subject of passionate public discourse in the recent years as the number of demolitions continue to rise in Portland’s established neighborhoods. Especially distressing to the community is the demolition of modest sized homes selling for $250,000 to $400,000, and their one-for-one replacement with much larger homes selling for $600,000 to $1 million or more…When we looked at the detail of demolition activity (2013 permit data), we find that more than half resulted in no additional dwellings (a 1-1 replacement or no replacement). When there is a new house built to replace the demolished home, BDS permit records also show that the new homes are typically about twice the size of the old. In other words, most demolitions are related to somebody building one bigger home to replace a smaller one. This suggests that demolition trends have much more to do with income disparity and gentrification than growth pressures.”

While the legislative situation is evolving, HB 2007 is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee. Please read the engrossed version of the bill and express your opinion to your legislators. We will have very little warning about the exact time that the bill will be considered by Ways and Means. Speak up now, and be prepared to share your views with your state senators when the bill shifts to the Senate.

You can view the invited testimony from the public information session on House Bill 2007 that took place on May 25. Invited testimony explored many facets of the proposed bill, and our collective points of concern with the proposed legislation were specifically covered by Michael Mehaffy, chair of the Goose Hollow Neighborhood Association and executive director of Sustasis Foundation; Peggy Moretti, executive director of Restore Oregon; and Ashland-based preservation consultant George Kramer, who is also an advisor for the National Trust. To view the testimony, click here, scroll down to 2017 Session Archive Video and Audio, then click on House Committee on Human Services and Housing 2016-05-25 8:00 AM, May 25, 2017.

— Holly Chamberlain

Related Posts:
Fix Problematic House Bill 2007 (May 23, 2017)
Oregon House Bill 2007 – Proposed Legislation Turns Back the Clock on Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation (May 9, 2017)