Affordable Housing & Conservation At Odds Over Land Use

Affordable housing advocates like Habitat for Humanity demonstrated outside the Capitol building in Salem on Wednesday, June 12, seeking funding and new legislation, such as a bill intended to break up exclusionary zoning in some Oregon cities. However, conservation activists are vocally opposed to development, citing the toll it takes on the state’s natural resources, like wetlands. 

House Bill 2001 requires Oregon cities with more than 25,000 people to allow duplex and multi-family homes in areas zoned for single-family residences. Historically, single-family zoning has been used as a tool to discriminate against people of color and other minority groups attempting to secure a home.  

Opponents believe the state cannot properly regulate inherently local issues like residential zoning, but supporters see it as a foothold for climbing out of a deepening housing crisis.  

House Bill 2796, a more technical housing bill, would “allow removal and fill of degraded wetlands for needed housing projects.” Conservationists are opposed to this measure, noting increased risk of disasters like floods when there are no longer wetlands to absorb and filter heavy rainwater. Critics point out that HB 2796 does not specifically require the building of affordable housing units. 

Currently, federal law requires developers to “offset” any wetlands filled in or damaged during construction. HB2796 tries to ease the burden on developers by allowing some unmitigated removal of wetlands by creating an exemption for “degraded” areas. According to state figures, almost one third of Oregon’s original wetlands have been lost to development. That accounts for 60 percent of the wetlands in the Willamette Valley.   

Two other bills, a tax credit for low-income families and a grant system to help people make repairs to their homes, will be alongside the two larger bills as Democrats attempt to make progress on affordable housing issues before the legislature ends on June 30. 

By Ian MacRonald