"Promoting housing affordability by combating exclusionary housing policies"

 

CFC # 41863 (Combined Federal Campaign) 

 

Law clerk Sarah Franz produced a most impressive, 60-page analysis of Oregon’s 38-year statutory history attempting to control regulatory barriers to affordable housing. Since 1973, Oregon has had a statewide land use planning program with mandatory state land use planning policies (Goals), which all local governments are required to implement through binding, comprehensive land use plans.

Goal 10 requires communities to provide for the housing needs of the citizens of the state and to encourage adequate numbers of housing units at price ranges that match the financial situations of state households. Notably, each city is required to provide housing for the needs of the state residents, not merely the residents of its own city. Another well-known and unique aspect of Oregon’s program is Goal 14, which requires that every city have an urban growth boundary (UGB). That anti-sprawl provision encourages dense development within the boundary and limits development outside it.

The task of adopting these goals, as well as reviewing city and county land use plans, falls to a state administrative agency, the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). That agency has enforced the goals, including Goal 10, and its authority to do so has been upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Based on a wide variety of pertinent sources – legal provisions, law review articles, social science studies, and statistical analyses -- Ms. Franz wrote clear, concise summaries and provide overall conclusions. Among them: 

State-wide or regional land use policies, rather than purely local ones, are better for affordable housing. By writing and interpreting Goal 10 in such a way that it holds jurisdictions responsible for providing housing for state residents, LCDC reduces the ability of cities to push off their affordable housing responsibilities. State-wide or local policies might also reduce the pressure on locally elected officials where there is opposition to affordable housing. The same might be true of appointed . . . commissions like LCDC.

Ms. Franz also notes that “economic theory would suggest that implementation of an urban growth boundary (UGB) would cause an increase in housing prices.” However, she finds that the effects of Oregon’s UGBs (the leading example being the one around Portland) are still the subject of debate and further research. She reviews the observations of leading economists, including EHI Advisory Committee member, Prof. William A. Fischel. He has written:

I have elsewhere given qualified praise to Portland’s growth management plan for at least thinking about the monopoly-supply effect. Portland’s plan is not a stop-growth policy. Its intent is to retard Greenfield development beyond the urban fringe and at the same time channel growth into infill development within existing communities. And Portland does not just talk about infill as a vague aspiration. Its regional land use board, “Metro,” is elected by regional districts that do not correspond to local government boundaries (this is done to reduce parochial interests). Metro can and often does require local governments within the region to rezone to accept higher densities than they would have on their own.
(William A. Fischel, Comment on Anthony Downs’s “Have Housing Prices Risen Faster in Portland Than Elsewhere?,” 13 Housing Policy Debate 43, 44 (Fannie Mae Found., 2002) (citations omitted).) However, Prof. Fischel remains skeptical of the ability of Metro officials to combine urban growth boundaries with ample affordable housing. As he told EHI recently, the real “problem with Portland in my view is that it is very reluctant to expand urban growth boundaries, which drives up overall housing prices.” And he finds “[n]ot much evidence that they get many offsetting benefits from infill development, either.”