Neighborhoods And Historic Districts Win One; Developers' Bill HB2007 Is Defeated

A couple of months ago, we all learned about the Oregon bill that was intended to strip protections for Oregon's National Register Historic Districts. The bill that some called the homebuilders' "Trojan Horse", and that others called "a developers' Christmas wish list".

This post will explain what happened with that bill. The story has a happy ending.

Chapter 1. The Developers Write Their Christmas Wish List.

HB2007 was sponsored by three Portland-area representatives (the House Speaker Representative Tina Kotek, representing St. Johns; Rep. Tawna Sanchez, representing North and NE Portland; and Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, representing Laurelhurst, Tabor, and parts of SE Portland), among other representatives and senators.

The bill was backed by home builders (Oregon Home Builders Association), national real estate developers and investors (Oregon LOCUS), and pro-development advocacy groups (1000 Friends of Oregon).

HB2007 started innocuously, as a sympathetic bill that required cities to fast-track building permit review for affordable (low-income) housing projects. In this form, it had a routine public hearing in the Housing and Human Services Committee (chaired by Keny-Guyer).

Then, out of public view and after the public hearing, the committee drastically amended HB2007 to add a developers' Christmas wish list of provisions, all unrelated to affordable housing. These were:

Every residential neighborhood in Oregon would be forced to allow construction of duplexes (as well as accessory dwelling units). This was intended to impose Portland's "Residential Infill Project" concept upon every city in Oregon, but without local approval or public input. None of these duplexes were required to be affordable. In Portland, these infill developments replace affordable houses with expensive duplexes, and displace lower-income families.

Oregon cities would be prevented from using "design review" to guide housing development (except in downtown Portland and Gateway). This was intended to allow developers to construct whatever they want, instead of producing attractive, livable, to-scale neighborhoods. None of the projects were required to be affordable.

National Register-listed Historic Districts could not be protected from demolitions or re-development of historic houses (thus nullifying the recent state Goal 5 rules and any local rules). This was targeted at the possible Eastmoreland historic district, at Laurelhurst's future historic district, and at other historic neighborhoods trying to preserve their historic character and protect their smaller, more affordable houses from demolitions.

By the time these amendments were revealed to the public, HB2007 was already in the Ways & Means Committee and headed to a floor vote.

Chapter 2. Citizens Stand Up.

Neighborhoods, historic preservation organizations, anti-demolition groups, and most importantly concerned citizens like you, immediately stepped up.

In dozens of editorials, recognized experts in urban development and housing pointed out how destructive HB2007 would be: you can read some of them here.

Hundreds of concerned citizens sent emails to their legislators: many used the email address list provided here.

Others citizens took time from work and family to attend their legislators' town hall meetings, to call their legislators, and traveled to Salem to meet with legislators and ask for serious solutions for affordable housing instead of the developer lobby's "Christmas wish list".

Alerted by these editorials and concerned citizens, a growing number of legislators examined HB2007 and recognized how bad it was.

The head of Restore Oregon, our state's leading historic preservation organization, spoke bravely and eloquently against HB2007 at an informational session for legislators, where historic neighborhoods were attacked as "racist" and "elitist".

Restore Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center and the Portland Coalition For Historic Resources led many groups, including United Neighborhoods For Reform and Stop Demolishing Portland, in organizing opposition to HB2007. They submitted amendments that would have fixed the bill's problems and re-focused the bill on affordable housing.

Chapter 3. Thoughtful Legislators Step In.

On June 22, HB2007 received its one and only public hearing in its developer-amended form, before the Natural Resources Subcommittee of the Way & Means Committee. Indexed video of the hearing is here. Co-chair Senator Lew Fredericks presided over a fair and thoughtful hearing. Sen. Kathleen Taylor pointed out the lack of prior public input for the bill. Over sixty citizens attended the hearing and signed up to testify in opposition to HB2007. Many hundreds of citizens, from all over Oregon, submitted written testimony in opposition to HB2007 and sent other emails to their legislators.

Chapter 4. Laurelhurst Does Its Part.

Our Laurelhurst neighborhood can be proud of our part in opposing the stealth developers' Christmas wish list that was HB2007. Several residents of Laurelhurst traveled to Salem to speak at the June 22 hearing and over a hundred of the public written testimonies on June 22 were submitted by your neighbors: see them here and here.

To be fair, a few of the voices from Laurelhurst supported HB2007. But the overwhelming majority of our neighborhood opposed the bill, just as the overwhelming majority of our neighborhood supports historic district protections and opposes demolitions of our historic houses.

Chapter 5. Citizens And Neighborhoods Win.

In the end, we - meaning all the neighborhoods, groups, citizens, and legislators who stood up against HB2007 and its powerful political and industry backers - WE WON.

HB2007 has died in committee. You defeated HB2007 and all the developers, homebuilder, and pro-development lobbyists. Congratulations.

Postscript: In the last week of the legislative session, Speaker Kotek took a few parts of HB2007 that were broadly supported - in particular, the permit fast-track for truly affordable housing projects and the allowance of accessory dwelling units (but not duplexes) - put them into a different bill, SB1051, which was rushed through the House Rules Committee and passed by the Senate and House. This is called a "gut-and-stuff" maneuver. But the effectiveness of your opposition to HB2007 was such no-one tried to "stuff" the bad parts of HB2007 into SB1051. SB1051 as passed last week is, on balance, a good bill.

Final thought. This is not the end of this story. The developers and their allies will be back next year, targeting historic neighborhoods for demolition and re-development. Let's be ready for them.

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