Oregon Cities

After being rebuffed in 2023, Gov. Tina Kotek will push an updated housing bill this year

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FILE - Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek addresses reporters in 2023. On Wednesday, the governor unveiled a bill aimed at increasing housing production in the state.

FILE – Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek addresses reporters in 2023. On Wednesday, the governor unveiled a bill aimed at increasing housing production in the state.

Dirk VanderHart / OPB

Oregon Gov Tina Kotek this year will once again press lawmakers to grant cities the ability to easily expand their growth boundaries to provide for new housing, while floating a new agency to assist with housing expansion and a major funding package to boost the effort.

In a bill she’ll introduce in the session that convenes Feb. 5, Kotek is proposing that cities be granted one-time leeway to bring in land for housing, so long as at least 30% of that housing is made “affordable.”

It’s the only bill the governor plans to introduce in the 35-day session. But it includes many ideas that failed to win crucial members of Kotek’s party last year.

The bill, Senate Bill 1537, will also include a request for $500 million in state funds to pay for things like land, expanding utility services and other infrastructure to pave the way for new development, and homes themselves. And Kotek is proposing a new state agency, the Housing Accountability and Production Office, that would help developers and local governments navigate state housing laws.

“Decades of underbuilding have left Oregon with a severe housing shortage that is driving up rents, home prices, and worsening our homelessness crisis,” Kotek said in a news release about the proposal, calling the bill her “top priority” in the 35-day even-year legislative session.

Related: Standoff over housing bill keeps Oregon’s Legislature from adjournment

Contentious aspects in the rebuffed bill remain in the new one

The governor has been refining her plan for quickly boosting housing supply in the state since a similar proposal failed last year. But a copy of the bill provided by the governor’s office shows that many of the more contentious aspects of the former bill are present in SB 1537.

The bill would allow cities outside of the Portland metro region to unilaterally pull 150 acres of land into their urban growth boundaries for housing if they have a population of at least 25,000. Smaller cities could incorporate up to 75 acres under that bill. Cities in the Portland metro region would have the same criteria, but would have to petition the Metro regional government for approval.

Kotek’s latest proposal also requires cities to show a need for new land and affordable housing in order to take advantage of the pared-back regulations, according to a summary from her office.

As with her previous bill, the governor’s proposal also requires that 30% of land brought into an urban growth boundary, or UGB, under the law be made affordable for people who make 80% or less of the area median income. That number varies depending on what part of the state a family lives in.

“We’ve continued to improve the proposal,” Kotek told reporters earlier this month. “If passed the way it currently sits, it would be the strongest proposal to guarantee affordability and new construction in the country. So we are very excited about the bill.”

Related: Gov. Tina Kotek’s first year in office was not what her critics expected

Old bill rejected following Senate Republicans’ walkout

Whether legislative Democrats are similarly enthused remains to be seen. The bill Kotek proposed last year perished in a dramatic Senate vote on the last day of session, even after the governor rushed to the chamber floor in an attempt to turn the tide.

The bill’s demise came when enough Democrats — told by chamber leaders they could vote their conscience rather than facing pressure to fall in line behind the party’s leader — objected to Kotek’s idea for paring back land use protections meant to curb urban sprawl.

But the defeat was also something of a fluke. A handful of Senate Republicans had declined to return to the Capitol following a six-week walkout that halted action in the chamber, and were not present for the vote. If even one of those members were on hand, Kotek’s bill likely would have passed.

The governor says she’s been working hard to boost support for her idea in the last six months. ”Since the end of the last legislative session, my team has been working with a lot of different organizations trying to refine and improve upon the bill that came up in the legislative session,” Kotek said Jan. 9. “It’s a different bill, still a menu of tools.”

Related: Republican senators walk from Oregon Capitol, as vote on contentious abortion bill nears

One other question mark surrounding the governor’s bill: Whether lawmakers will agree to fund it at the $500 million mark she’s proposing, or will offer up a smaller amount.

Kotek has made increasing the supply of housing a central pillar of her administration, and has won praise from even some skeptics for her willingness to challenge Democratic orthodoxy around the state’s vaunted land use protections. She insists that her proposal is in step with the spirit of those rules, though advocacy groups that defend the state’s UGB process have opposed granting cities the ability to expand on their own.

Kotek has also appointed a council tasked with coming up with more ideas to help Oregon meet its goal of building 36,000 units of housing per year, a mark Kotek set early in her administration. That group is slated to approve a wide-ranging list of options for doing so Wednesday afternoon.

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