Two Oregon Bill Proposals Would Make It Easier to Convert Commercial and Industrial Properties to Housing

Two Oregon Bill Proposals: Two bills that have been drafted for the spring legislative session in Salem would make it easier for developers to convert commercial and industrial buildings or land into housing for middle-income earners, which is also commonly referred to as “workforce housing.” These bills would reduce the financial burden as well as the regulatory burden.

Two Oregon Bill Proposals Would Make It Easier to Convert Commercial and Industrial Properties to Housing

This is a step up from the typical definition of “affordable” housing, which typically restricts its tenants to those who make 60% or less of the median income. Tenants in this type of housing are required to make less than 120% of the median income in order to be eligible for tenancy in such a building. Both of these legislative initiatives were conceived by and developed by State Representative Pam Marsh (D-Ashland).

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The first one would extend to developers who are interested in constructing homes for middle-income families the same privileges that were extended to affordable housing developers in 2021 by Senate Bill 8: It would not be possible for zoning limitations to prevent a developer from constructing homes or converting commercial or “light industrial” land into residential use, and the developer would not be required to get a conditional use permit in order to construct.

Two Oregon Bill Proposals Would Make It Easier to Convert Commercial
Two Oregon Bill Proposals Would Make It Easier to Convert Commercial

The bill also proposes the following additional incentives: local governments could not require parking that is in excess of what was required under a property’s commercial or industrial use, and cities could not impose system development charges on the developers for the duration of the 15-year period during which restricted income would be in effect.

Marsh tells WW that “we have to put everything on the table” because of the housing crisis that we are now experiencing. “This is one of the possibilities that we are considering. It’s possible that this won’t be the winning lottery ticket that ends the housing shortage, but it might make it possible for certain projects to move forward. It is imperative that we investigate each and every possibility.

The second piece of legislation would establish a loan fund with a capacity of 500 million dollars to assist developers in the construction of houses for middle-income families. Cities and counties may submit loan applications on behalf of specific projects, and if their applications were approved, they would be responsible for repaying the loans over a period of ten years using the increased property tax income generated by the development.

The state would, prior to the bill’s passage, establish restrictions around what kinds of housing would be eligible for loans from the fund. Cities would be asked to implement their own parameters depending on the particular housing requirements in their communities.

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The office of Mayor Ted Wheeler has been looking at similar plans as a means to reuse a vacant downtown, and Marsh’s bill concepts appear to fulfill a request that was on Wheeler’s wish list of things he wants the legislature to accomplish.

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