The amazing 7-year journey of the big housing bill

By Dave Hunnicutt
Oregon Property Owners Association

The Oregon legislature passed Senate Bill 1537, Governor Kotek’s signature housing bill and only bill for the 2024 session. The Governor’s bill makes important changes to Oregon law to address our chronic housing shortage, and a companion bill (SB 1530) provides funding for infrastructure to serve a number of housing projects across the state.

By far the most controversial section of the Governor’s bill is the one-time urban growth boundary (UGB) expansion authorization. These provisions give cities the ability to add a modest amount of acreage (up to 100 acres of net buildable land) to their UGB to enable the development of market-rate and affordable housing. The bill requires that 30% of new housing units built in the expansion area be deed-restricted affordable to those earning low to moderate incomes. This is one of the strongest requirements for affordable housing in the United States.

What makes the language controversial is that the UGB expansion is not required to comply with Oregon’s existing UGB amendment process, which ties up cities/property owners for years of red tape and litigation. Those opposed to community growth love the impenetrable briar patch that the current system creates, as most UGB expansions take years to complete and are so controversial many cities don’t attempt them at all. Anti-growth advocates see this provision as a threat to the advantageously broken system, and were quick to jump on Governor Kotek for being a “tool of the developers” and passing a “giveaway to homebuilders” after the bill passed. Eye roll. 

It should be no surprise that getting SB 1537 across the finish line is a big win for us at OPOA, and for me personally. As you’ll read in this post, I’ve been working on it for years. In fact, legislation has been introduced at OPOA’s request since 2016 with this concept, and we’ve long made a commitment to get this concept passed. That day has finally arrived.

OPOA proves that persistence pays off.

  • 2016 – We first brought this idea with Senate Bill 1548, sponsored by then Senate minority leader Ted Ferrioli. SB 1548 allowed fast growing cities to immediately add land to their UGB to support housing if the land was capable of being served and developed immediately. The bill received a courtesy hearing and died a quick death.
  • 2017 – Undeterred, we asked for the same bill with Senate Bill 608, sponsored by Senator Tim Knopp. This bill also received a courtesy hearing and died quickly.
  • 2019 – After taking a break, we revived the concept in 2019 with Senate Bill 569, again sponsored by Senator Knopp. This time, however, newly elected Representative Jack Zika from Redmond joined as a chief sponsor. Unlike the previous versions, SB 569 never received a hearing, much less a courtesy hearing.

At this point, we were going backwards with this concept. Most rational people would give up at this point, but not us!

  • 2020 – We were back with House Bill 4095, again sponsored by Representative Zika. HB 4095 was a very modest attempt to create an expedited UGB process for affordable housing. In fact, in many ways it was even more modest than the provisions of Governor Kotek’s bill. Nevertheless, it failed as well, but we were starting to make slight progress.
  • 2021 – By this point, Representative Zika and I had formed a pact that we were going to keep bringing this bill until both of us were no longer involved at the Capitol or it passed, whichever came first. Like the bill from the previous session, HB 3072 was a more modest version of Governor Kotek’s bill. It too failed in the face of relentless opposition from the same “environmental” groups that opposed the Governor’s bill.

The tides begin to turn as the housing and homelessness crisis becomes undeniable.

By 2021, cracks were beginning to appear in the previously impenetrable opposition, as legislators (and more importantly, then Speaker of the House Tina Kotek) were realizing that we had a housing problem. Not that we hadn’t been telling them all that for nearly a decade, and trying to get them to address it since 2016.  But hey, better late than never.

In 2022, Representative Zika and I were back with House Bill 4118. The bill died, but this time, we finally had support from some of the Oregon cities who had experienced the pain of trying to solve their housing shortage crisis.

That brings us to 2023. Unfortunately, Representative Zika decided to leave the legislature at the end of 2022, so he was no longer around to work the bill.  However, my friend (and current OHBA CEO) Jodi Hack was back to work on housing issues, and my friend (and current OPOA General Counsel) Samantha Bayer was working full-time for OHBA.

At this time things felt promising. We had (and still have) a good team. We were outgunned in terms of sheer numbers, but we were not going to get outworked at the Capitol. Above all, we have resolve and were not afraid to fight for what’s right. All that was needed was a few more partners…

Governor Kotek enters the ring.

Before the 2023 session even started, Governor Kotek had adopted an emergency order declaring a housing emergency and calling for housing production at nearly double the rate of current production.  Fortunately for us, Governor Kotek understood the problem, and knew that one of the reasons for underproduction was because there simply isn’t enough land available for housing within UGB.

The Governor asked for solutions, and whaddya know, we just happened to have one for her!

By adding the expedited UGB concept into the Governor’s bill 2023 bill (HB 3414), we were going to finally pass a modest, but important concept into law. Unfortunately, the bill failed on the final day of the 2023 session by one vote. That’s as close as you can get. Needless to say, that was a kick in the gut.

“Never, never, never give up.”

But the Governor didn’t give up, and neither did our team.  For the 2024 Session, we made a few changes from the 2023 version to get to Senate Bill 1537. Finally, after eight years and eight tries, the expedited UGB language is now law.

I left a message for Jack Zika to let him know what happened.  I hope he’s happy and appreciates his effort in getting this across the finish line. Big thanks to him, Tim Knopp, Ted Ferrioli, Governor Kotek and her staff, Legislative Leadership, and Jodi and Sam for making this happen.

We’re just lobbyists and aren’t supposed to take personal interest in our work, but this idea means a lot to me, and I’m glad to see it finally happened.

— The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not represent the opinions or positions of any party represented by the OPOA Legal Center on any particular matter.