A Brief Housing Retrospective: 1000 Friends and Goal 10

Madeline Kovacs
Tue, 12/26/2017 - 12:00pm


Portland for Everyone’s local fight for zoning reforms and affordable housing is partly the result of a statewide failure to successfully implement Goal 10.

It has been quite a year for housing in Portland. As the City moves on multiple projects to implement its Comprehensive Plan Update, proposed zoning reforms are poised to make Portland a West Coast leader on housing solutions. Yet at the same time, for a city that declared a “housing state of emergency” two years ago, those reforms are agonizingly slow in arriving. This is the work that Portland for Everyone has been engaged in over the past year and a half: Ensuring that community members are aware that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right on land use, housing choices, and affordability. If we miss this window of opportunity, it could be decades before we can again create comprehensive zoning updates to ensure that Portland has abundant, diverse, and affordable housing options for all.

When Portland for Everyone is out giving community presentations, serving on panels, or just in everyday conversation, one question has kept coming up: So many people exclaim some version of “I didn't know that 1000 Friends did housing work!” There is the perception, among those that know us only by name or reputation, that we enforce rules around Urban Growth Boundaries, and that’s it!

The truth is, Goal 10 - Housing - has been a goal ever since Statewide Land Use Planning Goals 1 through 14 were adopted in 1974. Moreover, 1000 Friends has always engaged in housing when the issue has emerged as a major concern for Oregonians. Indeed, ensuring that everyone can find a stable, affordable, and well-connected place to live is paramount to ensuring that we continue to live - and thrive - within our environmental limits. A relatively new 1000 Friends employee myself, I have been finding over and over that the solutions we need have existed since the organization’s founding - but we need to find the political will as a state to fully implement them.

I wrote a short piece during the heat of Oregon’s last full legislative session about Goal 10, and the importance of placing that goal front and center as housing continues to present one of the largest challenges to maintaining Oregonian’s quality of life. Just six years after Friends’ founding, then-State Housing Council Chair, Betty Niven, observed that local jurisdictions were already failing to uphold their end of the land use system by not adequately altering practices that drive up housing costs - like large lots, higher fees, and uncertainty in approval processes.

In reflecting on the housing successes and failures this past year, I took another dive back into the Friends archives and discovered how deeply the organization has always viewed housing as being integral to smart, efficient land use and conservation.

In the January, 1978 Progress Report, staff chronicled their rationale for hiring not one but four new staff specifically to focus on the implementation of LCDC’s Housing Goal. The rationale?

“1000 Friends will begin emphasizing this area in recognition of the fact that protecting agricultural land from urban sprawl is only part of Oregon’s planning need. Protecting rural agricultural land must be coupled with encouraging development of designated urban areas to provide adequate housing for Oregonians at all income levels. Identifying the land areas needed for urban expansion as called for in the Urbanization Goal does not guarantee that the land will be provided public services to support the levels of housing future populations will need and be able to afford. 1000 Friends is concerned that Oregon’s future cities not only be compact and economically serviced, but that they provide adequate amounts and varieties of housing for the people who will need it. Housing is as important a part of the LCDC program as agricultural land protection."

But don't take staff's word for it. How about Mr. Robert Liberty's?

In his June, 1992 article “Oregon’s Comprehensive Growth Management Program: An Implementation Review and Lessons for Other States” for the Environmental Law Reporter, Mr. Liberty reminded readers that when the land use system is functioning properly, “the provisions of Goal 10 complement the provisions of Goal 14 [Urbanization] by eliminating barriers to higher density housing.”

He also pointed out that LCDC program rules require that “local approval standards, special conditions and procedures regulating the development of needed housing must be clear and objective, and must not have the effect either themselves or cumulatively, of discouraging needed housing through unreasonable cost or delay… Significantly, when a need has been shown for housing in particular price ranges within a UGB, cities must permit such housing… in one or more zones and in volumes adequate to meet the need.”

1000 Friends has also been instrumental in obtaining three important housing victories in the last few years:

  • In 2010, Friends helped pass SB 1059, which linked land use and transportation planning in Oregon’s largest cities, and named housing as a key criterion in land use and transportation scenario guidelines aimed at reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2016, HB 4029 established a Pilot Program with 23 Affordable Housing Measures. Local jurisdictions must prove they are meeting a critical threshold of said measures within their UGB’s before they may be considered for an expansion. Such measures include density bonuses, property tax exemptions, legalization of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), cottage housing and mixed-use housing strategies, among others.
  • Last session, SB 1051 was passed in order to better ensure that towns and cities are providing adequate supply and diversity of housing. The bill expedited affordable housing permits, strengthened requirements for clear and objective standards for new housing developments, allowed for additional ADU’s in single-family neighborhoods, and allowed religious institutions to use their properties to develop affordable housing.

SB 1051 was a remarkable achievement - but it could have been stronger, if provisions allowing duplexes and creating transparency and flexibility in historic district processes, among others, had been kept in. Predominantly, opposition to the bill came from the same place that local opposition to increasing housing options comes from currently in Portland: Neighborhood residents whose housing needs are already met.

Portland’s not alone in delaying critical decisions to meet their housing responsibilities, as cities and counties across the state have encountered vehement opposition for attempting to increase residential density of even the gentlest kind. If allowing duplexes to be built in all residential areas produces such an outcry, how can we expect local jurisdictions to advance the kinds of reforms actually needed to house all of our residents affordably?

Oregon’s land use system has a solution for that too, if we can find the political will to utilize it. Local jurisdictions are required explicitly by Goal 10 to plan for and provide not only an adequate supply of housing, but also “units at price ranges and rent levels which are commensurate with the financial capabilities of Oregon households and allow for flexibility of housing location, type, and density” (Goal 10- Housing). During the creation of jurisdiction’s first comprehensive plans (about 1976-1986), if the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) had “good cause” to believe that local governments were opposed to development at higher densities as required to implement Goal 10, then “The LCDC could force a local government to issue building permits or approve subdivisions in urban areas…” (Liberty, 1992, p.6-92). Comprehensive Plan Updates, and all Plan amendments, must be tested against the Goals. So, if local governments are failing to deliver plans that will house all of their projected residents affordably, there is precedent for the state to intervene until they do.

Robert Liberty knew in 1992 that we might find ourselves in such a predicament: He cautioned that without careful tending, the power balance could shift back to local governments and away from the state, which could have detrimental impacts on Oregon’s ability to balance development and conservation into the future. With a statewide shortfall of homes even more severe than previously anticipated, and with issues like climate change coming to a head, the need to maintain this balance has become critical.

The land use system is built on balancing the needs of everyone, for both current and future generations. 1000 Friends has never been more needed to safeguard Oregonians’ quality of life and balance of lands. Our work on housing is, as it always has been, a cornerstone issue to make sure that we succeed.


Photos: Historic 4-plex on SE Madison in Portland, Philip Longnecker; 1000 Friends Progress Report, 1978; Environmental Law Reporter, June 1992; ADU on NE Going St. in Portland, Philip Longnecker.