Dispelling the Myth of UGBs and Affordability

Alyson Marchi-Young and Mary Kyle McCurdy
Wed, 03/30/2016 - 4:55pm

Of late, we are finding a growing contingent of special interests who would like to see urban growth boundaries dismantled – this time as a means of addressing housing affordability. It is a myth perpetrated by those interested in developing land that Oregon's UGBs are a cause of the affordable housing challenges in many cities in today's market. Oregon's cities are required to have a long term (20 year) land supply for housing - that's not a shortage of land. In fact, Portland’s Metro recently released a study of how their region’s expanded UGB has been used. No surprise – very little has been developed, and what has been developed is expensive. Sprawling outward is a very expensive proposition for taxpayers who are on the hook for added infrastructure, and for the eventual home occupants who must be wealthy enough to afford homes at above-average prices plus additional transportation costs. This is not an affordable solution, nor an environmental one, and certainly not an equitable one.

What there IS a shortage of is higher density housing in walkable neighborhoods - including cottage clusters, garden apartments, and attached single family housing like row houses. The housing supply is constrained right now, creating pressure on costs. But there are options to create more diverse housing close in to work centers and amenities. That is what people are looking for, and what we need to build more of. Housing needs and preferences are changing, with boomers in particular showing more interest in smaller, connected homes. ". . . 51 percent of Baby Boomers preferred homes with smaller yards in walkable neighborhoods. Additionally, 43 percent of Baby Boomers reported a preference for apartments or attached townhomes that had an easy walk to services and a shorter commute. . ."

Our challenge of affordable housing is not something to put on the backs of farms and natural areas - it is time for all our neighborhoods to share in welcoming all Oregonians.

North Bethany has been built up on an expanded UGB region within the Portland-Metro area. As of Mid-February, the least expensive home listing was for $405,995.

Villabois is a new neighborhood in Willsonville, being built on recently expanded UGB land. Not only is it highly disconnected from transit, and thus heavily car dependent, the least expensive new home listing as of mid-February was $312,900.