Metro UGB expansion proposals miss the mark

Mary Kyle McCurdy
Tue, 09/25/2018 (All day)

It’s been in the news, and it’s been on our minds: Metro is considering expanding the urban growth boundary for four cities in the region. Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City, and Wilsonville have submitted proposals to expand their urban growth boundaries for added housing. This week, the Metro Council will give directions to these cities on how to improve their expansion proposals to meet the needs of all residents. Metro will make a final decision in December.

Oregon communities need more housing. However, it’s not just the amount of housing that matters. Oregon communities need more diverse and affordable types of housing to meet the family size and income needs of all. At 1000 Friends of Oregon, we believe community housing needs can absolutely be met without sprawling into Oregon’s precious farm and forest lands. That’s why we take proposals to expand UGBs very seriously.

1000 Friends expected more from the UGB expansion proposals than what was submitted — particularly in housing and transit. Metro community members must ensure that any UGB expansion meets the housing and transportation needs of current and future residents. Nurses, teachers, chefs, firefighters, and artists are looking for - and deserve - housing choices in walkable and transit-rich neighborhoods, close to the opportunities and amenities that support them: things like jobs, grocery stores, community centers, and schools.

Frankly, these proposals fall short. Over the past few years, Metro has adopted several forward thinking land use, transportation, and housing plans. These include the Metro Equitable Housing Plan, Climate Smart Communities Strategy, and Regional Transportation Plan, including the Active Transportation Plan. The requirements and expectations for this UGB decision have been clearly described for many years.

The four UGB expansion proposals reflect stale housing patterns of the past by segregating single-family housing from other housing. This is economically exclusionary and therefore has a demonstrably adverse impact on those of modest means and people of color. Not only is single-family housing the most expensive and land-consuming housing type, it fails to meet the needs of most current and future Metro-area residents. Homes like duplexes, four-plexes, courtyard apartments, and row homes meet these changing needs, and should be integrated into all neighborhoods. 

Furthermore, the four proposals did not fully address the transit needs of Metro residents and the climate goals of the region. With over 25% of the Metro-area population unable or choosing not to drive - and that percentage is rising - our cities must ensure that people living in expanded areas are not isolated in sprawl development that will never be efficient enough to serve with transit. We can and should design these new communities better, so residents are not forced to be car-reliant, but instead have choices to take transit, walk, or bicycle to meet many of their daily needs. The city proposals must provide connectivity for community members to reduce climate-damaging emissions. 

After a thorough review of the four proposals, 1000 Friends submitted comprehensive testimony to Metro. We recommend that Metro require the following of each UGB expansion proposal, or else turn it down:

  • Meet Metro’s code requirements, including:
    • “Equitable and efficient distribution of housing and employment opportunities.”
    • “Implementing best practices for preserving and increasing the supply and diversity of affordable housing in existing areas.”
    • “A range of housing of different types, tenure and prices addressing the housing needs in the prospective UGB expansion area in the context of the housing needs of the governing city, the county, and the region …  to help create economically and socially vital and complete neighborhoods and cities and avoiding the concentration of poverty and the isolation of families and people of modest means.”
  • Have a Housing Needs Analysis (HNA) that articulates HOW the region’s housing needs are being met in existing and proposed expanded UGB areas.
  • Demonstrate compliance with Metro code and state law allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
  • Prohibit Homeowners Association (HOA) covenants that restrict housing types.
  • Demonstrate transit readiness.
  • Demonstrate the contribution each city will make to meeting the region’s Climate Smart Strategy by reducing car-reliance and vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

You can read our full testimony here.

Any plans to expand the urban growth boundary must meet the needs of our communities now and into the future. We must acknowledge that the community designs of the past are not what Oregonians need today. Metro needs to ensure that our communities provide diverse and affordable housing options, integrated with transit and community connectivity. The time for exclusive, segregated single-family zoning needs to end. We are challenged to unite, to be pragmatic, forward-thinking, innovative, and more equitable. Together, we can find solutions to our housing needs while conserving our spectacular natural areas, farms, forests, and public lands. It will take a bit more effort by all of us to get it right, but that effort will be rewarded for generations to come.

Photo: Portland-Metro UGB, imgur