Though a LOT of people have been giving feedback to legislators over the past month or two and they are truly hearing us, this bill is not dead yet – please consider contacting members of the Ways and Means Committee to say that we want a bill that is REALLY about AFFORDABLE housing only and that Historic District does not have a place in this bill!

There were dozens of people opposing HB 2007 at the Ways and Means Natural Committee hearing about HB 2007 at the Capitol Building in Salem last Thursday (June 22). After a few Representatives and staffers testified in favor of the bill for general “we need more housing” reasons, six people testified against the bill (out of the 40 signed up to testify in opposition) and then time for the hearing was up. If this bill was ACTUALLY about affordable housing, a lot more people would support it, but unfortunately, not the same people who spend money supporting legislators’ election campaigns. This bill would be great if wasn’t so obviously about benefiting the special interest groups of developers (who make money by demolishing old houses and building huge, expensive homes in their place), and those opposing Historic Districts. If it was REALLY about affordable housing, if there was any language in the bill specifying that developers should get fast-track approval and be able to develop multifamily housing anywhere in the city for AFFORDABLE housing and not for “needed” (read: “ANY” including luxury) housing, then the bill would be pretty good. We all want to find more solutions to our housing crisis. But allowing developers to demolish anywhere in the city (including in some of our most treasured architecturally historic neighborhoods) and then allowing them to charge luxury prices (because they can, and because that’s where they make the most profit, of course) only drives up housing prices all over the city.

One of the Senators who spoke with us after the hearing said that he gets offers to buy his house in Portland nearly every day. One guy came up while he was working in the yard and told him “hey, I’ll give you $250,000 for your house. Isn’t that great? I can see what you spent for it way back when and so that’s a lot of profit for you!” The houses on either side of the Senator’s house had each sold for more than $500,000 recently. The brand new duplexes down the street and around the neighborhood were listed at more than $700,000 each. The fact that $250,000 now sounds cheap for a house in Portland says a lot about the increasing cost of housing. Anyone buying that house for $250,000 is getting a steal (a very dishonest deal steal) and is not going to spend their money building affordable duplexes or affordable multi-family housing because they will make a much bigger profit building bigger, more expensive housing (or just selling it for double that on the open market).

Yes, we need more housing, but housing prices don’t have the same supply and demand relationship that potatoes or milk do. Giving developers carte blanche to build MORE luxury housing is not helping matters. In this housing market, increasing the supply of affordable housing is what we need, and this does not come naturally. Local and state governments need to provide incentives or rules and regulations to get more affordable housing developments built. In addition, the most affordable houses are the ones that already exist. Allowing more demolitions of smaller, older, less expensive homes to build bigger more expensive ones does not make sense if affordability is a priority. Historic homes are not the enemy of affordability OR density, and plenty of renters, minorities, and low-income families live in historic homes and neighborhoods because many of the homes and apartments there ARE more affordable.

We love this book excerpt from “Historic Preservation and the Livable City” By Eric W. Allison, Lauren Peters

“Both individuals and societies are more effective when they are grounded in what has gone before. The protection of heritage resources is an important goal for both ancient and more recent cities around the world. All of the cities that top the livability list work to maintain their cultural and historic features, including historic buildings, neighborhoods, streetscapes, parks, and monuments.” 

“Historic preservation is not the answer to all urban (or suburban or rural, for that matter) problems. Neither, though, is it an obstacle to economic development or rational planning. Rather, it is a very useful tool for extending and promoting the cultural side o a city; for saving places with special character, rich or poor; and for making or keeping a city livable.
“What makes a city livable is that… people want to live – and work – there. … As we have shown, protecting the physical heritage of the city is an important component of the Livable Cities equation – and the best thing about it is that it’s already there! All you have to do is avoid destroying it.”