Pamplin Media Group – Bill makes it easier to convert Oregon motels to low cost housing

House vote sends bill to Senate to avoid possible legal challenges

Converting hotels and motels into emergency shelters and low-cost housing would be relaxed under a bill that is halfway through the Oregon legislature.

The House voted 41-12 on Wednesday, March 31 to send the bill to the Senate.

House Bill 3261 would exclude converting hotels and motels purchased for emergency shelter or low cost housing from land use issues in cities and counties. Lawmakers made federal money available for such purchases last year as part of the Turnkey Project, overseen by the Oregon Community Foundation.

Representative Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said some projects have continued but others have stalled despite community support.

“The need to continue zoning changes often gets in the way of large projects,” said Marsh, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s a problem when we have a homelessness and social housing crisis.

“This will allow us to reuse hotels and motels that have served tourists and become facilities that will house the most vulnerable among us. As a building meant to care for people, it doesn’t matter who rests their head on that pillow. . ”

Marsh represents a neighborhood that lost 2,500 homes to the Almeda fire, which swept north from Ashland through Talent and Phoenix. It was one of the Labor Day wildfires that swept through Oregon. Many of the displaced residents were low-income families who found themselves with few affordable alternatives for housing.

The bill applies to buildings located within the limits of urban growth and outside areas zoned for heavy industrial use. They must have access to transportation and be outside flood plains or other designated danger areas.

Local governments can still apply other restrictions, such as building codes, occupancy limits, and “reasonable” site and design standards.

Housing is defined as “affordable” if eligible residents earn less than 60% of the median income in the area.

“Some of these facilities will remain as shelters or transitional housing. But in other cases, the long-term use that a community needs the most will be low-income housing,” said Marsh. “Hotels and motels that may not be suitable for today’s travelers are the perfect place to provide people in crisis with the stability and support they need to move towards permanent housing. ”

Republican House Leader Christine Drazan of Canby spoke out against the bill.

As a member of the Legislative Assembly’s Emergency Council, she voted on October 23 for $ 30 million for the turnkey project in areas affected by wildfires and $ 35 million for the key project. on hand in other regions. (The board then rejected the latter amount, but reversed itself and approved it on November 9.)

Drazan recognized the urgent need to provide shelter for people who have lost their homes for whatever reason. But she objected to the eventual purchase of the Red Fox Motel in Estacada as a refuge, saying it was better suited for long-term tourism. (Clackamas County Commissioners voted 3-2 on January 28 to suspend further consideration of the purchase.)

Drazan also said lawmakers were creating an exception to Oregon’s land use laws, instead of relaxing restrictions to allow more housing to be built.

“Instead of fixing our land use system and the things that don’t work, we give a pass, we do an exclusion,” she said. “We are creating a path back because it doesn’t work.”

Republicans were divided on the bill, eight voting for and 12 against; the other three have been excused. All Democrats present voted in favor. The House is still missing one member.

Representative Jack Zika, R-Redmond, said the bill would facilitate the proposed purchase of the Bethlehem Inn in his district.

The bill, at just over a page, was read aloud by a clerk because minority Republicans refused to waive the constitutional requirement to read bills in their entirety before a vote final. More than 80 bills are waiting to be placed on the agenda of the House.

But this bill rose to the top of the agenda as a replacement version was offered by Rep. Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass, who then decided not to move it forward.

Marsh said a private investor bought three hotels or motels in Medford to convert them into housing. Although House Bill 3261 would not apply to these bills, she said, “it validates this model.”

“At a time when our community has lost 2,500 homes to wildfires, maybe it is the actions of this private entity that are really saving our bacon,” Marsh added. “He is making the only significant and tangible effort to create new homes very quickly in a community that has been devastated.”

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