WLAIC

Equitable Housing in West Linn

WLAIC’s November meeting focused on housing in West Linn and its impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The recent Clackamas County Regional Housing Needs Analysis (Sept. 2019), highlighted West Linn’s lack of available unbuilt land within the city limits. West Linn is forecast to need 998 new housing units over the next 20 years, but the available land for building in the city can only provide for 341 new units.

Issues surround housing in West Linn have featured prominently in recent local news articles. West Linn City Government will be grappling with affordable housing issues as it considers State House Bill 2001 and the bill’s provisions to increase housing supply and improve affordability. The bill has generated controversy with proponents and detractors. Representative Rachel Prusak recently published an open letter concerning comments at a West Linn City Council meeting on possible city refusal to implement the legislation. Mayor Axelrod has responded with a letter that states:

” We also understand and fully support the basis and underlying goals of HB2001” … “Tragically, the concern is these will not be affordable housing units when built in these more isolated locations, and the benefits to the State-required allowed housing will principally be to the developer’s pockets”

Equitable housing was also a relevant topic at the October 2019 Multi-City Equity Summit. Productive conversations were held on this topic in the work session on Government & Communities Moving Forward. The cities of West Linn, Wilsonville, Tigard, Tualatin, and Lake Oswego were all represented in these discussions, and all cities expressed a commitment to implementing diversity through hiring and training. A common theme in these conversations was that affordable housing is a significant barrier in both attracting and retaining diverse staff.

Wilsonville is exploring affordable housing through an Equitable Housing Task Force. A good recap of the second task force meeting is provided by Garet Prior. Garet’s website, A Garet in Wilsonville, offers a wealth of resources regarding equity strategies in local government.

Group discussions at the November meeting were robust and summary points from these discussions are posted below:

  • The geography and topography of West Linn make housing, and the transportation framework to service it, a complicated issue.
  • Any consideration of high-density, multi-family housing must also provide for transportation infrastructure to support it.
  • West Linn currently is a home-based municipality (bedroom community) with a very limited commercial tax base.
  • The community is unusually homogeneous with regard to culture, race, and socio-economic status. Increasing diversity in West Linn will require more medium to high-density housing and a reduction in average entry costs for both renters and homeowners. This will only happen if a significant number of residents believe that diversity adds value to the community.
  • Building codes, zoning restrictions, and building fees are all important factors in how the city will develop in the future. A general feeling was that building fees and zoning restrictions are two major factors working against smaller, more affordable dwellings.
  • Effective public transit systems connecting West Linn to the greater Portland area could change the nature of how existing housing is utilized and allow for higher density usage of those existing properties.
  • There is very little clarity on how HB2001 will contribute to more affordable housing in West Linn, or how it currently fits into West Linn’s long range plans.

All participants in the general meeting discussions agreed that housing was a complex issue, and solutions require both government and community to work together. Change in the structural and cultural characteristics of West Linn is inevitable. The challenge for the community is to shape that change into their vision of the future.

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