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Workforce Housing Legislative Update - A Conversation with The Oregon iSector

It’s no secret that Oregon is facing a housing underproduction crisis. An approximately 140,000-unit deficit has been identified, placing our state amongst the lowest housing per capita rates in the country. While a great deal of attention has been given to affordable housing needs for those making less than 60% of the area median income (AMI), workforce housing for those making 60-120% AMI represents a considerable 30% of Oregon’s total unit need. Middle income housing is built least often, since it lacks the subsidies of affordable housing and the higher sales and rental prices of market rate housing, but generally costs the same. Without changes, developing workforce housing makes little economic sense, even though its residents drive our economy.

The key to finding solutions for Oregon’s workforce housing underproduction, according to Greg Wolf, Executive Director of The Oregon iSector, lies in the partnership between the public, private, and civic sectors. The Oregon iSector, a non-profit that provides a platform for launching cross-sector partnerships to address key economic and environmental needs in the state, is very much aligned with our mission at the Missing Middle Housing Fund: find creative, out of the box solutions to produce more workforce housing.

The Oregon iSector and its Housing Innovation Partnership (HIP), comprised of over 35 public and private organizations, have been leading the way over the past year and a half in proposing legislation to address workforce housing. Co-chaired by Oregon State Representative Pam Marsh and Megan Loeb of the Oregon Community Foundation, the HIP currently has three bills under consideration in the Ways and Means Committee at the State Legislature that, if passed, would provide greatly needed financing opportunities to produce more housing

We sat down recently with Wolf and his colleague, Rachel Howard, to learn more about how their legislative efforts are progressing. Here are some of the highlights:

·There are currently three proposed pieces of legislation awaiting further review that could positively impact workforce housing. These include:

  1. House Bill 2980: Establishes a revolving loan fund for municipalities to fill critical financing needs for housing. Local jurisdictions receive loans from Business Oregon to provide predevelopment grants to select projects that meet community needs. The projects receive a tax abatement, but are charged a commensurate fee that enables the municipality to pay back the state loan over 10 years. This $300M Bill is expected to produce 12,000 units and will generate additional units as the fund is regenerated over time.

  2. House Bill 2981: Provides three key financing vehicles to stimulate workforce housing production for developers, including an infrastructure/grant loan fund (IGLF) for public improvements, such as costly street and utility improvements; an Oregon Land Fund (OLF) for early acquisition and predevelopment of workforce housing developments; and a Workforce Housing Construction Guarantee Fund (WHCG), which incentivizes private capital to support workforce housing construction at beneficial borrowing costs. This Bill requests $60M, however, according to Wolf, the final amount could be amended in the legislative process.

  3. House Bill 3174: Increases local capacity to carry out community development and construction activities by helping to begin filling the gap of approximately 450 workers to help accelerate permitting and streamline local construction processes.

·Additionally, as part of the Governor’s Emergency Homelessness Response package approved in March of this year, $20M was set aside to provide grants or loans to expand production capacity of modular housing and components. The HIP was instrumental in elevating the need for modular housing and incorporating the idea to incentivize its production into the Bill. Modular housing is one key approach to reducing build time and costs.

The iSector team is also working to develop a Center for Innovation Excellence with the Oregon Mass Timber Coalition. The objective is to determine how mass timber can be utilized to help accelerate housing production and to see what can happen when efforts across the sector are coordinated. For example, the Coalition is currently working with the Port of Portland at Terminal T2 to build an innovation hub and factory which will help support modular home production and serve communities in need. The Oregon iSector will help identify where investments are needed most to help facilitate additional mass timber production.

Wolf hopes that news of these initiatives will help to highlight the tremendous need for workforce housing that we currently have in Oregon. He believes that a great deal of education is required to help people better understand the middle housing market and why housing for this important segment has been missing for so long. Together we hope to see more innovations in financing and production that can ultimately be shared at the local level with schools, employers, chambers of commerce, community development organizations, and anyone else who has a vested interest in making a dent in our housing goals

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