Cottage cluster housing could help ease the local housing crunch, but a number of barriers discourage developers from building it, according to a new report prepared for the City Club of Corvallis.
In the first white paper created specifically for the club, the Oregon State University Policy Analysis Laboratory — known as OPAL — investigated the potential of cluster housing to provide affordable dwellings for Corvallis-area residents as well as the challenges that may be preventing it from being built.
OPAL staff members Allison Daniel, Rebekah Degner and Alexa Diaz, all graduate students at OSU, spent seven months sifting through published research and interviewing housing developers, city employees and community members to produce the 28-page report, which they presented at Tuesday’s meeting of the City Club.
As the name implies, cottage cluster housing is defined as small (less than 1,000 square feet) detached homes clustered around a central common space. Each cottage is individually owned, and the common areas are generally managed by a homeowners association or similar entity.
Because of their higher density, clustered cottages have smaller per-unit land costs than single-family homes and are said to foster a sense of community among residents.
“Cottage cluster housing is a great option for aging populations looking to downsize, new families and young professionals,” said Diaz.
But even though the Corvallis land development code allows this type of housing in several residential zones, no such developments are being built here.
According to the OPAL report, several factors come into play, including ambiguous language in the city code, a limited supply of available land and development cost issues.
The lack of land availability could be addressed by annexing more land, but under the Corvallis charter, that requires a vote of the people, effectively preventing the city from taking action to expand its land base.
“That is a major factor,” Degner said.
For developers, there are several cost drivers that make building cottage cluster housing problematic, she said. One is the fact that systems development charges must be paid for each unit in the cluster because each is considered a freestanding home, but the sales price is lower than for a traditional single-family residence. The time it takes to obtain the various permits and land-use approvals required to build cluster housing also add to the cost for developers.
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“It’s more profitable to build one large house,” Degner said.
Another potential hurdle: opposition from neighbors. A case study of a proposed cluster development in Adair Village found owners of traditional single-family homes in the area were against the project.
The report recommends several incentives to encourage the construction of cottage cluster housing in Corvallis, including:
• Density bonuses, which would allow more units per acre in a given residential zone.
• Fee waivers or reductions for cluster housing.
• Streamlining the land-use approval and permitting process and providing clear timelines.
• Expanding the land supply through annexation.
But the report is also careful to note that none of these things will work without strong support from the community.
Former Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning, who led the City Club committee that made the research proposal to OPAL and moderated Tuesday’s discussion, underscored that point.
“In thinking about our city here it seems many great ideas are built from the ground up, starting with a supportive community,” Manning said.
While the cluster housing report is the first white paper produced for the City Club of Corvallis, it probably won’t be the last. The club intends to propose other research topics to OPAL in the future, Manning said.