The middle housing crunch isn’t here yet but folks in Corvallis are mighty interested in talking about it.
Community Development Director Paul Bilotta gave a 20-minute presentation on the issue Tuesday at a virtual Ward 6-9 precinct meeting and then he and Councilors Laurie Chaplen (Ward 6) and Ward 9 (Andrew Struthers) moderated a discussion/Q&A on the topic.
Middle housing means duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. And “middle” refers to those housing types being in between single-family homes and large apartment complexes in the construction hierarchy.
In 2019 House Bill 2001 became law. It essentially requires cities of above 25,000, such as Albany and Corvallis, to write new code that allows middle housing in what used to be zones set aside for single-family homes. Cities between 10,000 and 25,000 only have to add duplexes. The new code must be approved by next June.
And it should be noted that the new code will not mandate a duplex in every backyard. It just allows them on lots in which there is enough space — and a property owner or developer wants to build one.
Bilotta noted that in a way, Corvallis already has middle housing, citing examples of attached units in the new Sylvia subdivision, the duplexes at Russell Gardens, townhomes at Willamette Landing and going even further back in time to pieces of the Grand Oaks and Timberhill developments.
The goal of HB 2001 is to increase housing supply and, hopefully, make it more affordable. The problem in Corvallis is acute, Billotta said.
“We can raise our children here, but when they grow up they can’t afford to live here,” he said.
Corvallis also is the most rent-burdened city in the state. The rankings note how many families pay more than 30% of their income in rent. Bilotta added that the presence of Oregon State University students in town skews the numbers because the students, generally, have low income and pay high rent.
Which has led to a recent development trend in which builders put up five bedroom/five bathroom houses and charge students by the room. At $700 per room that yields $3,500 per month in rent, far more than a family might pay, even if they wanted a five-bath house with little common space.
The supply and price issues in Corvallis also have led to a huge "commute" gap between the number of people who work here and live there and the number who work here and want to live here but either can’t afford it or find the right house.
“We like to be No. 1 in a lot of things, but not this one,” said Bilotta of the rankings.
“The goal is to try to make more complete neighborhoods,” Bilotta said while cautioning that the concepts “are coming from the state and they are going to be more than a lot of people in the community might like.”
Tom Jensen, a member of the city’s Planning Commission, noted during the discussion period that “a lot of people have spent a lot time taking care of their properties and they don’t really want that much density surrounding them.”
Jensen and others who participated also expressed concerns about parking. Even if only a modest percentage of property owners add a duplex or triplex, the residents are going to have to park somewhere.
Bilotta noted that HB 2001 wasn't initially focused on parking in the legislation, but in the rulemaking process, "parking became a larger issue and so there were some parking requirements injected into the model code. Since they are in the state's model code and the legislation says we have to meet or beat the model code, there will be state mandated parking changes coming up through HB 2001," he said.
A lot of process remains before the code goes into place. Corvallis used a state grant and hired a consultant and also put together an advisory committee. A City Council work session is the next step, with public hearings before the Planning Commission and the council coming later.
“Things can change at any stage of the process,” Bilotta said. “We’ll just have to see where it goes.”