By editorial board • 

Affordable housing pilot project could lead to creative solutions

The McMinnville City Council last week discussed a package of state laws passed last year to combat the shortage of affordable housing plaguing Oregon, particularly in rural areas. Among them was a bill creating a pilot project that will allow two test cities to add 50 acres to their urban growth boundaries and dedicate the land to affordable housing. 

One city must be under 25,000 in population, leaving just one spot available for McMinnville, should it decide to apply. Because the measure excludes the populous urban counties of Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Marion, only eight cities are eligible for consideration in the over-25,000 category.

Skirting the state’s notoriously cumbersome land use laws, and the inevitable litigation their use brings, makes this an appealing opportunity. 

The state was creative in proposing this idea. And it gives the winning city a chance to be equally creative with the implementation, which is something McMinnville is good at.

This project could produce positive change worthy of replication throughout the state. Bus routes could be extended to serve the new neighborhood, and there would be an opportunity to create a sustainable, eco-friendly development. 

Fears of creating “ghettos” on the outskirts of McMinnville are more fearmongering than well-grounded objections, in our opinion. After all, said development would likely abut existing sites.

No one is proposing some sort of shabby shanty town. The goal is to create good homes for working residents at a cost that allows them to live comfortably, and ideally help curb the strain on governmental social services. 

The path to an ample supply of affordable housing in McMinnville remains by no means clear, simple and straight. But the conversations held on the issue are proving constructive, convincing us the city is making a genuine effort to find its way.

It’s a good sign when the nine-member affordable housing task force created last fall by the council engages in constructive discussion on an issue perilously challenging for cities throughout Oregon.

Of all the options on the table, we favor those that incentivize developers to increase density on land already within the UGB. Councilor Remy Drabkin’s request for compilation of an inventory of vacant property that could support such development is a positive initial step toward a comprehensive plan. 

But as long as participation as a pilot won’t distract the city from pursuing those goals, we think the state program an opportunity worth pursuing.

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