DevNW has plans to develop Evergreen Church into 19 units of affordable housing. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A bill that allows affordable housing developments to be sited on land zoned for commercial use or that is owned publicly or by religious groups cleared the Legislature Tuesday. The legislation (Senate Bill 8) allows affordable housing to be built at greater densities.

Affordable housing projects often get bogged down in cumbersome permitting processes that the bill would allow developers to sidestep.

While the city of Salem is already moving toward making the city’s housing stock denser, developers say the bill will clear roadblocks toward building more modestly priced apartments and houses.

Emily Reiman, CEO of nonprofit DevNW, weighed in to support the bill while it was it was being considered by a committee earlier during the legislative session. She said in that for affordable housing projects to work developers “need to find ‘unicorn’ properties.”

That’s land zoned multifamily, that’s for sale at an affordable price, isn’t near a wetland or slope and is near transportation, schools, and other services.

“You can imagine the difficulty,” she wrote in her testimony.

DevNW has plans to develop 19 units of studios and one-bedrooms at 905 Cottage St. N.E. inside Evergreen Church, but faced multiple hurdles including neighborhood pushback over re-zoning the property.

In her letter, Reiman said the bill would remove the re-zoning requirement while maintaining the ability to review project designs.

“Reducing the opportunity for NIMBY-driven costs and delays by 50% while preserving public process and local review at the project level rather than both re-zoning and project level,” she wrote.

Eunice Kim, long-range planning manager at the city of Salem, said the bill aligns with the priorities city staff heard during the Our Salem, an ongoing process that will update how the city’s housing, transportation and development will unfold in coming decades.

“In a lot of ways Our Salem is doing the same thing. Mixed use (zones) would allow affordable housing outright,” Kim said.

Michael Andersen, a senior researcher with the Seattle-based sustainability think tank Sightline Institute, told Salem Reporter the bill will reduce the price per unit of creating affordable homes.

Andersen, who testified in support of the bill, said it will also allow affordable housing projects, some on a small scale, in any neighborhood.

“The overwhelming consensus is that the best way to do affordable housing is to scatter a little bit in every neighborhood,” he said. “It’s healthy for people at different incomes to live in close proximity so you don’t concentrate poverty or privilege.”

Mayor Chuck Bennett wrote in support of the bill saying the need for more affordable housing is acute.

“In the Salem area, roughly half of the new households expected by 2035 are projected to need that level – or a deeper level – of housing affordability, according to the 2015 Salem Housing Needs Analysis. SB 8 would make it easier for this type of affordable housing to be developed,” he wrote.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, sponsored the bill and said the housing crisis isn’t just about affordability.

 “If the only apartment you can afford is two towns over and a 70-minute car ride to your work, I don’t think we’ve solved the problem. SB 8 is about building affordable housing where people want to live,” he said in a statement. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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