In the community

Former Ontario mayor calls work on state housing commission rewarding

ONTARIO – A longtime local contractor said his time on a state committee working to solve Oregon’s housing crisis was a complex but rewarding experience.

Riley Hill, Ontario’s former mayor, spent the past year as a member of the 25-person Housing Production Advisory Council. The council membership ranged from legislators to tribal members to state agency chiefs and housing developers.

The council’s goal was to craft a path to meet Gov. Tina Kotek’s goal of producing 36,000 new homes per year for the state.

“We had certified public accountants, economists, builders, people that ran housing authorities, a good cross section. It was a little heavier on government people than not but it was a pretty good committee,” said Hill.

The council spent the past year tackling key issues tied to producing housing such as land use, land development permits, codes and regulations and financing. The group also considered how to boost the state’s construction workforce.

The priority for the group was to develop a blueprint that “is equitable and affirmatively furthers fair housing,” according to the report.

In December, the council delivered a 48-page report to the governor that outlined 49 recommendations.

 “Decades of underproduction have driven up home prices and rents and left too many Oregonians without adequate housing choices. Too often, Oregonians can’t afford housing at all,” the report said. “Further, the people suffering most acutely from the housing shortage are disproportionally lower income households and communities of color.”

The committee recommended speeding up the process to allow housing on state-owned property, prioritizing funding to cities that have identified infrastructure needs for housing and allowing cities to use a one-time expansion of their urban growth boundaries to provide more land for housing.

Hill said now that the report is on the governor’s desk “the proof will be in the pudding.”

“It will hinge on whether the governor can implement the recommendations regulatorily,” he said.

Hill said the work by the council was serious.

“It was quite a bit of work. You had to read and prep and kind of know what was going on. There was some complex stuff there,” he said.

Hill said his time on the council was “worth it.”

“There were some good recommendations and some poor recommendations. I voted against three or four,” he said.

Hill said he voted against a proposal to provide a $20,000 credit for modular homes. He said the legislature already earmarked money for modular home factories.

“So why give them $20,000?” he said.

Hill supported a recommendation to streamline how contractors install sewer and water lines and electrical service to a home.

Now, he said, a contractor can install sewer and water and electrical conduits up to the street before the home then must stop and allow a licensed plumber and electrician to connect them to a house.

“That is a stupid rule. There is no reason a general contractor or an excavation contractor can’t run it all at the same time to the house,” said Hill.

The council’s recommendation will allow a contractor to install water, sewer lines and an electrical conduit “to a point that terminates not more than three feet into the building footprint.”

Hill said there are no easy answers to expanding the state’s inventory of housing, especially regarding homes for low-income individuals.

Such housing is the “most expensive housing you can build,” he said. “It costs twice as much to go through that type of program because of all the regulatory stuff you have to go through.”

The council usually met twice a month virtually, said Hill. He said attended two of the council meetings in Salem.

He said Kotek met with the board three times and he spoke to her regarding the housing challenges in Oregon.

“She listened,” he said.

Hill said he will adopt a wait-and-see attitude regarding the future of housing in Oregon.

“We will see what the Legislature and the governor does with the recommendations,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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