SALEM — Redmond would get a second shot at a state affordable housing pilot project under a bill that received wide support at its first public hearing on Monday.

The House Human Services and Housing Committee heard testimony from Central Oregon public officials and civic groups in favor of House Bill 2336.

“We have a significant problem in Central Oregon in terms of affordable housing and housing supply,” testified Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, a chief co-sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, chair of the committee, said she expected the panel would vote to approve the bill at a work session Feb. 18. A vote on the House floor is possible by the end of next week.

“I have heard no opposition to the bill,” Keny-Guyer said.

The bill deals with a hiccup in a program approved by the Legislature in 2016. It encouraged cities to compete for two pilot projects allowing development of affordable housing projects in areas outside their urban growth boundaries.

The winning entries would not have to follow the lengthy process normally required by an expansion of the boundary. The state would monitor the outcome to see if the streamlined rules should be extended to more projects.

State officials expected dozens of proposals, but in the end received only two — one from Bend and one from Redmond. The Bend project was ranked as the first choice.

Bend will develop 394units on 35 acres between U.S. Highway 20 and Bear Creek Road with a mix of affordable housing and market-rate units.

While the Redmond plan drew praise, the city couldn’t be awarded the second project. Language in the original legislation required that one of the projects be awarded to a city under 25,000 population. Redmond, at just over 30,000 population didn’t meet the criteria.

House Bill 2336 would remove the population requirement if no project is submitted by a city under 25,000 population. An amendment expected to be approved next week says the only projects that will be considered were “eligible for selection on or before” Aug. 17.

Only the Redmond proposal meets that criteria.

“Otherwise, it starts it all over,” said Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, a chief co-sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, a chief co-sponsor and also member of the committee, said the Redmond project deserved to move forward with the Bend project. “We will see two different ideas — both are good plans,” Zika said.

If approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown, Redmond could build out the 40-acre Skyline Village project, with about 485 units at a 50-50 mix of affordable housing and market-priced housing.

Redmond Mayor George Endicott testified that the project would help ease an affordable housing shortage in a city where the average home price is $289,000 while the average wage is $40,000.

“Thirty percent of our people live below the poverty line,” Endicott said. “That is unacceptable, but we are doing everything we can.”

Endicott said the area selected for the possible Redmond pilot project wasn’t farmland or other resource-rich acreage.

“This is virtually a rock pile,” he said.

Deschutes County Commission Chairman Phil Henderson said both the Bend and Redmond projects are needed.

“We are housing-cost challenged throughout the county,” he said.

Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair also attended the hearing to lend support to the bill, but did not testify.

The Redmond project is on county-owned land, while the Bend project is on private land.

Erik Kancler, a lobbyist for the city of Bend, said having pilot projects with somewhat different hurdles to overcome could help the state shape the future of the program. The two nearby communities would have the ability to compare progress and problems.

“They can troubleshoot together,” Kancler said.

Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, a member of the committee, said the area desperately needs workforce housing.

“This would help move the needle,” she said.

Without housing relief, Helt said the stress on lower-income residents would create problems beyond the economy.

“You can’t have mental health stability without housing stability,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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