Julia Shumway

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) A bill that would help small cities build at least 585 homes is headed to Gov. Tina Kotek.

House Bill 4134, spearheaded by Rep. Lucetta Elmer, R-McMinnville, is the final component of a $376 million housing package the Legislature approved this year. It provides $7 million in grants to Burns, McMinnville, Amity and Toledo for infrastructure projects to help the small cities add homes. The bill passed the House on a 54-2 vote earlier this week and passed the Senate on a 28-0 vote on Thursday.

Elmer told the Capital Chronicle the proposal began with conversations with city officials in McMinnville last spring. McMinnville approved a subdivision with 290 lots in 2007, but the land has sat vacant for years because the homes can’t be built without water infrastructure that will cost an estimated $2 million.

“I’m fiscally conservative when it comes to our tax dollars, but I like the idea of taking one-time taxpayer money for infrastructure, but then tying it to private money,” Elmer said.

In McMinnville, a developer was ready to start building homes as soon as the infrastructure was in place. Elmer didn’t want to limit her request to just McMinnville, so she looked for other cities with a population of 50,000 or less that had housing projects that could move forward quickly with infrastructure investments.

She started with 11 cities, but the list was narrowed to four as the bill moved through the Legislature. Elmer said she plans to introduce a similar bill next year to help more cities. The proposal would require developers to commit to ensuring that at least 30% of homes are affordable to people making 130% or less of the area median income.

McMinnville would receive $2 million for water pipes and pumps through the proposal. Burns would get $3 million for water, sewer and stormwater site improvements for the planned 161-home Miller Springs subdivision. Amity would get $1.5 million for stormwater infrastructure and road improvements to allow for construction of 35 new affordable homes. And $640,000 for water, sewer, infrastructure and road improvements in Toledo would support a new apartment complex.

The overall housing package includes Senate Bill 1530 and Senate Bill 1537 and includes $376 million for infrastructure funding, homebuilding, homeless shelters and rent assistance, along with changes to state land use laws to make it easier for cities to build homes.