Tualatin’s housing shortage is only one piece of a broader regional problem. Like many complex social challenges, there aren’t any “silver bullets” — answers that will fix everything at once. Fortunately, there are many policy makers, researchers, and community members working together to identify strategies that can begin to provide more housing options.
This past Monday, Tualatin’s Business Advocacy Council invited Michael Andersen (@andersem), Senior Fellow at the Sightline Institute, to present on the topic of housing in Tualatin. Although Michael isn’t an expert on Tualatin specifically, he contextualized our local housing shortages with the economic trends of Washington County, and then identified the solutions other cities are already applying.
Watch Michael’s presentation embedded above or on Vimeo. There was a good Q&A session too but the video for that was incomplete. You can also read the (machine-generated) full transcript below. Thanks to Joseph Konty for video recording and Tim Garrett at Matchlight Video for post-production work.
If you’d like to learn more about missing-middle housing / residential infill, including its associated practical and social challenges, listen to this Think Out Loud interview with Michael Andersen and Portland city planner Joe Zehnder.
This is a statement I made for public record to the Tualatin Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, May 17th. The outcome of the conversation is that City Staff is re-evaluating the parking requirement and will offer alternative suggestions at the next meeting.
Thank you for the work you do.
My name is Daniel Bachhuber. I’m a long time resident of Tualatin, born and raised in Fox Hills and now raising my own family near Jurgens Park. I’m here tonight, instead of at home with my wife and kids, because I’m concerned about our city’s lack of attention to the housing crisis. If it’s not something we address proactively, it will become a significant problem that will ultimately impact my family’s long-term wellbeing, and my property’s long-term value.
As it relates to tonight’s meeting, I have two points I’d like to include in the public record.
First, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development issued technical guidance for Oregon Senate Bill 1051, which is absent from the Staff Report. I’ve brought three copies for your reference. Notably, the technical guidance states:
- “Requiring off‐street parking is one of the biggest barriers to developing ADUs and it is recommended that jurisdictions not include an off‐street parking requirement in their ADU standards.”
- Also: “So that lot coverage requirements do not preclude ADUs from being built on smaller lots, local governments should review their lot coverage standards to make sure they don’t create a barrier to development.”
Second, the Staff Report Executive Summary states: the local regulations for ADU’s must be clear and objective to make it easier to build ADU’s.
However the Staff Report does not include any data on the total number of single family dwellings with three or more off-street parking slots (the minimum required for an ADU under proposed regulations), nor does it include data on the number of lots that have sufficient space for a detached ADU with current setbacks. Based on the information provided, it appears the proposed development code does not fulfill the spirit of Senate Bill 1051 and even contradicts the statement in the Executive Summary.
ADUs are an accessible, under-appreciated housing option. They can increase housing availability while also fitting within and preserving the aesthetic of the neighborhood. For a downsizing senior, building and living an interior ADU may be a way to stay in their home while earning cash from the larger part of their house. For a younger couple, building and renting out an interior ADU may permit them to afford housing closer to work.
I strongly encourage you to use the development code changes to promote, not hamper, ADUs as one part of the solution to the housing crisis.
Here’s a secret: not only is there a way out of the housing crisis, but you could make money from it too.
“Accessory Dwelling Unit”, or ADU for short, is a broad label used for a variety of secondary living spaces on or in an existing primary residential property. They can be interior (e.g. converting an unnecessary bonus room) or detached (e.g. a small structure at the back of your house). If you built an ADU in this market, you could easily rent it out and make up to $1,000/month.
However, there is a caveat. Building an ADU in Tualatin is hampered by a single clause of the Tualatin Development Code: adding an ADU requires one off-street driveway spot, in addition to the two driveway spots required for the primary residence. Even though your neighbor can park five cars in their driveway and on the street, you can’t build an ADU at your house if it only has a two car driveway. According to Kol Peterson, author of Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development, the off-street parking requirement is one of three “poison pill” regulations that significantly hamper ADU development.
Tualatin, like much of the Portland Metro area, has significant problems with housing affordability and availability. Buying a new house at $500,000 requires a family to save over $100,000 for the down payment, and then pay $2,400/month for mortgage and property tax. Rents have skyrocketed too: two bedroom apartments now start at $1,400/month. And this isn’t just a low-income problem. More and more in the community are feeling the financial stress of these costs.
ADUs are an under-appreciated housing option. They can increase housing availability while also fitting within and preserving the aesthetic of the neighborhood. They’re typically between 300 and 800 square feet, good for one or two people to live in. An interior ADU doesn’t typically require structural modifications, and its door is on the side or back of the house. Detached ADUs are usually located in the back of the house, with access along the side.
Picture your standard, single-family suburban house in Tualatin. Many houses are 2,000-3,000 square feet and have a bonus room over the garage. Other houses might have a basement, or a large-enough lot for a small structure in the backyard. Any of these spaces could be converted to an ADU. An ADU is simply a secondary, yet complete, living space (kitchen, bath, and bedroom) on the lot of a primary dwelling.
ADUs are also an accessible investment opportunity. For a downsizing senior, building and living an interior ADU may be a way to stay in their home earning cash from the larger part of their house. For a younger couple, building and renting out an interior ADU may permit them to afford closer housing to work than they otherwise could. And, for empty nesters, building an ADU could help their kids afford to start a family much closer to home.
Last August, Oregon passed Senate Bill 1051 which requires all cities to allow ADUs. While the specific definition of “allow” isn’t included in the bill, technical guidance from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development strongly recommends dropping the off-street parking requirement. Cities that have already removed this requirement have seen a strong uptick in permitted ADUs.
Yet, even with this official recommendation, Tualatin has no plans to drop the off-street parking requirement from its Development Code. In fact, nearly all efforts to introduce more housing options are blocked by an upcoming, multi-year rewrite of the Tualatin Development Code.
There’s no silver bullet to the housing crisis. The dip in home building caused by the Great Recession is out of our control, as is the trend of people moving to Oregon. But, doing nothing and hoping the problem goes away will only cause more problems in the long-term. Instead, Tualatin would greatly benefit from taking the lead in exploring all potential housing options. While ADUs may be a drop in the bucket, they represent a ton of symbolic value in managing growth on our own terms.
Two upcoming opportunities to make your voice heard: the Planning Commission meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 pm and the City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 29th at 7 pm. Both are at the Juanita Pohl Center.