Newly proposed legislation may have some positive impacts in Union County if it passes. A recent proposal from Speaker of the House Tina Kotek could ease the housing crisis in Union County — and across the state.

The bill would end single-family zoning, according to an Associated Press article. Cities with more than 10,000 people would be required to offer, in addition to single family homes, what’s known as “middle” housing options. That means building more residential structures with multiple dwelling units, like duplexes and triplexes.

Proponents hope the idea will give residents more affordable housing options in cities and suburban neighborhoods while allowing for more development. If the bill passes, Oregon would become the first state to eliminate single-family zoning.

While the proposal is still brand-new — so new that some Realtors in La Grande had not heard of it yet — John Howard and Ashley O’Toole predict it could help out the local housing shortage if it does pass.

“It is a welcome addition,” said O’Toole, a Realtor for John Howard and Associates. “It could make properties more marketable.”

Builders in Oregon have not been able to construct enough houses and apartments to meet the demands of the thousands of people moving to the state for jobs and, in some cases, for a lower cost of living, according to the AP article. Many people move to the state from California.

The plan is meant to alleviate a rental market that’s reaching capacity, according to the article. A study from the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest found that only 63 new housing units were created for every 100 new families in Oregon from 2010 to 2016.

“The state’s housing crisis requires a combination of bolder strategies,” Kotek said in a statement. “Oregon needs to build more units, and we must do so in a way that increases housing opportunity for more people. Allowing more diverse housing types in single family neighborhoods will increase housing choice and affordability, and that’s a fight that I’m willing to take on.”

O’Toole said this new legislation, if passed, could make it easier for people to convert a garage into an apartment, or to build a home on their property for extra income.

“There’s definitely increased investment property potential,” he said.

Howard said he agrees this could be good for La Grande.

“It gives an opportunity to the homeowner to have additional income if they choose or if they need to create an auxiliary dwelling for a loved one (who needs to live close),” Howard said.

Economists say the high housing demand has caused the cost of renting to skyrocket, according to the AP article. One in three renters pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent, far higher than the 30 percent recommendation set by Congress.

But homeowners have slammed the idea of easing zoning restrictions, flooding the Legislature with written testimony saying the measure will destroy the character of neighborhoods and lead to overcrowding, according to the article. Some city officials have also come out against the idea, saying it encroaches on local control.

However, to Howard and O’Toole, the zoning changes could be a fix to what is continuously hindering the La Grande population.

“As years go by, there are fewer lots to build on,” Howard said. “(The proposed legislation) creates an opportunity to ease the housing pressure. (Property owners) can expand and take advantage of vacant land or large yards.”

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