Farmland is going out of farm production in Oregon at what seems to some to be an alarming rate – near double the nationwide rate. As everyone knows, we also have a dearth of low income housing, at least near urban areas. "Wait a minute!," you say, "what could these two sentences possibly have in common?" Well, they may have an unusual intersection in two items before the 2020 legislative short session.
In 2017, the Oregon legislature established the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP) (ORS 541.977 to 541.989). This legislation was introduced partially in response to the fact that between 1997 and 2017 total land in Oregon that is in farmland production dropped by an average of 85,000 acres per year, from 17.6 million acres to 15.9 million acres. The goal of the OAHP is to help keep working lands in farm production by providing resources for succession planning and leveraging federal funds available through federal farm legislation. President Trump loves farmers – just ask him. However, the OAHP was not funded in 2017. New legislation would provide $5 million in funding for the program, with the goal of stemming the tide of declining acreage in farm use.
HB 4095, on the other hand, would allow any city to expand its urban growth boundary (UGB) by up to 50 acres if 30% of the development planned for that land would be affordable housing. This legislation would take a two-city pilot program established by HB 4079 in 2016 (ORS 197.315) and expand it state-wide. This raises the possibility that the legislature will be debating whether to potentially be voting to assist retaining farmland in farm production and at the same time voting to encourage some land to be converted to development for low income housing. Two laudable goals may end up working at cross purposes.