A “wild rollercoaster ride” is how many have described the 2023 legislative session in Oregon!

From new leadership, to a Senate walkout that stalled legislative progress for six weeks, to a frenzied final week to push stalled bills and a budget over the line, this year’s session was certainly a thrilling, nail-biting experience. Restore Oregon published our ambitious legislative agenda back in January, but then added to that agenda, and engaged in many more bills than we originally anticipated. With your help, we were able to achieve the passage of bills that will strengthen and reinforce cultural and historic preservation efforts throughout the state. But, as is often the case, there were unforeseen bills that could have proved harmful or counterproductive to preservation goals - bills that required evaluation and meetings with stakeholders in an effort to find moderated solutions, and when negotiations failed, inviolable opposition.   

Thank you to each of you who, when asked and called upon, took time to submit testimony, call your legislators, and add your voice!  Big kudos to our Policy & Advisory Committee members, and an extra thank you to our volunteer chair, Carrie Richter, who really doubled down on our technical land use work.    

The biggest outcomes include:

  • $10 million in the next biennium for the Main Street Revitalization Grant program, which fuels so many historic preservation efforts, especially in rural Oregon.
  • An upcoming study to help develop future financial incentives for historic preservation, such as a potential state historic tax credit and a grant program!
  • The controversial land use bill, HB 3414, was defeated by a single vote in the Senate.  We hope that our actions in opposition to this bill inspire a larger coalition to create a productive set of tools for increasing housing production going forward, without sacrificing existing preservation protections. 
  • While a new legislative Arts Caucus was launched, and a record number of elected officials joined this important coalition, funding and support for the arts/culture/heritage nonprofit sector did not materialize as proposed. Proposed funding was $281.8 million, while what passed totaled $19.5 million. (That’s just 7% of the proposed total.)    

By the bills, here’s a more detailed breakdown of our robust advocacy work this session:

Historic Preservation Financial Incentives

Supported and Passed HB 2079 – a study bill to create a case for a future set of historic preservation financial incentive tools in Oregon.  The Legislative Revenue Office will research both a state historic tax credit and a grant incentive for residential properties as part of this work.

Supported and Stalled SB 149 – would have extended the sunset date on the Historic Properties Special Assessment program from 2024 to 2031. This program is the ONLY historic preservation incentive currently available in the State. We will work in the next short session to help revive this important legislation.

Re-Use of Existing Structures in Encouraging Housing Production and Fighting Climate change 

Supported and Passed SB 919  - Authorizes cities or counties to adopt five-year property tax exemption for newly constructed accessory dwelling units, or newly converted duplexes, triplexed or quadplexes, that are used as an occupant's primary residence.

Supported and Passed HB 2984 – Incentivizes the conversion of buildings from commercial use to housing by prohibiting local governments from requiring any discretionary land use review, in addition to incentives related to parking and reduction of system development charges.

Supported and Passed HB 3409 and HB 3630 – The “climate package” included funding for the development of a comprehensive state energy assessment and strategy; also includes a home efficiency and a retrofit energy savings program.

Opposed and Not Passed HB 3414 -  A portion of this bill required that local governments waive and not apply existing protections for historic resources for both individually and district-designated places whenever requested in order to develop new housing. Restore Oregon offered modest amendments to limit the language to accomplish the desired housing production goals and protect historic resources, but none of these efforts resonated with decision-makers. Restore Oregon was joined by a number of conservation groups and land use planning advocates in opposition. Ultimately, the bill was defeated as a result of an additional late amendment that would allow for the expansion of urban growth boundaries without compliance with land use laws. Although Restore Oregon supports making it easier to build housing on lands zoned for residential uses, that authorization needs to be redirected to allow housing production while also preserving mutually agreed-upon culture and heritage protections.  

Funding Bills

Supported and Partially Passed HB 5030/Lottery Bond funds – $10 million to the Main Street Revitalization Grant program, as well as funding for two of the sixteen capital projects that the Cultural Advocacy Coalition presented for consideration. Four million dollars will be invested into two historic buildings in Portland serving the Native Arts and Culture Foundation and Literary Arts. The other slate of capital projects (requesting almost $8 million) went unfunded, including the Chateau at the Oregon Caves, which is one of Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places.

Supported and Passed HB 3532 – Authorizes the Oregon Cultural Trust to modernize its administrative cost calculations offering the agency more internal funding flexibility, which required no new funding.

Supported and Stalled HB 2459 – This bill would have provided Oregon Cultural Trust with $200 million in lottery funds, fulfilling the original funding level promised two decades ago.  

Supported and Partially Passed HB 2498 became SB 5506 – Fifty million dollars was proposed to fund cultural venues and arts/culture/heritage entities statewide as part of the pandemic recovery relief. This comprehensive funding effort stalled, but in the budget process, SB 5506 funded 78 specific cultural venues at 50% of their $11.2 million request. 

Looking Forward

The 2024 legislative short session is just around the corner. Our work will begin in August on strategizing how best to present the role and impact that historic preservation can play in supporting Oregon in addressing two urgent crises – housing and climate.  

We already know that we must:

  • Advocate for the implementation of new tools and incentives to increase housing production while, at the same time, retaining existing cultural and historic protections. 
  • Incentivizing the reuse and repurposing of existing structures as a fast and efficient way to reduce carbon emissions and respond to the global climate crisis. Financial incentives should include tax credits, grants and, if necessary in the meantime, extending the sunset date for the Special Assessment Program, the only existing historic preservation financial incentive in Oregon. 
  • Expand existing connections and seek partners with shared objectives including arts/culture/heritage-focused groups as well as environmental/conservation and land use planning advocates.

This is an exciting time, but we will need everyone’s help. Please continue to read our advocacy updates, and consider actively participating when we issue an action alert requesting letters, calls, testimony or collaborative action in the months ahead.  

Finally, it is only through policy and advocacy work that Restore Oregon can educate and persuade government officials and promote the adoption of laws and regulations that protect and further preservation efforts throughout the state. Successful advocacy at the legislative level requires substantial financial resources, yet we have no dedicated funding for this critical work. Please consider an unrestricted donation to Restore Oregon in support of our policy efforts.


Photo: Dan Meyers