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OR Lawmakers Pass Nation's First Bill Curtailing Single-Family Zoning

Oregon lawmakers passed the first bill in the nation that will allow cities to ban single-family zoning. (Sightline Institute/Flickr)
Oregon lawmakers passed the first bill in the nation that will allow cities to ban single-family zoning. (Sightline Institute/Flickr)
July 2, 2019

SALEM, Ore. — A historic bill that could strike at Oregon's housing affordability crisis is on its way to the governor's desk. After Senate Republicans returned to Salem, legislators passed a bevy of bills before the end of this year's session, including a measure allowing cities to get rid of single-family zoning.

It's the first statewide bill of its kind in the country. Michael Andersen, senior researcher with the Sightline Institute, a sustainability think tank focusing on the Northwest, said single-family zoning was created in the mid-20th century and mainly froze smaller, more affordable housing out of wealthy neighborhoods. He said this new law could make city growth more equitable.

"It will be a way to allow wealthier neighborhoods to bear more of the burdens of development that are, in many cities, currently foisted on less wealthy neighborhoods,” Andersen said.

The measure allows cities with more than 10,000 people to approve duplexes on residential lots, and cities of more than 25,000 to allow triplexes, fourplexes and attached townhouses in areas zoned for residential use.

Critics of the measure hit on two opposing fears. Some said it won't actually lead to the creation of more affordable units, while others argued neighborhoods will radically change if more housing is allowed.

Andersen said the bill simply allows cities to end single-family zoning if they choose to, and that it's true the bill won't directly create more affordable housing. But, he said he believes cities should be able to decide this issue for themselves.

If cities follow through, backers of the measure say it could make more walkable neighborhoods, allow more low-income residents to access amenities usually designated for wealthier areas, and reduce the carbon footprint of homes - mainly from heating and cooling. Andersen analyzed the impact, saying if an 18-home block added one duplex, one triplex and one fourplex, it would greatly reduce the entire street's carbon emissions.

"The savings are so great that most of the homes on that block will not change at all. But the savings for the homes that do exist - if they're built for smaller, attached homes - are so huge that they bring the whole average of the block down 20% in carbon emissions."

Andersen said Portland could roll back single-family zoning by the end of this year. But, he added the measure is not a silver bullet for the housing affordability crisis in Oregon, and more will have to be done to make cities affordable for everyone.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR