Single-Family Zoning and the Housing Crisis

By Robert Parker

IPRE has worked on housing issues in Oregon for nearly 30 years. Our research concludes that Oregon has had housing affordability issues for decades.  In recent years, housing affordability has reached crisis status in many communities. For example, in 2017 identified Eugene as having the second tightest housing market in the country. Census data shows that more than 100,000 renter households in Oregon were cost-burdened (e.g., pay more than 30% of their monthly income for housing). n 2016. Moreover, 26 Oregon cities with populations over 10,000 are considered “rent-burdened” (more than a quarter of renter households pay more than 50% of their monthly income for housing) by the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department.

The issue has the attention of the Oregon legislature, who has passed several important legislative initiatives to address housing affordability.  Rebecca Lewis and Bob Parker supported the Department of Land Conservation and Development in developing the Affordable Housing Pilot Program, which tests simplifying urban growth boundary amendments as a tool to facilitate affordable housing development by providing land. In 2017, the Oregon legislature passed a law (Senate Bill 1051) requiring cities of over 2,500 population to allow accessory dwelling units (aka “granny flats”) in areas zoned for single-family homes.

In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed a statewide rent control policy.  This was a response to rapidly increasing rents in many Oregon communities. HB 2003 requires Oregon Housing and Community Services to prepare regional housing needs analyses and for municipalities with populations over 10,000 to develop housing production strategies.

Attributes of single-family housing in 2018

Perhaps the most controversial and innovative legislation that came out of the 2019 session was House Bill 2001. The bill seeks to provide Oregonians with more housing choices–particularly affordable housing. The law allows development of traditional housing types, like duplexes, in residential zones. These housing types already exist in most cities, but were outlawed for decades in many communities. These limitations contribute to increased housing costs and fewer choices. House Bill 2001 will require updates to local laws that currently limit the types of housing people can build.

Rebecca and I recently wrote a piece for The Conversation on initiatives to ban single-family zoning. Our piece comments on the social and environmental implications of exclusive single-family zoning. While we conclude that HB 2001 will probably not have an immediate impact in most Oregon communities (with the exception of Portland), HB 2001 and similar initiatives mark a sea change in policy response to America’s affordability crisis.

You can access The Conversation article using the link below.


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