Oregon Takes Steps to Improve Housing Availability

By Anthony SanFilippo

Minneapolis started a trend to try and improve housing availability, and now the state of Oregon is trying to make that trend viral.

In August, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a variety of bills into law that are designed to fix the state’s housing crunch.

In doing so, Oregon became the first state in the nation to require cities with a population of at least 10,000 residents to eliminate single-family zoning.

In short, this means developers in these cities can either build new construction or redevelop existing homes into duplexes – or larger.

“This session, we committed to significant investments that will help every Oregon family have a warm, safe, and dry place to call home,” Brown said in a statement, according to REALTOR® Magazine. “No one single solution will address our housing crisis, and this legislation tackles the whole spectrum of issues, from homelessness to stable rental housing to increasing homeownership.”

The city of Minneapolis started this movement, passing city-wide legislation in 2018 that eliminated single-family zoning.

The Oregon housing crisis was a marquee issue during the 2018 elections, and Brown and the legislature were tasked with finding solutions and doing so quickly.

“Supporters of zoning reform champion the notion that smaller homes — or breaking up a single-family home to create multiple units — helps to make housing more affordable in more pricey communities.”

Aside from eliminating single-family zoning, the state also passed legislation that limits rent increases and puts an end to no-cause evictions.

There have been many debates in other corners of the country as to whether these concepts are ultimately beneficial, but in Oregon, the plan seems to be to try everything and see what works and what doesn’t.

“Our crisis is so severe in this state, you have to do everything,” Tina Kotek, speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s that problematic out there for folks. We just came in and said, ’We’re going to do it all.’

“In Portland, we’re just trying not to become San Francisco.”

San Francisco, among many California cities, is facing an even greater housing crisis with the some of the highest median home prices in the country as well as a dearth of housing options, making both affordability and availability as hard to find as the Holy Grail.

Population-wise, you can fit 10 Oregons inside of California. Right now, according to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, the median home value in Oregon is far more affordable ($343,500) than in California ($546,800).

But that doesn’t mean Oregon doesn’t feel the same housing pinch. Oregon is a burgeoning state when it comes to job growth and although the pace of new home construction in Portland is better than each of California’s biggest cities, it’s still struggling to keep up with the demand.

While this seems like a good first step, the notion of ending single-family zoning does have its detractors.

“Making some sprawling communities more-dense could negatively impact quality-of-life, especially when it comes to traffic and noise.”

The chief complaint is how building duplexes, triplexes and even fourplexes in certain neighborhoods will simply change the fabric of those communities without any mandate on affordability.

Additionally, making some sprawling communities more-dense could negatively impact quality-of-life, especially when it comes to traffic and noise, and add additional burdens onto already stretched-thin city services.

But supporters of zoning reform champion the notion that smaller homes or breaking up a single-family home to create multiple units helps to make housing more affordable in more pricey communities.

It also could finally tackle the racial and economic issues that were borne into single-family home communities nearly a century ago.

“By simply allowing for — not requiring — townhomes and triplexes to be built on existing lands in the City of Portland, the policy can accommodate 1 out of every 7 new Portland area households in the coming decade,” Oregon State economist John Lehner wrote in a blog post last December. “That is a big finding.”


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