The Oregon legislature just produced one of the boldest zoning reforms enacted at the state level. Taking a page from the Minneapolis 2040 plan, it effectively bans single-family zoning in cities above 10,000 residents. The bill, which currently awaits Governor Kate Brown’s signature, liberalizes zoning restrictions for thee types of cities:
- Cities with over 10,000 inhabitants must allow duplexes on land previously reserved for single-family units.
- Cities with over 25,000 inhabitants must allow duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, or cottage clusters on land previously reserved for single-family units.
- Several smaller cities on the periphery of Portland must follow the rules for cities with over 20,000 inhabitants.
Though it affects all relevant cities in the state, the legislation is particularly targeted for the city of Portland and the surrounding metro area. Indeed, it was representatives from Portland that led the charge. HB 2001’s chief sponsor, Speaker Tina Kotek, represents district 44 in the heart of Portland. Take a quick tour in Google Maps and you will discover that district 44 is filled with single-family dwellings. (Most of the area is zoned R5, which indicates single-unit dwellings.) A quick look at who voted for the bill reveals that a majority of representatives from the Portland metro area supported the reform, though opposition grows as you enter wealthier suburbs.
For a long time, Portland, like so many other cities in the U.S., lacked a mix of housing options. The “missing middle” in housing includes duplexes, fourplexes, and other units that aren’t single-family homes or larger apartment buildings. This bill goes a long way towards increasing housing supply and does so without requiring communities to permit the tall buildings or big developments that some find off-putting.
The political economy of land-use regulation makes it necessary for state legislatures to take the lead on reform, in this case by setting a (relatively) low regulatory ceiling on the types of housing allowed. Oregon has set a positive example in this regard, in addition to demonstrating that dramatic liberalization is possible without high-rise apartment buildings.