Housing Policy

Oregon Becomes First State to Ditch Single-Family Zoning

State lawmakers end the legislative sessions by passing a bill that will allow for denser housing construction across the state.


The Oregon Legislature has passed a bill that largely bans single-family zoning statewide. It's a notable win for zoning reform advocates.

On Sunday, the Oregon Senate passed HB 2001 by a 17-9 vote, with Republicans and Democrats lining up on both sides of the bill. The Oregon House approved its version of the bill two weeks ago in a similarly bipartisan 43-16 vote.

HB 2001 legalizes the development of duplexes on residential land currently zoned for single-family housing in all communities with a population of 10,000 or more. The bill also allows for the construction of "missing middle" housing—a term which refers to three- and four-unit homes—on single-family-zoned land in cities of 25,000 or more.

The bill is intended to arrest mounting rents and home prices by easing restrictions on the supply of new housing.

"This bill will increase housing choice and the supply of more affordable housing in high opportunity areas in Oregon. It is another important part of addressing our housing crisis," said House Speaker Tina Kotek (D–Portland), the bill's sponsor, in written testimony.

"Statewide, we have a shortfall of over 150,000 homes, and we're currently only adding one home per three new households," wrote Madeline Kovacs of the Sightline Institute, a think tank, saying that HB 2001 would allow for more affordable housing development.

The legislation attracted opposition from the Oregon League of Cities, which worried about the loss of local control, as well as from some realtors and homeowners who expressed concern that runaway development would reduce home values and put undue strain on infrastructure and public services.

The notion that cities can tackle their affordability problems by loosening restrictions on new development is gaining currency with policymakers around the country.

In December 2018, for example, the Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance allowing for the construction of duplexes and three-unit homes citywide. In March, Seattle upzoned 27 neighborhoods to allow for denser residential and commercial development.

At the national level, both Republicans and Democrats have proposed that federal housing grants be issued on the condition that cities and states loosen their restrictions on housing development. In late June, President Donald Trump created a new council that will look to pare back federal regulations that increase housing costs.

In other places, efforts at reform have proven more slow going. The California Legislature stalled a bill earlier this year that would have broadly legalized "missing middle" housing statewide, and would also have allowed for the construction of apartments near bus and rail lines where only single-family housing is currently permitted.

And while the HB 2001 legislation in Oregon will allow for the construction of more housing within cities, it does nothing to peel back the state's strict urban growth boundaries, which prevent residential development on the urban periphery.

A January report from the Cascade Policy Institute, a free market think tank, found that these urban growth boundaries were a major contributor to the state's housing affordability problems.

That the Oregon Legislature is removing some restrictions on the development of new housing is a win for both property rights and housing affordability. Regrettably, the bill leaves other restrictions untouched. That makes Oregon's overall attempt at housing reform a decidedly mixed bag.

NEXT: Brickbats: July 2019

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  1. In unrelated news, the city has announced no plans to double school capacity, increase road capacity, add police, or create neighborhood parking.

    1. Having more people makes that stuff happen naturally. If you have more people paying into these things, then you get better infrastructure. Population density is always correlated with improved infrastructure quality.

      1. only if the local governments correctly allocate the tax dollars to the proper infrastructure which is not always the case. Prime example California using the gas tax monies to reduce car lanes for bike lanes which so few can choose to use.

        1. or to add "HOV" lanes which aren't "high occupancy" at all, just private high speed lanes for rich yuppies who can afford Teslas.

        2. I've watched Seattle DROWN in money recently, and all the basic infrastructure here is still total garbage. But yeah, we have tons of fancy separated off bike lanes nobody uses, random speed bumps on roads that haven't needed them since the dawn of time, etc.

          It's a joke. We should have streets paved in gold with the money we have in Seattle, but it's worse than a lot of poor cities I have been to.

      2. Tell that to Denver's Front Range.

        1. Yes. I have been told by Denver Progressives that of course we need higher tax rates, because we need more schools and shit. When I asked why the tax revenue, with the old rate, did not scale with population growth, I got confused looks.

          1. I miss the old days when Denver Democrats argued that "growth doesn't pay for itself" and were mocking Bill Owens as "Ten Lane Bill" when he was trying to get T-Rex funded and developed. At least back then they had an investment in not seeing the entire Front Range turn into a parking lot.

            Colorado could at least take a lesson from Texas, which has no state income tax, but property taxes tend to be extremely high. Teachers in red Texas get paid about 35% more than they do in oh-so-progressive Colorado, which can't even convince its citizens to approve funding to fix the roads these same people are always bitching about.

          2. Tax revenue scales with economic activity, not residential growth. Residential growth without proportional business growth is usually a loser for municipalities, unless the new residents are affluent.

            1. It's pretty hard to have one without the other though... I mean, it can vary slightly, but tons of new people crammed into an area will automatically mean more shopping, eating out, etc.

              1. "Into an area", yes, but not necessarily into the same municipality that the new residents are moving into. New people moving into a bedroom town that people leave for shopping, work, and eating out usually means increased expenses and higher taxes for the residential community. Which, as I said, is OK if the new residents are wealthy enough to pay the high taxes.

                1. Fair enough. There would still be SOME amount of added activity, people usually won't drive 20 miles to hit the grocery store unless they have to... But it might not be proportional.

      3. Really, Levi? Check out- San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose. Have a look how well their infrastructure grew "naturally."

  2. All the drama in Oregon over the past week, and this is what people notice?

    1. Maybe Christian just threw a dart at the Oregonian when choosing a topic.

    2. There's a lot more drama going on in Oregon than just this or Antifa. Apparently the governor and the Democrats are going on a power trip to get bills passed that were previously defeated in referendums, using a rule about "emergency measures" to get around the fact that the state's citizens voted these same things down. The Republicans high-tailed out of the state and one of them even warned the governor that she better make sure any state police that come to arrest him better bring an army.

      1. Yeah. That was big.

  3. the question I have is are you allowed to build just a single home or do you have to build two or more homes on any available lots? and if you don't build two homes will you be taxed as if there were two homes?

    1. It depends on the local zoning. This simply bans the local government from *requiring* single homes, but it doesn't ban them

      Some localities may choose to entirely ban new single-family homes as a means of protest and to direct opposition to the state law

      1. Given devopers will cram in as many units as possible, always taking the minimum required plot size, well, expect the single family unit to disappear.

  4. Wake me when the Beavers ditch diversity.

  5. Question: do government actions such as this constitute a 'taking' necessitating compensation to those suffering an economic loss (value of existing houses to drop due to (a) increase in housing supply and (b) being adjacent to multi-family housing units), and if not, why not? Thanks.

    1. Because. Socialists.

    2. Did the value go down to nearly zero? No? Then SCOTUS says no, it's not a taking.

    3. No it does not.

      You have no expectation of an economic return. If, for example, let's say that the government sells items that say that the possessor of one of these items, let's call them 'medallions', are the only people that are legally allowed to drive other people around town - that regulation would give possession of these 'medallions' a monetary value.

      If the government were to later rescind this regulation, no longer requiring possession of the 'medallion' to drive people around town, those who had paid for said medallions and those who expected to be able to sell on their medallion, would not be entitled to compensation for this action.

      Or, look at it another way. Your neighbor makes his house look nicer. This raises the sale value of your home. Would you then say that you owed your neighbor the difference in the sale price of your home?

      1. This might be clearer than the above examples.

        If you are hurt by the removal of a regulation it can only be because you were benefiting from the existence of that regulation. Therefore you've already been compensated.

    4. Giving people more freedom to use their property cannot be a taking... Restricting the freedom of their use of their property is though.

    5. You don't have a right to the value of your house increasing exponentially.

  6. The new American dream: let's be Europe.

    Next we'll be clustering on hilltops and building walls. Wait, what?

    1. and cutting car lanes to zero so you HAVE to ride a bike.

    2. And requiring internal passports. Oh...

  7. But what about local rule?

    1. Local rule is not valuable in and of itself. Sometimes local rule results in more oppression.

      1. never, because you can just leave.

        1. Much local rule results in more oppression - both because of the local tin dictators that take office and the fact that you can't get local news to actually ask them what they plan on doing that will fuck it's citizens BEFORE they win election. And, no, many people cant just leave - because they have a fucking job and a house.

          1. LOLWUT?

            So these hypothetical people are being forced to live in that house and have to live in that house to work a "fucking" job?

          2. Much local rule results in more oppression

            You're evidently completely ignorant of US and European history.

  8. affordable housing

    All housing is affordable to its buyers.

    1. Not necessarily. I've known people who lived in a house for years without making a mortgage payment.

  9. You better darn well follow these new laws or the government will send ANTIFA to attack you. Oregon will enforce it's laws with lawlessness.

  10. […] was a big story coming out of Oregon yesterday, which you can check out here. It’s an issue that brought together folks of all political […]

  11. They probably want to be ready when the hundred or hundred fifty thousand illegal immigrants coming across the border every month hear about all the free stuff the Democratic legislature and governor are giving away. One hopes they’ll save a few units for their long-time citizens.

    1. One hopes they’ll save a few units for their long-time citizens.

      Their long time citizens already have "white privilege", that's all they need.

  12. This is no more "reform" than it will constitute reform if the Democrats manage to replace deliberately-broken ObamaCare with a single-payer health system.

    Real reform would be to repeal all zoning laws, allowing any owner of land to do as he likes with it, subject only to the common law of nuisances.

    This bill does not allow now-unbuilt land outside Urban Growth Boundaries to be built on. It merely allows higher densities on land already built or already approved for building. The likely (and intended) result will be to continue the evil plan known as "smart growth", which will soon make both driving, and having a back yard, unaffordable to everyone but a small, politically connected elite, while continuing to cause the price of good homes to skyrocket.

    1. A modest improvement is still an improvement.

      The cost of homes would go up even more without this. How many lots will get a duplex thrown on them over the next decade because of this?

      Frankly, upzoning everywhere is the only way to go. It is what allows density increase to spread itself around more uniformly, thus not completely ruining any one area. My neighborhood was one of only a few upzoned years back, and has been completely ruined because almost every lots has been redeveloped... If they'd done this city wide 15 years ago, it would still have 90% of its character intact, as many homes would have been built elsewhere that didn't get upzoned by the city.

      1. This isn't an improvement. Modest or otherwise.

        Densifiation. Crowding. These are not improvements. These are exercises in leftist central planning.

        1. Not really man.

          I don't like density. Neither do lots of people. But it is a natural market outcome in desirable areas. Ancient Rome was dense. London 200 years ago was dense. Etc etc etc.

          Forcing people to NOT be able to build what they want on their property is not freedom. Especially if it creates negative economic outcomes by artificially driving up the pricing of housing in areas.

          Nobody is being FORCED to build denser, it's just giving them the option. I don't agree with urban growth boundary bullshit, which IS forcing density... But to allow people to build what they want on their own land? I can't be against that. That's simply allowing property owners and the market to decide what the best use of land is.

          1. Forcing people to NOT be able to build what they want on their property is not freedom.

            Nobody is "forcing" you to property in a neighborhood zoned for single family homes. If you do buy property subject to those restrictions, your neighbors have a right to insist that you live up to your commitments.

            Especially if it creates negative economic outcomes by artificially driving up the pricing of housing in areas.

            How about the "negative economic outcomes" if building cheap apartment buildings in an area drives down housing prices and existing home owners lose money?

            1. A couple things.

              Where I live, the house I live in was NOT built in an era when you could ONLY build single family homes. There are grandfathered in duplexes going all the way into the 70s if not 80s based on their designs. And tons of them that go back to the early 1900s.

              Then NIMBY shit got it zoned all single family. Which has created a disaster.

              I agree that jumping back and forth kind of sucks, as it is not predictable for any given homeowner, and there are potential dangers for them... But the point is, there never should have been ANY zoning in the first place. And when one buys in a single family area that is based solely on CITY LAWS, they DID NOT buy a perpetual right to it being single family. It was always at the whim of the city, and any intelligent person understands this.

              If you want that shit, you need to buy in a place that has an HOA with a strong covenant.

              I sympathize with the stuff everybody is bitching about... But it doesn't matter. Restoring freedom for property owners to use their property as they see fit may be messy in the short term, but it will ultimately create more freedom, and create better overall economic outcomes.

              There is nothing stopping anybody in my neighborhood from forming a covenant situation going forward if a few square blocks decide to forever ban anything but single family homes.

              Also, as I pointed out, if EVERYWHERE had been upzoned... It's almost like NOWHERE actually has to become dense. Upzoning only has the character ruining powers it does when the city selectively upzones only small tracts of land, forcing all that land to be redeveloped. If new buildings can be spread around all over the place no one place needs to be built up enough to functionally change the area.

              My particular block has no duplexes, but many around mine do. It makes ZERO difference in the vibe, but a big cumulative difference in the number of housing units. What ruined my neighborhood was that certain blocks were 100% demolished and replaced with 5 story apartment buildings specifically because nobody is allowed to build duplexes or townhouses on my block anymore, even though they could have 40 years ago.

  13. Notice that they're *not* removing the greenbelts.

  14. not because they believe in housing freedom, but because they want people to live like ants and take transit

    1. Yes, get them accustomed to being crammed into trains. It will make things easier later.

  15. The arguments here seem to illustrate thar Houston is right with its "no zoning" policy.

    ANAICT, if you are a developer in Houston with a parcel of land that you want to develop you have choice to develop it as commercial/industrial or residential multi or single family and also impose on the buyers of the properties any number of covenants on the buyers that act as deed restrictions on what kind of development can occur in the future. These covenants are usually enforced by Home Owners Associations established by Articles of Subdivision or some such and form a binding contract on anyone buying a lot in that subdivision.

    The SCOTUS has ruled that such covenants cannot be in the nature of, "this property cannot be sold to a member of the Negro race (a restriction I read many times during my time as a writer of legal descriptions)" but for the most part restrictions on architectural styles, aesthetic issues, like paint colors and roofing materials, and the number of families permitted to live on a lot are perfectly valid restrictions.

    1. That said, IIANM, Houston does have a planning process that does require approval of things like adequate roads and drainage etc.

    2. No way in hell would I ever live in such a neighborhood.

      1. It works fine there man. The invisible hand has kept everything just fine and dandy.

      2. Except all of us despise our homeowners associations. As a rule rather than an exception, they are governed by petty tyrants whose mothers didn't love them enough as a child.

        Truly, I once got into a heated argument about the definition of "consistent decoration" that their lawyer had to step in and tell them to back off.

        1. Then don't move into a place with an HOA?

          Those exist everywhere, including places WITH zoning laws. So bitching about your HOA is neither here nor there. You made that choice.

          What the lack of zoning has done is allow Houston to grow a fuck ton without a lot of the BS problems associated with zoning in other areas. Keep in mind even many places with PLENTY of land to expand (unlike say San Francisco) have seen huge price spikes because of zoning BS.

          1. Many American cities started out as planned communities. Either as groups or as individual property owners developers would take their land holdings and have a "city" complete with streets and lots and parks mapped out and start to sell said lots. Many of these developers being civic minded philanthropists (one man's "civic minded philanthropist" being another man's "self-righteous busybody" or "Puritan scold" or "arrogant snob") the deeds conveying these lots contained covenants that imposed restrictions not just upon the buyers but upon all of the "heirs, successors and assigns" of the buyer in perpetuity.

            Believe or not, many people like to live in communities where they can depend on their neighbors not doing unpleasant things. The legal concept of the "planned community" allows them to have that, to some extent, anyway.

            1. Exactly. And frankly, I see a lot of value in a sane HOA. I don't live in a place with one, but within reason it is not a bad thing. If some people like over the top ones, that's good for them too!

        2. Except all of us despise our homeowners associations. As a rule rather than an exception, they are governed by petty tyrants whose mothers didn’t love them enough as a child.

          And you are deluded enough to think that politicians and bureaucrats are any better?

          The HOA at least balances its budget and doesn't let non-owners vote themselves handouts at the expense of property owners.

  16. Why in the world would you want to live piled on top of other people like rats in a sewer. Dense housing is not an option any sane man would pick.

    1. If you're really in love with urban amenities and want to be able to live near them affordably, dense housing makes sense. That's not what I want out of life, but I would hesitate to question the sanity of those who values are different from mine.

    2. The thing is, throwing in a duplex or 2 on a block is not all that dense... but it starts to add up if an entire city is like that.

      In fact, a bunch of duplexes or quadplexes strewn about can in fact avoid even denser housing, like giant ass apartment buildings. The truth is almost everybody wants to live in a huge house with a huge yard... But not everybody can afford that. But a duplex is a big step up from an apartment in many ways.

      That's the trick of this stuff... You need to upzone everywhere, because that way no one area needs to become truly dense. If you need to cram in 50,000 people, and only upzone 5% of the surface area of a city, you MUST build huge apartments... If you upzone 100%, you just have to throw in a duplex here and there and you won't even notice the difference.

      1. The truth is almost everybody wants to live in a huge house with a huge yard… But not everybody can afford that.

        Why? Is the price of land/housing artificially inflated? Why, yes, yes it is.

        Does this legislation serve the purposes of the commissars who want to luxuriate in their dachas while being served by the glorious workers who live in stacked tenements? Why yes, yes it does.

        1. But the price and land and housing is being artificially inflated largely BY zoning laws!

          Dude, I live in Seattle. I've watched this mess play out first hand. If they had upzoned the whole city 10 years ago, all the awesome neighborhoods would still exist, and still have their same vibe.

          Instead they only upzoned a few places, which have since been completely leveled. It RUINED the city.

          If instead of doing this crap, I had ended up with a single duplex or quad plex on my block, it wouldn't even be noticeable. Yet we'd have probably built more housing, faster, and a more desirable type.

          Zoning is the means of control, not allowing property owners the ability to decide what they want to do with their own property.

    3. This may come as a shock, but not everyone wants to deal with the hassle of a yard and constant repairs.

  17. "The Oregon Legislature has passed a bill that largely bans single-family zoning statewide."

    Has Oregon, or towns within, yet banned smoking in people's homes unless they are single family homes?

  18. […] Source: Oregon Becomes First State to Ditch Single-Family Zoning – Reason.com […]

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  20. I don't get the hostility by some people here... I would NEVER live in a shitty apartment, have always lived in a house, and always will... But the truth is, not everybody can afford it. Not everybody needs a whole house to themselves either. This is an incremental improvement that will go a LONG WAY towards helping the housing situation.

    If they'd passed something like this in Seattle 10 years ago, this city would actually still have its character. Most of the nice neighborhoods that got upzoned were completely destroyed to make room for apartments, because there were so few lots where you could increase density at all.

    Duplexes everywhere would have saved the character of the city to a large degree, spread out the population growth instead of concentrating it, and probably kept prices a LOT lower. 1 or 2 duplexs a block probably would have added more housing than we have, without functionally changing any quality of life things at all.

    This isn't as far as things should go, which would be total elimination of zoning, but it is step in the right direction.

    1. The thing is, this is a solution for large urban areas and should have stayed that way, not something that's applicable to the entire state.

      If Portland, Salem, or Eugene are that concerned about affordable housing, they should have passed these laws on their own and left the rest of the state out of it.

      1. If Portland, Salem, or Eugene are that concerned about affordable housing, they should have passed these laws on their own and left the rest of the state out of it.

        They shouldn't have passed any laws, they should simply have changed local zoning to match their needs better.

        The reason they didn't do that is because existing single family home owners don't want it, and they don't want it for good reasons.

      2. I think you guys are WAY excessively worried about some apocalypse happening with no zoning laws in place. It's just not so.

        In big urban areas, it will have the positive effects I stated. It will keep the vibe LOWER density if anything in most areas.

        In suburban areas, they just won't have the population growth for it to be a big deal there either. A duplex or 2 here or there doesn't make shit all of difference to anything guys!

        It won't make an neighborhood ugly. It won't ruin the traffic. it won't slash your home value by 70%. All that shit is hyperbole.

        It will just put 2 units in where one was before. That's about it.

        As for the state shoving it down their throats... In general I always support lower levels of government over higher levels on principle... But the lower levels have REALLY been fucking it up on this one, and it got passed... States do a lot of stuff that's actually bad for localities, so I'm not going to freak out extra hard about them doing something good.

        If all these communities want to keep every single duplex out, then they should get together and sign contracts that forbid it on their properties and have that shit added to the deed. AFAIK there is nothing stopping people from doing this.

    2. This is an incremental improvement that will go a LONG WAY towards helping the housing situation.

      When I buy a lots that's in a single family neighborhood, build my house, and then the zoning gets changed to multi-family, my house becomes less valuable to me. For the state to mandate this for communities is an infringement on property rights.

      This isn’t as far as things should go, which would be total elimination of zoning, but it is step in the right direction.

      Retroactively eliminating zoning is a violation of property rights.

      OTOH, if you start out with no zoning at all, people will simply band together in private HOAs that enforce equivalent rules, for the simple reason that people want and need those kinds of predictable rules.

      1. You do realize in a lot of cases these areas DIDN'T have single family zoning before the government got out of control right?

        My 'hood had duplexes all over. Them, and even small apartments, are all over the place on random side streets. It looks like building of them stopped in the 70s or 80s, probably when the zoning was changed.

        City zoning laws are NEVER set in stone. So you bought on a bad assumption. You should have bought in an HOA if you wanted to truly guarantee it. I don't really know what else to say... Owners can always change their deeds and add this restriction going forward.

  21. […] and the localities that zone them be deciding that?” Hoar said. And while the libertarian-leaning Reason magazine praised HB 2001 for removing government restrictions on housing development, it also noted that without peeling back […]

  22. […] the localities that zone them be deciding that?” Hoar said. And while the libertarian-leaning Reason magazine praised HB 2001 for removing government restrictions on housing development, it also noted that without peeling back […]

  23. […] and the localities that zone them be deciding that?” Hoar said. And while the libertarian-leaning Reason magazine praised HB 2001 for removing government restrictions on housing development, it also noted that without peeling back […]

  24. […] zoning for cities with more than 10,000 residents. The new law also allows for construction of ‘missing middle homes’ that are designed to have three to four separate […]

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