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Oregon Proposes Ditching Single-Family Zoning Statewide

Cities and states are embracing bold housing reforms as the year ends.

Davidgn/Dreamstime.comDavidgn/Dreamstime.comTis the season for zoning reform, with cities and states across the country either proposing or passing bold, deregulatory reforms that would shore up property rights and, God willing, bring down housing costs.

In early December, California politicians introduced a state bill that would override local regulations to allow up for up to five-story apartment buildings near public transit stops—a dry sounding reform that would nevertheless pave the way for a lot of new building in a state that desperately needs it. A week later, the Minneapolis City Council passed legislation that abolishes single-family zoning citywide, allowing for the construction of duplexes and triplexes where once only single homes were allowed.

Then on Friday, Portland's Willamette Week reported that Rep. Tina Kotek (D–Portland) would be introducing a bill that would banish single-family zoning from the state, save for the smallest communities.

"Oregon needs to build more units, and we must do so in a way that increases housing opportunity for more people," Kotek said in a statement. "Allowing more diverse housing types in single family neighborhoods will increase housing choice and affordability."

Kotek's proposal—which has yet to be introduced as formal legislation—would preempt local single-family zoning laws—which permit only one home per lot—to allow for duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in all cities with over 10,000 residents and an urban growth boundary. Cities would be given 16 months to draft new zoning codes to conform to this plan. If they fail to do so, the state will write new zoning laws for them.

This proposal would open up many of the state's high cost, low density areas to more development. If the laws of supply and demand still hold true, this would help arrest the growth in housing costs, and even bring prices down.

Moving these kinds of decisions to the state level also means routing around local governments where anti-development voices have greater influence, says Emily Hamilton, an urban policy expert at the Mercatus Center.

"Homeowners tend to live in one jurisdiction longer than renters and tend to vote more often than renters," says Hamilton. "Local policymakers are very beholden to those homeowners and land use policies tend to reflect home voter preferences."

Because more supply brings down the price of existing homes, this makes homeowners, and by extension local governments, far more likely to oppose new home construction.

Indeed, in Portland, Oregon, the city government has for years been mulling a zoning reform proposal that would, like Kotek's plan, legalize four-unit dwellings in almost all of the city. Fierce opposition from neighborhood activists has succeeded in delaying its implementation.

A state bill could succeed where these local efforts have failed. Indeed, the fact that Kotek—who serves as speaker of the Oregon House—is the one proposing this bill, and doing so very early on in the process, gives the proposal a fighting chance.

Photo Credit: Davidgn/Dreamstime.com

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Indeed, in Portland, Oregon, the city government has for years been mulling a zoning reform proposal that would, like Kotek's plan, legalize four-unit dwellings in almost all of the city.

    Lesson: Don't reform yourselves, you're asking for the state to force it upon you, on their terms.

  • Joe M||

    I'm a little confused about this. Haven't so-called "smart growth" advocates been inveighing against sprawl for decades, and promoting dense, mixed-use zoning as the answer to all our problems?

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Then on Friday, Portland's Willamette Week reported that Rep. Tina Kotek (D–Portland) would be introducing a bill that would banish single-family zoning from the state, save for the smallest communities.

    . . . .

    This proposal would open up many of the state's high cost, low density areas to more development."

    This is the most anti-libertarian piece of horseshit I've seen in a long time.

    You're not allowed to build a single-family home on your own property--and Reason thinks that's a good thing?

    Fuck you!

  • Cy||

    Uhhh... are you being sarcastic?

  • Rossami||

    From the comment below, not sarcastic but definitely has some problems with reading comprehension.

    Let's try to spell it out for Ken.
    - Scenario 1: City A mandates that lots may ONLY have a single-family home on them. No duplexes allowed.
    - Scenario 2: City A's zoning rule is abolished. Developers may build EITHER a single-family home OR a duplex (or triplex, etc.) on the lot.

    Under scenario 2, developers, home owners and home buyers have more choices. Their freedom has been increased. Yes, that makes it a good thing.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You have no idea what you're talking about.

  • Rossami||

    Actually, I do know what I'm talking about. You, on the other hand, are absolutely clueless.

    To your comments below, the "libertarian" position is that you get to do what you want with YOUR property. You need to butt out of your neighbors' business. If you bought your home "with the understanding that no one will put a four unit apartment building next to you", then you were both wrong and unrealistic in your expectations. If you want to preserve that property from development, then buy it yourself. That is the proper "libertarian" position. Wanting the government to "protect" you from other owners' use of their own property is statist and anti-libertarian.

    Note that none of this prohibits a company, developer or home owners association from coming together to set their own voluntary restrictions. All the law change above does is prevent cities from setting involuntary restrictions (and only blocking on type of involuntary restriction at that).

  • Ken Shultz||

    "To your comments below, the "libertarian" position is that you get to do what you want with YOUR property. You need to butt out of your neighbors' business. If you bought your home "with the understanding that no one will put a four unit apartment building next to you", then you were both wrong and unrealistic in your expectations."

    If you think the stipulations on your title being enforced is unrealistic, then you have idea what you're talking about.

    You're just making shit up to defend a silly position because the author of a Reason article doesn't know shit and wrote a piece that confirmed both of your preexisting biases that have no basis in reality.

    In the name of libertarianism, the definition of property rights as stipulated in titles by buyers and sellers are unrealistic. And they can and should be subordinated to liberation by state legislatures! . . . and that's what libertarianism is all about?

    Why don't you stop acting like a moron?

  • Rossami||

    Hey, moron - city-level zoning regulations are not "stipulated in titles". One more time - the law change above has nothing whatsoever to do with voluntary restrictions entered into by buyers and sellers. Zoning regulations are imposed from without.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "If you think the stipulations on your title being enforced is unrealistic, then you have idea what you're talking about."

    If you think stipulations on the deed to your property are some how binding on someone else's property, you are a moron.

  • Ron||

    however in some locals where i live they made it a requirement if you wan to build one house you have to build two, those areas with that zoning had few takers and I could see how that may become a requirement its incrimental just like gun control.

  • Ken Shultz||

    They'll be using their discretion to inflict more density on property owners to fight climate change. That's what this is about.

    http://la.curbed.com/2017/3/28.....evelopment

  • Ken Shultz||

    Or here's another explanation: The progressives that control the California and Oregon legislatures are opening up zoning restrictions statewide because they want to free up entrepreneurial solutions to our problems.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm confused on this. I'm unsure whether "banish single-family zoning" means they generalize the zoning to all types of residential housing (or at least a wider variety) or if that literally means you can't build single family homes. I'm fairly certain it's the former, but sometimes some wacky shit goes down.

  • Ken Shultz||

    They're almost certainly trying to do this to increase housing density to combat global warming. That's why they wanted to do it especially near points of entry to the public transit system.

    Chances are it will never pass. Homeowners go crazy when high-density housing goes in close to their neighborhood. It drives down the value and desirability of a whole neighborhood.

    For cryin' out loud. I tend to assume the people who are writing these articles understand what they're writing. Maybe I shouldn't be giving them the benefit of the doubt?

  • Agammamon||

    Reason has no writers - just tons of Assistant Editors. And no assistant editor to edit them apparently.

  • Mr. JD||

    We all understand it. You do not.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If you understand that state legislators know what restrictions property owners want on their properties better than the property owners themselves, then I understand that you're a fucking retard.

  • The Real Jose||

    1,000-page central plans are libertarian. Just believe what you read on Reason. Don't question.

  • BILKER||

    Ken the people who write these articles either live in multi storied condos or apartments or in wildly expensive neighborhoods where no one could afford to buy the vacant land. Take a good look at areas that allowed multi-resident buildings. GHETTOS resulted.

  • DaveSs||

    I read it to mean that cities cannot designate areas as single family homes only.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Even if that were true, I'd probably object on libertarian grounds.

    When you buy a single family home in a neighborhood, you may buy it with the understanding that no one will put a four unit apartment building next to you. If you introduce uncertainty about that, then the house becomes less desirable.

    I buy 40 acres and decide to develop single-family homes on it. Now, when I market those homes, I have to tell buyers that their neighbors can convert their homes to four or eight unit apartments at any time? That does not increase the value of my property. It probably doesn't increase the likelihood that I'm going to develop that property either.

    The ability to restrict the use of your own property is fundamental to property ownership and government bureaucrats destroying those restrictions will never be in everyone's best interests. Southern California is probably the birthplace and stronghold of the planned community with strict homeowner's association rules about what colors homes can be, etc. My folks bought into Rancho Bernardo back in the early '80s. Your roof must be reddish terra cotta tile. People pay a premium to live in such places because they know their neighbors can't do things like paint their home an eyesore color or turn it into an apartment building. Those rules are written into the general conditions by the city, attached to the title, and enforced by way of zoning laws. People pay a premium for what you're destroying.

  • JFree||

    When you buy a single family home in a neighborhood, you may buy it with the understanding that no one will put a four unit apartment building next to you. If you introduce uncertainty about that, then the house becomes less desirable.

    That doesn't matter one whit. No contract can bind non-signatories. And any contract that can bind FUTURE non-signatories is downright evil.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Non-signatories?

    You think a home buyer with a title is a non-signatory?

    I once developed property from Newhall Land and Mining. The last time the property had changed hands was so long ago, the title was in Latin and the title was signed by the king of Spain.

    I can put pretty much whatever restrictions I want on my own property before I sell it, including easements that future owners must respect, and if you don't want to sign off and buy it, then you don't have to.

    How did it ever get into your mind that government bureaucrats know better about what's good for my property than I do--and that this is somehow libertarian? Go soak your head!

  • Mr. JD||

    Are you TRYING to be dense?

    The non-signatory is not the buyer or seller. It is the neighbor. The neighbor's right to use his property should not be infringed. When you buy YOUR lot, you are NOT guaranteed that your neighbor won't someday decide to change the use of his property.

    Nor should you be.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You think the neighbor didn't sign off on a title with all its stipulations when he bought the property?

    You're the one being dense.

    I'd suppose it was just because you don't have umpty-ump years in commercial real estate development, but accusing people who are more knowledgeable than you of being dense because they know more than you goes much deeper than that.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It's not the buyer or the seller of property that signs off on title. It's the neighbor who owns the property signing off on a title!

    Why you so dense?

    LOL

  • BILKER||

    Have you never heard of "home owners associations". Many areas are controlled by these little dictatorships. They can restrict what color toilet paper you use. Keep the multi resident building in their own neighborhood zoning and leave single family zoning single family zoning. The whole thing is just making more room for ILLEGAL ALIENS at least in Kalifornexico.

  • DaveSs||

    The 40 acres you buy to develop into SFH you as the developer can choose to enact covenants to prevent such things. That is something apart from zoning laws (I rather suspect that most cities/counties have a practice of refusing to allow you to subdivide your land without first agreeing to establish covenants that mandate such restrictions)

    The ability to restrict the use of your own property is fundamental to property ownership and government

    That is exactly what zoning requirements mandating SFH does. It is government restricting what you can do to your property.

    Personally I do not like the use of covenants and associations. Its the sort of thing that makes a properties value nosedive in my estimation precisely because it levies restrictions on what use you can make of your own property.

  • Ron||

    it seems that this law will not allow such private covenants. that said its a better law than what Oregon was proposing in the past. they were going to not allow any more land subdivision outside of city districts, such that if you had 100 acres you could not subdivide into 100 one acre lots. that law may still be in play and that this was the way to counter those effects of limiting growth. needs more research to verify

  • ||

    In Oregon you cannot build on less than 80 acres outside the urban growth boundaries. No point in sub-dividing. Been that way for 25 years.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "That is something apart from zoning laws"

    CC are typically put on the property at the time that development plans are approved by the city council. Many of those are inflicted on the property owner against their will as a condition of approval. Water is wet. I think you're going to have a hard time finding precisely where the wetness begins and where the water ends. Zoning restrictions are being inflicted on the property by the same entity and the same people that are approving your CC as being compatible with the zoning. Furthermore, the zoning restrictions and the CC are being enforced by the same entity and the same people--be it inspectors on the original development, inspectors on subsequent development, or the code enforcement department at the city (or the county).

  • Ken Shultz||

    I don't know why the site dosen't like the equivalent of CC ampersand Rs. I'd guess it's an HTML thing, but, for whatever reason, it was truncated to "CC".

  • DaveSs||

    The disappearing ampersand is likely a consequence of allowing us to use html tags in comments, and not going the extra step of trying to identify which text is meant to be html tags, and which is meant to be displayed text. (it also explains how one can muck up the site formatting with an opening italics tag that they forget to close)

    If you want ampersands then you would do ampersand, the letters 'amp' and then a semicolon.

    Anyways

    You are viewing this as a bill that requires cities to prohibit SFH, when at least as described the bill says Cities shall not prohibit MFH from residential areas.


    Developers are in my estimation, are all to willing to implement C&C voluntarily even absent a stipulation that they enact such things.

  • Ken Shultz||

    We've sold approved plans and property to the household name home builders I'm sure you heard of, and if we'd had to tell them that those homes could be redeveloped as high density at any time, they wouldn't have been interested in those plans.

    And I hope I've made it clear that the purpose of this is so that the states can inflict their global warming plans on property owners. They want your property to be redeveloped as high density in order to facilitate their fight against climate change--whether you like it or not.

    Ultimately, this is about the state coming after individual property rights. It's being cast as some kind of liberation of zoning laws, but that's just people with preexisting biases seeing what they hope to see. And it really shouldn't surprise anybody to see the states of California and Oregon coming after people like this.

    Progressivism is about using the coercive power of the state to force individuals to make sacrifices for what progressives see as the common good, and that's what's happening here. It may look like they're freeing up zoning laws, but they're actually inflicting the state's will on individual property owners.

  • MatthewSlyfield||


    Kotek's proposal—which has yet to be introduced as formal legislation—would preempt local single-family zoning laws—which permit only one home per lot—to allow for duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in all cities with over 10,000 residents and an urban growth boundary.

    I am confused on where your confusion is coming from.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I don't know whether you don't understand the term "redevelopment" or whether you don't understand the implications of the state superseding local zoning. Suffice it to say, this is not a victory for property owners.

  • Magnitogorsk||

    My god you are dumb. That is not what it means at all. How could you possibly interpret it to mean that you aren't allowed to build single family homes any longer? Jesus Christ

  • Ken Shultz||

    In all seriousness, do you imagine that the climate change zealots aren't pushing this as part of the solution to global warming?

    Do a Google search on "housing density climate change".

  • Ken Shultz||

    Here are my first two results:

    "As cities confront climate change, is density the answer?"

    http://la.curbed.com/2017/3/28.....evelopment

    "California won't meet its climate change goals without a lot more housing density in its cities"

    http://www.latimes.com/politic.....story.html

  • Longtobefree||

    I would propose a small, common sense amendment.
    Require that the first ten units be built adjacent to politicians' homes. If the politician owns a lot over one acre in size, take all but one acre by eminent domain for multi-family use.

  • JFree||

    "Homeowners tend to live in one jurisdiction longer than renters and tend to vote more often than renters," says Hamilton. "Local policymakers are very beholden to those homeowners and land use policies tend to reflect home voter preferences."

    Good observation there. Unfortunately, land use policy is not the only - prob not even the most significant - distortion. A bigger distortion is the tax base and the perception of the beneficiaries of govt spending.

    Homeowners will almost never see govt spending as geographic infrastructure (that raises the value of those who own the geography) but as individual welfare. For those homeowners who are also residents, it's probably a wash. The pigeonhole in which one puts govt spending doesn't matter cuz the resident is gonna pay one way or the other. But for those landowners who are absentee, it matters a lot.

    That tax base and the extractions from it - does govt fund itself from the value of the geography it controls - or the income of those who reside within - or the sales/transactions of those who reside within - is what distorts behavior of everyone (incl govt).

  • WC Varones||

    This is a progressive war on the suburbs.

    I bought a house in a single-family zone because I don't want to live next door to an apartment building. Is that so wrong?

  • I'm Not Sure||

    The government doesn't care what you think.

  • JFree||

    If you want to prohibit what the next door neighbor builds, then you should've bought their land too.

  • Ecoli||

    The Zuckerberg solution! With walls!!

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    You desire is not wrong. That you imagine that your desire gives you the right to restrict what your neighbor can do with HIS property is very wrong.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    I don't think he's saying that he desires the right to restrict what his neighbor can do with his property, rather that he's expecting that his neighbor will not do something he agreed to not do when he bought his property.

  • Azathoth!!||

    And here we are again--Reason, the 'libertarian' magazine, cheering increased regulation of private property rights.

    Is this like Alzheimers? Can you not tell that you're turning into statist, authority fellating SJWs? Will this continue until all you're able to do is bleat 'RAYCISS!!!!11!' as you perpetually soil yourselves?

    Because this is just sad.

  • Ron||

    Not just zoning that has to change, the permitting cost and the regulation of how house are built needs to change. In my part of California the permits alone can run up to $10.00 to $15.00 per square foot. you can actually build a shell for the cost of permits

  • Ecoli||

    All that "free" medical care for all has to be paid for by somebody.

    Why do you want to kill children?

  • Ron||

    I know your joking but children with houses to live in and yards to play in are healthier children needing less medical care

  • Ecoli||

    As a fellow Californicater, I feel your pain.

    There is only one solution for this, on a personal level. You must emigrate elsewhere. That is what I am going to do. I thought Nevada would be my destination but it has taken a hard left turn. Maybe Arizona?

  • ||

    When i was shopping for a house in Oregon, i paid careful attention to the zoning around the home and the surrounding neighborhoods, having seen firsthand what a flood of rentals does to values (they drop) and crime rates (they rise). I played by their rules to make sure my investment and my family's safety would be maximized.

    Changing the zoning by fiat at the state level makes any individual planning moot. Meanwhile, values in more expensive neighborhoods will continue to rise, because the high cost of the land already makes rentals and multi-dwelling development unattractive for those areas.

    Once again, central planners manage to enrich the elite at the expense of everyone else by changing the rules after they got theirs. What is libertarian about that? Individual homeowners deserve the right to address grievances against the stupid ideas of neighbors, CCRs or not. The governor does not give a shit the way a city council does.

    If i thought for a second that this was an improvement of the rights of property owners i would support it. But I can pretty much guarantee that anything done in Oregon at the state level is fucking over the serfs.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "Changing the zoning by fiat at the state level makes any individual planning moot."

    The local municipalities could make exactly the same change on their own if they wanted to. Municipalities change zoning rules all the time.

  • ||

    Yes. And this is how it should be done. I can attend a city council meeting and be heard. I have no such option with the legislature.

  • BILKER||

    Idiotic ideas like these anti single family zoning laws will accomplish only one thing. They will bring section 8 ghettos to family neighborhoods. Pile on more traffic and noise problems. The politicians proposing these measures MUST be sure that the first multi resident buildings are built in the politicians own neighborhood as close as possible to their own homes.

  • Spookk||

    How about controlling human overpopulation instead? Begin with the mandatory sterilization of all lawmakers, and persons with an IQ of less than 120.

  • Tionico||

    T'would be a sad thing indeed were Portland to force fourplexes into some of the old comfortable neighbourhoods in various parts of that city. The people who bought those homes and live in them did so becayse they CHOSE to live in a nehghbourhood of single family dwellings..
    Further, if fourplexes were allowed, the traffic into those areas could quandruple in short order, and other infrastructire would also be severely burdened.

    I know if MY neighbourhood were to be invaded by two, three, four plex dwelling units, I think I'd develop a master plan for my acreage develop it, take the plunder and move to Missouri or Tennessee or some place where the government ufFISHuls don't go about sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet...... they allow people to choose how THEY want to live.

  • Thomas O.||

    It's one of those ideas that sounds good on paper, but has little to no chance of passing, realistically. There's going to be hordes of angry homeowners pestering their elected officials with screams of "MUH PROPERTY VALUES"... and I'm sure there will be more lawmakers representing affected cities than the unaffected. There are better ways to bring down housing costs.

  • TangoDelta||

    Folks, please calm down. They'll more than make up for it with restrictions on permeable land. More rooftop and driveway means less permeable land and a greater strain on the current drainage system. Naturally, they'll simply decree that anyone with less than 40%, 50%, maybe even 70% permeable land will have to pay a higher tax to offset the increased burden on the existing sewer/drainage system.

    You're welcome!

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