Residential Zoning Bill Transforms Real Estate Landscape

HB 2001 sailed through both chambers with support on both sides of the aisle, but critics claim it won’t solve any housing problems.

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It was the zoning bill that almost wasn’t.

As Republican lawmakers fled the Capitol last month in hopes of derailing Oregon’s cap and trade bill, the walkout provided more than just drama. More than 100 bills already approved by the House faced legislative oblivion from the Senate walkout.

Introduced by House Speaker Tina Kotek, the legislation sought to put an end to single-family only residential zoning. HB 2001 would require that any residential zones which previously allowed only single-family housing to include duplexes, triplexes, town houses and quadplexes.

The city of Minneapolis passed similar legislation last year, which may have served as a blueprint for the new statewide model.

Lauded by affordable housing groups and free trade advocates alike, HB 2001 passed the House in a vote of 43 to 16, and was among a few dozen which made it to the Senate floor with time running out. It passed the Senate in a vote of 16 to 9.

The bill long list of supporters includes business groups such as the Oregon Association of Realtors and Oregon Home Builders Association, as well as affordable housing advocates, including 1000 Friends of Oregon and Habitat for Humanity of Oregon.

According to advocates, the legislation reverses policies aimed at keeping communities of color away from homeownership, as well as increasing the share of affordable housing in Oregon. It could also assist small homebuilders, whose success relies on generating a small number of high-value homes each year.

“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, senior outreach associate of the Sightline Institute policy think tank, saying that HB 2001 “strikes an appropriate balance between local control and the need for statewide action.”

But those opposed say the legislation will not create the housing opportunities it purports to.

“I think if [legislators] had actually looked at the bill, they would have found a lot of problems with it,” says Paul Conte, former chair of Eugene’s Jefferson Westside Neighbors Organization.

According to Conte, HB 2001 takes power away from communities in favors of real estate developers, and encourages city growth where it is least needed.

“In general, compact development is more efficient, but you need to increase development along transit lines,” says Conte. “[These units] aren’t going to help the people who can’t afford to go to the doctor or put food on the table. You need subsidized assistance for multifamily developing.”

While the bill may not solve all of Oregon’s affordable housing woes, Business for a Better Portland says it will incentivize builders to create more affordable housing units. Zoning regulations mean that families making 140-250% of median income can afford to live in single-family zones, encouraging developers to build units at the higher end of the market. Adding duplexes and quadplexes could allow families making 70-120% of the median income to buy homes.

According Business for a Better Portland Executive Director Ashley Henry, current zoning regulations result in middle-income earners competing with low-income earners for housing. HB 2001 would “increase the supply of middle-range housing, relieving pressure throughout the market.”

Mary Kyle McCurdy, deputy director of land use nonprofit 1000 Friends of Oregon, says the legislation’s bipartisan support was due to the shared interests of housing advocates and real estate developers to create middle housing options

“It’s become more clear to a wide range of individuals that the exclusively detached single-family residential zones exclude most Oregonians from being able to purchase a house,” says McCurdy.

“Two-thirds of Oregon households consist of one or two people. Well, over 50% of the residential zoning in Oregon is exclusively for detached single-family housing. So if people want to age in the neighborhood, if they want to start a family in a smaller living situation, it’s hard,” she says.

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