Oregon Lawmakers: Single-Family Home Neighborhoods Hurt Poor People

Row of middle-class houses on American suburban street - Getty Images stock photo.
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Oregon is gearing up to change zoning laws to allow communal living spaces and multi-family units in single-family home neighborhoods.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported:

The state’s House and Senate have now both passed a measure that requires cities with more than 10,000 people to allow duplexes in areas zoned for single-family homes. In the Portland metro area, it goes a step further, requiring cities and counties to allow the building of housing such as quadplexes and “cottage clusters” of homes around a common yard.

House Bill 2001 will now go before Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, who is expected to sign it. It had bipartisan support and was approved on the last day of a wild legislative session that saw some Republican senators flee the state over a climate bill.

This type of housing is often called “missing middle” housing — that is, everything between single-family homes and mid- or high-rise apartment buildings. Buildings such three-flats or courtyard apartments used to be common, but many communities made them illegal, often as part of a strategy for racial and class segregation.

Oregon isn’t the only state considering such policies. The city council in Minneapolis decided last year to eliminate single-family zoning to allow for duplexes and triplexes throughout the city, NPR reported. California considered housing legislation that would have allowed quadplexes in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes and more density housing near public transportation, but that bill was tabled until 2020.

“House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, was the driving force behind Oregon’s bill,” NPR reported. 

“We all know we have a housing crisis,” she said in February. “We need multiple tools. One of them is to smooth and encourage additional construction.”

State Rep. Julie Fahey, a Democrat from Eugene, worked with Kotek on the bill and told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) that some people in the state might not be able to afford to buy a detached single-family home.

Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing around the country, supports the bill.

“There’s a lot of builders out there who want to do good and want to make the sort of houses people need, but you just can’t make a 1,000-square-foot home [work] on a $200,000 piece of property,” Habitat for Humanity CEO Steve Messinetti told the Sightline Institute, a “sustainability organization” that NPR reported also pushed for the bill.

But not everyone is behind the bill, including a Portland real estate professional. 

“I have a lot of first-time homebuyers, and they all want exactly what I want,” Laura Wood told OPB. “They want a house in a neighborhood.”

“At least one letter writer espoused the common objections to increased density, arguing that the bill would ‘destroy neighborhoods’ and ‘that the real winners will be developers, not people who can’t afford a home,” according to NPR.

Kotek said she wanted to make clear that the bill is not a ban on single-family homes.

“I grew up in a single-family home,” Kotek said. “This isn’t about single-family homes. This is about choice. This is about the future, this is about allowing for different opportunities in neighborhoods that are currently extremely limited.”

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