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What Made It Possible for Oregon to End Single-Family Zoning?

Factors beyond political chance played into Oregon's recent decision to legalize missing middle housing. One key point: the state was already halfway there.
July 14, 2019, 7am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Orenco Station
Payton Chung

In an extended discussion of Oregon's recent history-making decision to effectively end single-family zoning, Joe Cortright highlights some of the policy trends that lie behind the bill. "It's critical to note that HB 2001 is built on a decades-long foundation of key state mandates and limitations on local discretion in the housing market," he writes. 

Many of those policies are specific to Oregon, like the urban growth boundaries that surround its cities, indicating the lawful limits of development at an urban scale. "The less well known feature of the Oregon system is that the state also prescribes the kind of developments that local governments must allow within urban growth boundaries," Cortright continues.

Oregon's history of comprehensive land use planning at the state level goes back to 1973. But statewide prescriptions have really made a difference over the past ten years. "Over the past decade, three-quarters of all new housing units in metropolitan Portland were built on in-fill sites in already developed areas, or by redevelopment of existing built-up properties."

Cortright argues that Oregon's case makes a powerful argument for state governments to "force every jurisdiction to 'play fair' in the zoning game." But Oregon may also demonstrate the usefulness of policy precedent when it comes to statewide up-zonings. And that's a form of precedent that most states conspicuously lack.

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Published on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 in City Observatory
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