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Oregon legislature finds ‘missing middle’, passes ban on single-family zoning

Posted by on July 1st, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Built in 1927, this duplex has been illegal has been prohibited in our zoning code for almost a century. HB 2001 changes that.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

When it comes to boosting bicycle mode share, where we build our homes is more important than how we build our streets. Density of residential dwellings matters because the viability of bicycle use increases as people live closer to their jobs, schools, friends, and other destinations.

That’s why we’ve talked up the connection between cycling and land-use planning and zoning on this site for well over a decade.

Now we’re very happy to share that over the weekend the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that bans single-family zoning. This is a boon for the potential of efficient transportation modes like cycling, and transit.

Here’s the lowdown from Michael Andersen at Sightline:

If signed by Gov. Kate Brown in the next month, House Bill 2001 will strike down local bans on duplexes for every low-density residential lot in all cities with more than 10,000 residents and all urban lots in the Portland metro area.

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In cities of more than 25,000 and within the Portland metro area, the bill would further legalize triplexes, fourplexes, attached townhomes, and cottage clusters on some lots in all “areas zoned for residential use,” where only single-detached houses are currently allowed.

Read more about the bill at Sightline.org.

Or, as some more dramatic headlines have summarized it: The bill bans single-family zoning.

Longtime BikePortland readers will recall that Andersen began writing about this “missing middle” housing back in 2015 in our Real Estate Beat column. Andersen’s story was inspired in part by a Pedalpalooza ride led by local developer Eli Spevak, who led participants on a tour of multi-family homes built before Portland’s establishment of “single-family” zones.

In the past four years, activism around more housing options in residential neighborhoods has flourished and in the end it was a very broad coalition that helped make the passage of HB 2001 a reality.

Thank you to everyone who worked on this bill. We can’t wait to see how it impacts the creation of more vibrant, healthy, earth-friendly — and more bikeable — neighborhoods.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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9watts
Subscriber

Exciting.

Not sure about earth-friendly though.
The longage of people isn’t solved by this, just deferred.

was carless
Guest
was carless

Just curious, have you conducted an energy audit and upgraded your home’s heating, insulation and windows?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

That duplex is not illegal, and never was.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

No house is illegal!

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I just checked, and that duplex is in an R5 zone. It would not be legal to build that house on that site today, or indeed on most of the residentially zoned land in Portland.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Nor could you build a barber shop on that site today, but no one would say that barbershops are “illegal”.

Conord
Guest
Conord

You actually could open a barbershop here: it’s called a Type B Home Occupation and that would be entirely in accordance with the law (i.e. legal).
I live just a few blocks down Salmon Street in a triplex, also in an R5 zone.

Turning the pictured duplex into a triplex would be, by definition, illegal. Where the barbershop would actually be legal.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Yes, you could cut hair legally under some very specific conditions (nothing like what you and I would think of as a barbershop), but that’s incidental to my point.

q
Guest
q

Yes, this sounds like splitting hairs.

charley
Guest
charley

Dear Hello, Kitty,
You’re making it hard to read through the comments anymore. This splitting of hairs… does it have an end?
Charley

Momo
Guest
Momo

No need to be so pedantic. When he captioned the photo “illegal”, he clearly meant “non-conforming use.” But no one would know what he meant by that, so he used a short-hand that everyone would understand. It’s good practice to write using basic words rather than jargon, even if some precision is lost, especially in journalism.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Where you see concision, I see deliberate misinformation, furthering a larger narrative that I believe is intended to mislead. Also, I am not sure that inaccuracy in the name of simplicity is part of the journalistic canon.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

While it might be symbolic, this is a worthy move forward.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Finally, great news! However I do worry with every passing day we are failing to make the baseline case that urban form is deserving of choice-dwellers (beyond the rich). Excuse my pessimism but I am worried that as our cities grow denser, they are becoming less and less civil and hospitable to the human spirit.

JBone
Guest
JBone

I think you are on to something. With the rise of multiculturalism (or what’s now called ‘diversity’…I’m not talking about race), the emphasis seems to have been on tolerance and rights with little regard to courtesy and mutual respect. Obviously we are at a real crossroads socially, with the right wanting government control of citizen action (law enforcement, abortion, etc) and the left wanting government control over thought and speech (labeling of racist/fascist/etc, censorship, etc). I think in order to have a dense city, we need two base ingredients: courtesy should be widely promoted and enforcement of basic laws that keep things civil when humans fail to control themselves. I see both of those in short supply in the post-modern Portland. We were attracted to Portland for the ‘sustainability’ ethos more than a decade ago, but don’t here much about that anymore. I guess some think denser is more sustainable in theory, but I guess we’ll see how that plays out.

JBone
Guest
JBone

Also Kittens, are you saying by ‘choice-dwellers ‘ that everyone who wants to live in Portland has a ‘right’ to and should be accommodated? That seems to be fundamental question that hasn’t been properly debated in clear terms and with proper consideration of intended/unintended consequences. My personal opinion is people don’t have a right to live in the place of their choosing. Hypothetically and perhaps hyperbolically, what if 10 million people wanted to live in urban Portland…should we build countless sky risers to accommodate them?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> I am worried that as our cities grow denser, they are becoming less and less civil and hospitable to the human spirit. <<<

They are also getting more expensive.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

What I am saying is that it has never been better to live in Portland if you are rich and live in your enclave.

HOWEVER… the rest of Portland, the parts that have always been neglected or marginal, have slipped much further than those in the West Hills or Laurelhurst seem realize. As covered in these very pages, some areas look like third world countries and should be an embarrassment to progressive Portlanders. Downtown which was once the crown jewel of decades of urban planning and investment, struggles to present even a passing image of success. Our transit system is losing tens of thousands of riders annually in the midst of breakneck service expansion and spending. Housing is unbearably expensive and congestion of all kinds is getting worse. I could go on and on, but my point is not all is well in Roseville and most other major cities.

9watts
Subscriber

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
huh? not sure what you’re saying here 9watts.Recommended 3

I’m saying that for this to be earth-friendly it would have to alleviate the pressure our species exerts on future habitability. Where we live, how dense is a second order matter. The first order problem, which this policy does not address—and arguably distracts from—is our absolute numbers, and the corresponding total emissions, env. burden. Carbon emissions are not *reduced* by denser housing. At best—and this involves a lot of wishful thinking—the per capita numbers might dip a little, but we are now well past the point where these kinds of relative metrics (mpg, CO2/$GDP or /person) have any meaning.

Like I said, this policy is exciting for what it might do for the vibrancy of neighborhoods, for the livability perks that could arise from greater density, but these local effects in no way automatically scale up to what we might recognize as ‘earth friendly,’ as tempting as that notion may be.

9watts
Subscriber

Here is an analogy: I decide to trade up to a Prius. Plenty of folks will reflexively celebrate this as ‘earth friendly.’ But not ask what hapoens to the car I was drivng before. If I sell my GMC Suburban, someone else can be assumed to continue driving that vehicle. Now we have a *new* Prius and an *old* Suburban being driven around. Depending on how much we both drive the sum of the emissions might go up (they are if you look at the statistics), and in any case the material and energetic burden from producing that Prius must be accounted for. Buying that Prius doesn’t reduce emissions in any obvious sense, any more than building additional (denser) housing does. Mostly because there are always more people with appetites for cars and housing and computers and heating, etc. coming along to buy up, fill up, any temporary vacancies due to the policies we are here fond of celebrating.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

“Prius doesn’t reduce emissions in any obvious sense”
That seems like a bit of a leap. In your scenario if you don’t buy a new car the person who would have bought your car will buy one instead. So now you have an old GMC and some new non-hybrid cheapest they can find car on the road which is greater emissions then if you bought your Prius. An additional car is going to be driven either way it can be a hybrid that you can afford or it can be some clunker.

I agree these policies aren’t the end solution but to act like they do nothing just because of population growth and increasing demand seems to be missing the point. Currently we’re going to continue to increase our consumption reducing it is not even being considered. That new consumption can be the status quo or we can attempt to do it in a more efficient less wasteful manner.

9watts
Subscriber

“I agree these policies aren’t the end solution but to act like they do nothing just because of population growth and increasing demand seems to be missing the point.”

Missing what point?

“Currently we’re going to continue to increase our consumption; reducing it is not even being considered.”

That is a point worth emphasizing, and is the motivation for many of my posts: the ‘isn’t even being considered’ is the key problem here. If we can’t grapple with this, does anything else matter?

“That new consumption can be the status quo or we can attempt to do it in a more efficient less wasteful manner.”

Right. This is the party line.
My counter to that is that some time in my lifetime we crossed over from this (relative accounting) being a useful approach, to being meaningless. Whether we inefficiently or efficiently drive the habitability of our planet over the climate change cliff, whether the reckoning comes in ten years or fifteen or next summer isn’t in the grand scheme of things that interesting or policy relevant. I can’t get excited about measures that obscure the extent of the problem, falsely reassure us that ‘things are being done.’

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

“Missing what point?”
You can complain about people not doing enough on a blog that gets a few thousand people reading your posts or you can try and do something and encourage more of the same. Are we as doomed as you posit maybe although I doubt it. In either event even if these small measures aren’t enough to turn the tide I’d rather do something then nothing. Your attitude reminds me of people who won’t vote for a new law because it doesn’t fix all of the problems it’s trying to address in one massive change. I’d rather try and make these small changes then wait around for everyone in the world to wake up and realize how much more we actually need to be doing.

Your doom and gloom opinion is noted though.

9watts
Subscriber

“You can complain about people not doing enough on a blog that gets a few thousand people reading your posts or you can try and do something.”

That strikes me as a false dichotomy. You appear to know nothing about what (else) I might be up to besides posting comments here.

“Are we as doomed as you posit maybe although I doubt it. In either event even if these small measures aren’t enough to turn the tide I’d rather do something then nothing.”

I appreciate very much the ‘do something rather than nothing’ idea. I subscribe to this philosophy myself. But I wasn’t suggesting we do nothing. My argument wasn’t about actions at all; it was about unsupported if also very common claims that housing density = earth-friendly, as if this policy in and of itself was making things better (as opposed to less terrible).

“Your attitude reminds me of people who won’t vote for a new law because it doesn’t fix all of the problems it’s trying to address in one massive change.”

I’m not familiar with that. Do you have an example?

“I’d rather try and make these small changes then wait around for everyone in the world to wake up and realize how much more we actually need to be doing.”

Again, that is not at all what I was suggesting. Waiting around is the last thing I would advocate.

“Your doom and gloom opinion is noted though.”

You can of course call it that if you like. I think of it as eyes-wide-open; an antipathy to myopic happy talk that suggests our familiar, comforting bag of tricks is up to the task. It isn’t. And pretending otherwise serves no one.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

That’s true I don’t know what else you do with your time but why do you think complaining here helps at all? Seems like a waste of time to me. Especially if things are as dire as you say.

For some reason that last sentence in this article is what set you off. A little hope about making our neighborhoods more bike-able and possibly earth friendly upsets you? It wasn’t even a claim that it would. You took it and ran though.

You’re not familiar with the common trope of if this doesn’t fix it perfectly then we should vote against it until we have a better law that does? I hear this all the time from politicians as a reason to vote against something. They of course never have a better suggestion but that never seems to matter. Medicare, the ACA, and Measure 97 all come to mind when thinking about this.

“Waiting around is the last thing I would advocate.” Your original comments seemed to lack the minimal support of this is better then nothing. They very much came off as this won’t do anything …. so why do it at all.

Who said anyone was pretending this particular bag of tricks was going to fix anything? And why are you assuming anyone else read this story and thought well that fixes climate change annnnnnd done? Why do you think anyone is pretending?

Anyway I’m sure I just took your original comments too literally. They just seemed a bit emo for an article that was mostly excited about the prospect of increased density increasing the viability of bicycle use.

9watts
Subscriber

“an article that was mostly excited about the prospect of increased density increasing the viability of bicycle use.”

And I agreed with that aspect, celebrated it even.

The problem is, we (generally) can’t seem to leave it at that, have to throw in the gratuitous ‘and it saves earth too’ trope.

“if this doesn’t fix it perfectly then we should vote against it until we have a better law that does?”

We unfortunately seem to be talking past each other. I didn’t suggest voting against this. My assertion, and I stand by this, is that while this bill accomplishes many things we may like, that pertain to local matters we know and love in relation to cycling in our city, the implied scaling up, all the way to earth-friendly, is misleading, unsupported, and all too familiar.

“Your original comments seemed to lack the minimal support of this is better then nothing.”

Let me be clear: when it comes to local effects this measure is great; but when it comes to the rest I don’t think it is better than nothing, it may well be worse than nothing, especially in so far as it reassures people about matters, scales, existential threats this bill may not help at all, or might worsen.

X
Guest
X

It’s good to have a clear voice giving this warning however unwelcome or obvious it may be. We are, with 90+ % probability, in a situation where we should think twice or maybe three times before we:
–use energy inputs to tear down or destroy a useful thing
–harvest or extract materials and use energy inputs to build a new thing
–cut down an existing woody plant that’s just a little in the way. Looking at you, Portland Parks.

We still have to make stuff, we still have to build stuff, but the net environmental impact can’t be the least important factor in the decision.

For about a billion dollars a person we can ship people to Mars where they can only survive in a closed environment on supplies they bring along, or with large energy inputs. For much much less we can change course and thrive on what is still the most habitable planet in a radius of several light years. It takes months even to get to Mars and there are only certain times in the year that you can launch.

Going to the stars? It’s like taking Amtrak to Vancouver BC.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

One need not run for mayor or county commissioner. Just being informed and contributing thoughtfully to the social dialog about the city we live in is far beyond any reasonable expectation of citizenship at this point. It is sad that not more can participate but when you have to work 2 jobs and collect cans just to get by, maybe being an honorary City Club member is not in the cards.

Belynda
Guest
9watts
Subscriber

Interesting piece.
But also strange that every article I can recall reading on the housing crisis, so called, fails to mention the demand side, fails to acknowledge that the demand for housing, unlimited as it is, will overwhelm any and every supply side strategy sooner or later.
#ideologicalblindness

Chris m
Guest
Chris m

I believe the reason nobody addresses the “demand side” (i.e. says the government’s policy should be to limit the size of the next generation) is that you get into some pretty dicey places regarding who should be allowed to reproduce and who shouldn’t. But I would love to see your plan for solving climate change by getting the U.S. population to say population 200 mm by 2100. Who would get to have the miniscule number of children when you take Total Fertility down 1.0 or less? Who will take care of the enormous generation of old people (as home health workers, nurses, geriatricians, etc.)? What will happen to older residents of small towns as young people leave? From what I know about the small number of countries that already are seeing population decline, an overall population decline won’t staunch the global trend of urbanization. So rural areas and small towns will empty even more quickly. Japan already has rapidly depopulating rural areas, and this is at an annual population loss of 0.2%. I see a lot of takes about how overpopulation is the problem, but very little grappling with the implications of dealing with it.

9watts
Subscriber

I draw your attention to the Rockefeller Commission report from 1972. This fascinating and little known document tackles all of those questions in a thoughtful and constructive manner. The fact that we chose to ignore it then, and continue to, should not be held against the importance and validity of the conclusions those folks arrived at.

https://www.population-security.org/rockefeller/001_population_growth_and_the_american_future.htm

If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, try this:
https://www.population-security.org/rockefeller/001_population_growth_and_the_american_future.htm#Letter%20of%20Transmittal

mh
Subscriber

That (even the shorter version) was profoundly depressing.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

It’s for sleaze ball greedy developers only. It will have no bearing on the drug addicted urban campers.

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

Sheesh. Between 9 watts and Soren, we’re talking purely the best thing to do, and ignoring the second-best and the politically feasible. I will agree with 9-watts’ “this makes us think we’re doing something” and thus delays real solutions. And I, like Soren, believe that Better Housing by Design will provide more new units that this change. But BHD is flawed too, with too-low FARs so all you’ll get in inner neighborhoods is rowhouses, not apartment buildings. It’s time to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If we get some triplexes and quadplexes in Foster/Powell and other mid-city areas, it’s better than getting single family homes on the same lot, given that the tear-down and rebuild would happen anyway. And assuredly, some of these units will be near transit, or close enough in to bike, so we’ll probably get some carbon reduction, compared to the base case of single-family houses in those places.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Teardown/rebuild is not a given if a single family house would not be profitable enough to make demolishing viable housing worthwhile. Given our changing population and stagnant or falling bicycling rates and transit usage (thank you, Uber!), I’m not even sure that carbon reduction is a given.

Are 3-4 rental McMansions better than 1 owner-occupied? Probably, if you’re in the right demographic (and base your analysis on the right assumptions), but I’m not sure those are the only options.

9watts
Subscriber

“Between 9watts and Soren, we’re talking purely the best thing to do, and ignoring the second-best and the politically feasible”

I won’t speak for Soren, but for me, I am interested in differentiating between plausible local benefits (livability, proximity, density), and what we should be wary of claiming it will accomplish at (much) larger scales (earth).

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

3-4 small units is indeed getting four households on the same lot at one household under today’s code (I don’t see how they’re McMansions. The last version of RIP, for instance, allowed four units at a max of 800 to 1000 s.f. each. Hardly a “McMansion”.) And, lower lot selling point is a driver of demolition, as well as expected sale price of the new building. This would vary by neighborhood, but the RIP studies showed the most uptake at about 50-70 blocks from the river, a medium-priced area. Folks in that range indeed have lower rates of car use than further out. (although not as low as closer in). Plus, it will add to the housing supply.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

There’s the rub: we have several parallel housing supplies. Ask yourself: Add to which housing supply? And subtract from which housing supply? Housing is not equal, and new housing almost always adds to a different supply than what it replaces. And the people moving into those new units, close enough to use Uber, far enough to make biking inconvenient, may have different auto usage patterns than those being displaced. Expect auto use to rise as demographics change, and expect currently low income/low car usage households to change habits as they get pushed further out.

I think Soren was right when he observed that the YIMBY movement seems primarily about people wanting to increase housing for themselves. That’s not inherently wrong, but it has stolen the thunder from the housing problem that needs solving.

Jim Labbe
Subscriber
Jim Labbe

I hope the passage of HB2001 puts winds in the sails of passing the Residential Infill Project (RIP).

I think the biggest longterm and perhaps the least appreciated benefits of making single-family zones less exclusive is the potential, with other affordable housing tools, to preserve or reduce the loss of Portland’s historically mixed income neighborhoods. Among the tragedies of the affordability crisis in Portland has been the winnowing out of our historic mixed income neighborhoods and the resulting concentration of the least affluent.

The civic benefits for the overall health of our democracy in creating communities where people from mixed classes and life experiences can live in proximity can’t be over-stated in an era of rising inequality. This is on top of the other multiple social benefits researchers are documenting. Joe Cortright at City Lab did a good piece on this a few years ago:

http://cityobservatory.org/why-mixed-income-neighborhoods-matter-lifting-kids-out-of-poverty/

The City has found that RIP could increase the rate of displacement in the near term in the few neighborhoods most vulnerable to displacement (Lents and Montavilla) but I strongly suspect that would be a short-term spike and probably not change the longterm displacement rate of existing single family zoning in these neighborhoods.

In the long run and for the City as a whole, HB 2001 and RIP will help mitigate the trend of increasing economic segregation and thereby preserve what is best about Portland’s neighborhoods, especially if the City can strategically apply other tools for preserving affordability in all the City’s neighborhoods.

Jim

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> The civic benefits for the overall health of our democracy in creating communities where people from mixed classes and life experiences can live in proximity can’t be over-stated in an era of rising inequality. <<<

I agree with this 100%. I also agree that outside the inner core (where RIP will focus redevelopment on the dwindling number of lower cost rental opportunities), RIP may help mixing by creating new housing attractive to wealthier folks. Whether you consider this "gentrification" or "increased mixing of classes" is in the eye of the beholder.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

We need a new religion.