Could Oregon Become First State to End Single-Family Zoning?

A proposal to end single-family zoning could allow for denser housing in Oregon cities. Photo Credit: jonryanjohnson/Twenty20

Eric Tegethoff
Public News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. — In an effort to tackle the affordable housing crisis, Oregon could end single-family zoning this legislative session. Oregon would be the first state to do so if lawmakers who support the idea succeed.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is drafting legislation that requires cities with more than 10,000 residents to allow up to four homes to be built on parcels currently zoned exclusively for single-family housing, according to Willamette Week reporters. Mary Kyle McCurdy is deputy director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, a watchdog group for Oregon’s land-use planning program. She said such a proposal could meet the needs of more Oregon families in the places where affordability is an issue.

“In areas that are largely already developed, those also tend to be the ones that have their infrastructure. They’re near schools and parks. There may be transit,” McCurdy said. “Those are the areas where we should be providing more housing options so that people can more readily get to school, their jobs, the store.”

McCurdy noted Oregon is short about 155,000 housing units statewide, according to various studies. And most of that is housing for middle- and lower-income Oregonians.

In December, Minneapolis became the first major city to eliminate single-family zoning. Portland is considering a similar plan. The city has the fourth-highest percentage of single-family home occupancy in the nation.

McCurdy said zoning practices have historically been used as tools for segregation, and a plan to address single-family zoning could also deal with this issue. She said creating more diverse housing options within cities also prevents sprawl.

“It’s much more expensive to provide roads and pipes to new areas that aren’t developed at all, and that makes the housing that might be built there pretty unaffordable,” she said. “And it also is usually not located near to transit or existing schools and parks and that sort of thing. And it causes people to have to drive more.”

Oregon lawmakers head to Salem on January 22.