This Revolutionary New Zoning Law Could Help Solve Oregon’s Housing Crisis

view of mount hood seen from the columbia river in portland oregon

This Revolutionary New Zoning Law Could Help Solve Oregon’s Housing Crisis

By 2035, the state of Oregon is set to construct 100,000 new homes. 

But as real estate and construction prices skyrocket due to Oregon’s increasing population, the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the legacy of exclusionary zoning laws, it’s been unclear how exactly one of these new homes could become a reality for the average Oregonian household.

In a revolutionary new legislative step, Oregon is taking action. 

In this post, we’ll cover one of the many efforts the state of Oregon is taking to address the single-family zoning issue at the heart of the current housing crisis: a new law, HB2001, and its implementation plan, the Residential Infill Project (RIP). 

The bill, if taken advantage of by developers, homeowners, and property owners, could help to mitigate the housing crisis and better fit the housing needs of Oregon families. Keep reading to find out how. 

What’s The Deal With Single-Family Zoning?

Single-family zoning is a type of land use regulation that restricts the type of housing to one detached home, for one family, on one lot. It prohibits the construction of multi-family friendly housing like townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, and apartments in residential areas. Oregon passed laws in favor of single-family zoning in 1959, and until the passage of HB2001, 70% of Oregon’s residential land was zoned for single-family housing. 

In effect, this type of zoning creates a housing supply shortage that hikes real estate prices and takes up enormous chunks of land that could be used to house more people at a lower cost. This supply shortage and resultant higher costs create an exclusionary housing climate that prices out young families, seniors, communities of color, and immigrant populations. (Read more about the implications and history of single-family zoning here.)

HB 2001: Increasing Housing Options, Decreasing Housing Prices 

In 2019, the state of Oregon passed HB 2001. For medium-sized cities (10,000 residents), the bill went into effect in 2021, while large cities (25,000 residents, including the Portland metro area) will have to wait until summer of 2022 to take advantage of the new rules. 

The new law requires Oregon’s largest cities (including Portland) to allow the construction of various forms of “middle housing” (this includes ADU’s, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses) in residential areas. 

The bill directly addresses several housing issues at once: the housing shortage (by increasing the supply of homes); housing affordability (with higher supply, prices drop); housing density (by allowing the construction of new units on lots with existing structures); and housing options (by allowing different types of structures besides detached houses to be built in residential areas). 

The Department of Land Conservation and Development is responsible for helping cities adjust their infrastructure to accommodate the changes and increased density as a result of the legislative changes. 

The Residential Infill Project (RIP): Oregon’s Path Forward

Image courtesy of the Sightline Institute

The Residential Infill Project (also known by its somewhat unfortunate acronym, the RIP) is Oregon’s localized strategy for implementing HB2001. RIP went into effect August 1, 2021. It does several things, namely:

  • Reduces maximum building size 
  • Expands housing options 
  • Sets new standards for building design

Over the years, there have been several different manifestations of the RIP strategy. If you want to read more about the 5-year history and development of the Residential Infill Project, read this article by Sightline to get a better understanding of the hurdles it faced in coming to fruition. 

Is Higher-Density Housing Better? 

High-density housing isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and density for the sake of density is not a solution in and of itself. 

According to ADU expert and housing advocate Kol Peterson, the real problem is when low-density zoning pushes out the working class, and renders the availability of adequate housing impossible for the average family.

In Oregon as well as in jurisdictions across the US, what we’re seeing is a crisis of low-density housing that’s been in the works for decades: “Over time, as pressures and demands grow, populations increase, and demand for houses increases, we are inherently limited by the potential for new housing because of our zoning. Now, it’s a matter of changing that structure,” says Peterson, “and either upzoning single-family residential to multi-family residential, or, more creatively, taking single-family residential zoning and changing the rules within that zone.” 

Essentially, the latter is what the state of Oregon is aiming for with the creation of HB2001 and RIP. 

While increased density isn’t the goal of HB 2001 and the RIP, it is an important side effect –– one that hasn’t been without its share of opponents. While the bill was met with overwhelming support in the Oregon legislature, those who oppose it believe increased density will be a strain on infrastructure, and promote overcrowding. 

It’s important to note that HB2001 and RIP don’t require new construction of middle housing –– they simply allow more flexibility in housing choices for those who want to build. As such, no drastic changes will happen overnight. 

What HB2001 and RIP Mean For Oregon Residents

Whatever transformation these reforms may catalyze will be extremely gradual, taking place over many, many years; “Portland will never look like New York City, with skyscrapers and hundreds of residents per city block,” says Peterson. “What Portland will look like in a hundred years doesn’t exist anywhere in the US.” 

For a city like Portland that has long been stifled by arcane zoning rules, the gradual implementation of HB2001 and RIP will eventually produce more housing flexibility, greater housing supply, and lower housing prices –– which in turn means working-class Oregonians will be able to live closer to their jobs, their schools, their families, and parks, at price points they can actually live with. That’s something we can all look forward to. 


Learn More About Zoning Reform and Housing Density:

House Bill 2001: More Housing Choices for Oregonians 

Portland City Council Passes Residential Infill Project 

Residential Infill Project Summary 

Portland’s housing shortage: Low inventory spurs higher prices, pushing ownership further out of reach

The Eight Deaths of Portland’s Residential Infill Project

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