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Portland becomes the latest city to scrap single-family zoning

By Mike Wheatley | August 14, 2020

More cities are overhauling their existing zoning laws in order to free up space for affordable housing.

The latest city to do so is Portland, Oregon. Its City Council this week approved a wide-ranging rezoning ordinance that enables garden apartments and triplexes to be built beside existing single-family homes.

The new policy is known as the Residential Infill Project, and was signed into law after almost six years of debates and delays, local news site Willamette Week reported. The policy allows for up to four homes to be constructed on each residential lot in the city, and in some cases, up to six units if at least three of those are considered to be affordable for low-income families.

The move comes after Oregon lawmakers banned single-family zoning in the state with legislation enacted last year. That new law mandated that cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants allow higher-density housing types such as fourplexes and townhomes in areas that previously only permitted single-family housing.

The new policy introduced by Portland’s City Council means that law has finally been implemented.

“I am proud to support a policy that creates opportunities for more housing and different kinds of housing,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told Willamette Week. “I am particularly proud that the proposal offers a significant bonus for affordable housing developers, given the significant need.”

Calls for single-family family zoning to be scrapped have been heard in cities across the U.S. where there is a shortage of affordable housing. Some recent examples include Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia, where legislation has also been introduced to allow for higher-density zoning in areas previously dedicated to single-family zoning only.

But there are opponents to the idea, with many neighborhood associations arguing that so-called “upzoning” damages the look of streets by allowing a greater variety of housing. They say it could have a negative impact on the value of existing single-family homes.

Due to this opposition, calls for the removal of single-family zoning laws haven’t succeeded everywhere. In California, lawmakers proposed Senate Bill 50 that would allow homeowners to convert a garage, office or spare room into separate living quarters, but it failed to muster enough votes to come into effect. The California bill also proposed allowing up to three homes on land designated for single-family use.

But the need for a solution is becoming acute, as many cities are “physically running out of space”, said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist of Lending Tree, in an interview with Mreport.

“The zoning restriction creates affordability problems in many of the most desired metro areas, and removing it should be a priority for cities that want to be competitive in the future,” Kapfidze said.

“There is no perfect answer, balancing old neighborhoods that were less densely populated versus trying to provide more housing in a convenient location at reasonable prices,” Robert Senko, president of ACC Mortgage, told the MReport.

Mike Wheatley is the senior editor at Realty Biz News. Got a real estate related news article you wish to share, contact Mike at [email protected].
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