Oregon House Committee Shutters Zoning Reform Bill

Published September 6, 2017

Time ran out for a proposed bill to require Oregon local governments to complete neighborhood zoning reviews in a timely manner. The Oregon House of Representatives Subcommittee on Natural Resources held up the bill until the legislature adjourned for the year on July 7.

House Bill 2007 (HB 2007), introduced by state Reps. Tina Kotek (D-North Portland) and Duane Stark (R-Grants Pass) on March 1, would have required city and county governments in the state to complete zoning requests for developments including subsidized housing within 100 days.

HB 2007 would also have prohibited local governments from banning construction of secondary dwellings, such as basement apartments, “granny flats,” and duplexes, in neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences.

‘Tool of the 1 Percent’

Roderick Hills Jr., a professor of law at New York University who specializes in public law and land use regulation, says zoning laws benefit the wealthy.

“Zoning in major cities—high-demand cities like San Francisco, Boston, New York, and even Portland—is strangulating housing supply,” Hills said. “People can’t move to San Francisco anymore. What you’re seeing is a permanent enclave of the perpetually wealthy. Zoning is now the tool of the 1 percent to insulate themselves, to wall themselves off in gated enclaves.”

John Charles, president and chief executive officer of the Cascade Policy Institute, says the bill would have protected homebuyers.

“The state preemption elements in HB 2007 were probably good, from the standpoint of encouraging more housing construction,” Charles said. “Local governments tend to favor exclusionary measures that benefit current residents at the expense of future residents.”

Overregulated, Land-Poor

Oregon has too many regulations in general, leading to artificially high prices, Charles says.

 “I think the bigger problem in Oregon is overregulation in general, especially through urban growth boundaries and rural downzoning, which creates a buildable-land cartel in urban areas,” Charles said. “Oregon law takes something that is naturally abundant—dirt—and makes it scarce. That’s going to make construction more expensive.  

“If you’re not going to allow real estate markets to function, then you should not be surprised that one of the results is a housing affordability crisis,” Charles said. “If you look at cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, they have very reasonable housing prices, largely because there are few supply constraints.”