You may have carefully purchased your home in Oregon thinking that the zoning laws and comprehensive plans protected you from excessive and overbearing development in your neighborhood. But House Speaker Tina Kotek’s House Bill 2001 changed all that.
Now, Oregon’s larger cities must allow up to four housing units on every single-family home lot. It’s a forced rezoning that increases density and changes the rules for homeowners across the state. We are the only state in the country to adopt a radical rezoning bill like this, so Oregon residents are the guinea pigs for an untested and speculative transformation of the fundamental rules that affect housing ownership and investment.
I believe HB 2001 will have a host of negative consequences for our land use and housing market, locally and across the state.
Loss of Home Ownership
The bill will accelerate the decline of home ownership in Oregon by creating ideal conditions for well-funded, national and international housing investment corporations to buy up homes, convert them to quadplexes, and rent out the results at the highest prices the market will bear. With their massive financial resources, they will be able to do this so efficiently that a prospective homebuyer won’t even be able to make an offer on a house before it has already been sold for cash. The bill will create a rapidly expanding class of renters who will never be able to own their home — at least not in Oregon.
Our existing supply of smaller, older, more-affordable single-family homes will be the first to go, as they are bulldozed for lucrative quadplex conversions. Starter homes will disappear. Families with children will struggle to find anything other than the tiny new one- and two-bedroom “middle housing” rental units with no yards, no parking and little storage space.
Exacerbate Housing Discrimination
The bill will exacerbate economic and racial discrimination in housing. Most “upper-class” developments in Oregon have CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions) that are deeded with their original subdivisions. These typically limit development on a lot to one single family home. These will continue to be in effect, while those of us in the lower class neighborhoods without any CC&Rs will face a radical upzoning. While the bill was supposed to help address inequities and discrimination in housing, it will likely make them worse.
Unplanned Infrastructure Shortages
It is likely to create a chaotic and unplanned densification of neighborhoods that will generate an infrastructure crisis in many cities where inadequate public services like sewer and water will become the norm. All types of urban facilities and services may be impacted (streets, schools, parks, police).
Failure to Create Any
Significant Affordable Housing
Perhaps most important, the bill will fail to achieve its stated goal of generating significant new affordable housing. The high cost of replacing single-family homes with multiplexes will mean that these new units will rent to middle- and higher-income groups and will not serve the low-income households that really need help.
Legislators may have thought this bill was a legitimate solution to our housing affordability problems; however, they failed to consider the demand side of the housing market. While there may be some families who wish to live in tiny multiplex rental apartments, this generally does not reflect the vast majority of homebuyers.
The American Dream continues to be owning a single-family home with a yard. Whether this is right or wrong, it’s still what most people want. Eighty percent of Portlanders surveyed want to live in a single-family detached home.
If you chose to live in a nice, close-in residential neighborhood, you might be wondering “What did I do wrong to deserve this?” After years or decades of investing in your property, now the single-family homes on your street are being torn down and replaced by rental quadplexes with corporate owners who don’t care about your neighborhood. It’s busy and noisy, and there’s no on-street parking anymore for you or your guests. There are no size or height limits in the bill so you may have towering buildings blocking sunlight in your back yard and second- or third-story windows and balconies eliminating any privacy you once had. If you decide to move, you may find your property values have taken a hit, too.
Since the Legislature has undermined the integrity of the single-family zone in all larger cities, prospective home buyers will be forced to look to the smaller satellite communities for their ideal home to raise their families. This will generate more sprawling development. The increased sprawl will consume more land, increase greenhouse gases from added driving and undermine transit due to the dispersed nature of the development that will result.
What Was the Legislature Thinking?
All of these problems were entirely predictable, and, in fact, were presented to the Legislature in clear, timely and voluminous testimony in the record by citizens across the state.
Given the many harmful impacts this bill will likely have, one has to wonder how Legislative leaders like Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney were willing to take such risky and radical actions without the benefits of any rigorous analyses or studies showing that these policy changes would help “solve the housing crisis” and “prevent sprawl,” when in fact they are far more likely to do the opposite? In the process they were selling out Oregonians to out-of-state real estate investors. They were killing the Golden Goose: destroying the neighborhoods, quality of life and natural environment that have made Oregon a place we want to live.
HB 2001 was based on a false narrative that was not supported by facts. Some public officials have talked about the need to fix this bill. But really, do we want to try to fix such a mess? Ask your state legislators to repeal HB 2001 as soon as possible.
Eben Fodor is based in Eugene and has worked for 27 years as a professional urban planner and a community and environmental advocate