With House Speaker Tina Kotek's bill to require communities to create denser zoning in neighborhoods currently zoned single-family, I'm happy to see Oregon take the lead to create the sea change in Americans' perception of what's a great neighborhood. Younger generations will have their own landmark legislation to take pride in — as we once again set the pace for the rest of the country.
Like Senate Bill 100, passed in 1973 by an older generation, the Kotek bill requires Oregon communities to act. Those with more than 10,000 people must come up with a plan to allow construction of duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and cottage clusters where now only single-family homes are allowed. It's a great way to further statewide Goal 10 (Housing) while giving generations left out of the housing system more choice. And by allowing more people to live in neighborhoods with services they can walk to, we reduce demand for fossil fuels. This bill is not only a housing bill, it's a climate bill!
When did this sea change start? Perhaps it was the 2013 publication of Daniel Parolek's article, "Missing Middle Housing: Responding to the Demand for Walkable Urban Living," that woke us up to the fact that most older neighborhoods had not always been zoned single-family, but the housing options we once had are now banned, hence missing.
Perhaps it was the 2017 publication of Richard Rothstein's "The Color of Law," documenting for civic activists how single-family zoning was instituted as a tool for racial discrimination. (People of color already knew this from personal experience and have long declared housing justice is part of climate justice.)
I believe these recognitions have begun to change sentiment regarding exclusive single-family zoning in this country similar to the way the #MeToo movement has started to change sentiment towards sexual assault. Young people and people of color who felt left out of the housing system picked up on these concepts and pushed for more housing in the close-in neighborhoods where they wanted to live.
They won gains through groups like Neighbors for More Neighbors (Minneapolis), Bend YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard - Bend) and PDX YIMBY and Portland for Everyone (Portland).
At its Dec. 5 meeting, Bend City Council voted to end single-family zoning in some neighborhoods. Then on Dec. 7, Minneapolis City Council voted to end single-family zoning in all of its neighborhoods. Portland has been working on such a zoning change for over four years. Then on Dec. 12, senior economist Josh Lehner from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis published "Reconsidering Single Family Zoning." On Dec. 14, Willamette Week first reported Speaker Kotek's plans for a bill that would make Oregon the first state to ban single-family zoning — at least for communities over 10,000.
In his ringing endorsement of Missing Middle for its multiple benefits, Lehner points out "addressing housing supply and affordability is key to Oregon's long term economic growth."
Missing Middle housing will ultimately lead to greater housing affordability in both for-sale and rental housing. It will give choice to those able to move up to new housing — allowing others to occupy their former space.
I hope that Pamplin Media newspapers will see Speaker Kotek's bill as both a housing affordability measure and a climate measure and endorse it as such. Reducing demand for fossil fuels via walkable neighborhoods is one of the most important things we can do to reduce greenhouse gasses.
I urge readers to ask your elected representatives to support this landmark legislation on both counts as well.
Mary Vogel is principal of the political consulting firm PlanGreen.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)