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Will Lake Oswego homeowners be on the right side of history in celebrating this reform?

As a lay historian, I am excited for what the future holds for Lake Oswego. As a city of more than 25,000 people, residential land currently zoned for single family housing — per Oregon House Bill 2001 — will newly allow residences of up to four units as well as the addition of "cottage clusters." This evolution in land use policy is a major win for racial justice, environmental stewardship and responsible governance.

I am passionate about history and love when a knowledge of where we come from can inform where we are going. Single family zoning was instituted in the first decades of the 20th century as a tool of racist and classist exclusion (along with redlining and restrictive covenants, which have since been outlawed). Low density zoning was implemented in Portland and most other cities throughout the country several generations ago and continues to influence the make-up of our cities today.

How we frame an issue is vitally important to how it will be received. Given this, I believe there is an imperative to elucidate what is actually happening with this legislation. Another way of saying that Oregon is "abolishing single family zoning" is the following: "the government is easing restrictions on property rights and private land use." At its core, supporting the progressive move of HB 2001 is deeply conservative in lessening government regulation as well as harkening back to "the way things used to be."

What is at stake here is not just righting past wrongs. This land use reform accomplishes 1) racial justice (by making our communities more inclusive), 2) environmental stewardship (by reducing sprawl and lessening greenhouse gas emissions), and 3) responsible governance (by relaxing artificial legal constraints that curtail the effectiveness of market forces to meet consumer demand). Supporting increased zoning allotments to allow for duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes (as well as cottage clusters) is a no-brainer for anyone who cares about these issues.

While the issue is sometimes framed as an abuse of homeowner's rights or a case of government overreach, it is in fact a sensible response to what is happening across our country right now: a crisis of housing affordability. In an overly simplistic but not untrue equation, market forces of supply and demand are such that allowances for increased density will lead to more housing. By allowing developers to produce more profitable housing, market forces will better be able to address the current overall shortage of housing that exists. It would be nothing less than hypocritical for progressive homeowners who want a more equitable and green America to support the ongoing government assurance of the exclusivity of their neighborhoods.

While legislation to allow for a greater variety of housing types is a necessary step to take, it is by no means an overnight remedy to all of the social, economic, and environmental ills aforementioned. Nor is it a silver bullet solution; it is merely one reform among a constellation of other strategies that must be pursued.

Will Lake Oswego homeowners be on the right side of history in celebrating this reform? This is not a clarion call for the city to change overnight; rather it is a plea for it to responsibly and thoughtfully consider its place among the wider society. I sure hope my hometown doesn't disappoint.

Scott Kibler, a Lakeridge High School graduate who was raised in Lake Oswego, has resided in the Midwest since 2008. He currently works in healthcare and is one semester away from earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree with a Minor in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) from the University of Minnesota.


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