Oregon House Bill 2001 Ended Single-Family Zoning Across the State. That’s Causing Some Pushback.

West Linn isn't taking this well.

The temperature is rising around House Bill 2001, the landmark housing law that passed on the final day of the 2019 legislative session.

The law will effectively end single-family zoning in most Oregon cities and allow the development of duplexes and townhouses where now only single-family homes are allowed. The idea is to promote the development of more and cheaper housing.

But not everybody is cheering. At a recent meeting of the League of Oregon Cities, the new law was received about as poorly as a red MAGA hat.

"People are absolutely outraged," says City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is the Portland City Council's liaison to the group. "There were multiple people saying it needs to be repealed."

HB 2001 requires cities to come up with an implementation plan by the end of next year. Pushback is evident in two nearby cities: West Linn and Lake Oswego, both of which are dominated by single-family housing and have the region's highest home values.

Here's how three cities in the Portland area are dealing with the bill.

West Linn

At a Oct. 21 work session of the West Linn City Council, Mayor Russ Axelrod referred to the legislation as "stupid" and said, "This seems like it will create more problems than it will solve." Axelrod and two of his council colleagues mused about launching a legal challenge to the new law, the West Linn Tidings reported.

Since then, Axelrod has chilled. "Some of what I and some others said came off as insensitive or harsh," he said in a Nov. 4 statement apologizing for his remarks.
Axelrod acknowledged the troubled history of single-family zoning, which was used as a tool for segregation in Oregon and across the country. But he still thinks the mandate in HB 2001 will require density in areas that lack transit and other infrastructure.

"Tragically, the concern is, these will not be affordable housing units when built in these more isolated locations," Axelrod said, "and the benefits to the state-required allowed housing will principally be to the developer's pockets."

Lake Oswego

Here, the city council is considering a solution more elegant than West Linn's bluster. It would simply jack up the cost of demolishing a home.

The council will vote this week on whether to impose a fee of $15,000 to $18,000 to demolish an existing home, which the council proposal says would have the effect of "encouraging retention of existing housing stock" and could slow the conversion of single-family houses into duplexes or townhomes.

Mayor Kent Studebaker did not respond to requests for comment.

The battle over single-family zoning in Portland goes back at least to the creation of a historic district in Irvington in 2010, and it's grown increasingly tense since then.

Portland punted on its so called "residential infill plan"—an overhaul of single-family zoning that will be informed by HB 2001—until next spring. In the meantime, it's revamping rules around multifamily housing, what it calls "Better Housing by Design."

Fritz says although HB 2001 mandates changes, it leaves room for interpretation and for how to achieve the goal of creating more housing without destroying communities. "It's a balancing act," Fritz says. "It's not only how many homes do we have, but are they livable?"

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