Slate: Oregon is adopting the most important housing reform in America

Slate, July 2, 2019: Oregon is adopting the most important housing reform in America

The Oregon Senate sent House Bill 2001 to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk on Sunday by a 17–9 vote, the latest and largest victory for a national movement to increase density in communities that have severely restricted what can be built—and as a result, who may live there. In Portland, Oregon’s largest city, 77 percent of residential land is set aside exclusively for single-family homes. In the suburbs, the share is higher.

Legalizing apartments is not a panacea. But it is a precursor to other solutions. If there are no apartments, there are no homeless shelters, no student housing, no senior housing, and no Section 8. That’s why California’s zoning override bill, the More HOMES Act, was endorsed by Habitat for Humanity and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, a coalition of 750 affordable-housing groups. More apartments would allow people to live closer to jobs, schools, and amenities, making transit more viable and reducing commute distances, which is good for the environment. Shorter, more-reliable commutes are also associated with greater economic mobility.

Most importantly, by upzoning entire cities and states at a time, these efforts could help make sure that it isn’t only low-income neighborhoods of color—the places vulnerable to gentrification and displacement—that become hot spots for development in cities that need more housing. Whiter, richer neighborhoods that have aggressively opposed any attempts to build more housing will finally have to bear their share of the supply.

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