Rising rents, loss of farmland, habitat destruction and other single-family home costs
For decades, land use regulation in the United States has emphasized single-family homes on large lots. This approach has diverted many people from the quintessential American dream: home ownership. It also fostered suburban sprawl―a low-density, car-dependent pattern of development that dominated growth to edges of urban areas since the end of World War II.
Now, however, Americans may be starting to question the opportunity of a private home. Over the past year, the Minneapolis City Council and the State of Oregon have voted to allow duplexes and other types of multi-unit dwellings in neighborhoods where only single-family homes are currently permitted. Virginia Democratic lawmakers, who recently took control of their state legislature, are seeking to enact similar legislation. And several Democratic presidential candidates have included changes to zoning laws in their housing policies.
The high costs of spreading
Elected officials are rethinking single-family zoning as some of their constituents fear single-family homes cost too much, are useless and can isolate people from their communities.
Many researchers have shown that single-family zoning promotes discrimination and exclusion. Our research focuses on its environmental impacts. Dozens of studies have shown that sprawl is energy-intensive, mainly for transport; consumes too much land; degrades air and water quality; reduced species diversity; and contributes to climate change.
We looked at how Oregon’s land use policy affects residential density and Oregon housing affordability crisis. Oregonians are known to be progressive and environmentally conscious. They hate density because they value privacy and space. But they also hate sprawl because it consumes valuable agricultural land.
In short, Oregon seems like the perfect starting point for policies limiting single-family zoning. One of his 19 statewide land use goals, which were adopted at the beginning 1970s, accommodation addresses and requires cities to include many types of housing. But exclusive single-family neighborhoods still dominate the Oregon landscape today.
In the beginning 1970s, in what has been named “the quiet revolution in controlling land usesome states have begun to regain power over the zoning they had ceded to cities and towns. In 1973Oregon created “urban growth limits”―a demarcation line between urban and rural land uses―around each of its cities, as well as other measures to contain growth and prevent sprawl.
Our research shows that this approach has helped contain urban growth and promote more efficient land use. Single-family density within the urban growth boundary, measured in single-family housing units per acre, has steadily increased since the zones were created. Statewide single-family density increase 22% from 1993 for 2012.
The Eugene, Oregon urban growth boundary has protected land just outside the city limits from development, but single-family residential land constitutes 87% residential land within boundaries. (Photo provided by Oregon Imagery Explorer / http://imagery.oregonexplorer.info/ )
However, the spreading exists within the limits of urban growth. We have found that land exclusively zoned for single-family homes can only hold a maximum of eight to ten units per acre. And as demand for homes outstrips supply, low-income families are pushed to cheaper areas away from their jobs. Ready for growtha national coalition that advocates denser development, believes that only 89 homes were built in Oregon for each 100 households formed from 2000 by 2015.
In short, housing is becoming more and more expensive. A 2019 A Harvard study concluded that the supply of low-cost rental housing (less than $800 per month) in Oregon decreased by 44% between 1990 and 2017. Today 63% of Oregon Dwellings is individual houses or isolated single-family units.
Housing difficulties make smaller homes more desirable
These problems are not limited to Oregon. According to the Harvard Joint Center on Housing, 47% of renter households nationwide pay more … than 30% of their income in housing costs. And new residential construction remains below before2008 – 2009 rate during a recession.
Included between 2000and 2015United States by-product7 . 3 million homes, meaning families across the country are struggling to find affordable, available housing. This shortage lasted22States and the District of Columbia.
Officials acknowledge that only allowing single-family homes creates equity issues. Single-family zoning segregated neighborhoods after World War II by excluding African American families, who could not afford single-family homes, from middle-class white neighborhoods.
Today, the demand for smaller, connected homes, including duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes, within walking distance of services is increasing. People like to live like this, but as an architect and urban planner Daniel Paroleck showed, regulatory hurdles deter builders from producing more of these types of housing, what he calls the “middle missing.” As Parolek points out, many of the various housing types that are common in older neighborhoods, such as duplexes and triplexes, are illegal under most current zoning codes.
A small but important start
All of these factors have contributed to lead Minneapolis and Oregon to move away from single-family zoning and allow more types of housing. But despite all the attention these actions have received, we expect them to have a modest impact.
Housing markets are complex and are affected by much more than zoning. A key question is whether costs will come down if policy makers encourage the construction of various “missing housing types.
But that doesn’t mean that changing zoning policies is wrong. Promoting the construction of a wider range of housing creates more vibrant neighborhoods, reduces the conversion of agricultural and forest land for suburban development, lowers infrastructure costs, and provides more equitable housing opportunities for all.