Housing Reform Continues

The two articles below highlight new milestone legislation, continuing housing reform.

The first is a Massachusetts law to stop exclusionary practices, The second is a Portland Oregon change to the city’s zoning ordinance.

Both approaches were discussed in my August 2 Post Zoning Reform Continued, Now Add Housing.

Massachusetts Strikes a Blow Against Exclusionary Zoning

SHELTERFORCE, Randy Shaw, August 12, 2010

The state is expected to pass and enact a new law to end exclusionary zoning by enabling local governments to pass rezoning changes by a simple majority rather than a two-thirds super majority vote. Many communities only permit other than single family housing through a zoning change or exception. A two year study, released in 2019, documents this process restricts housing choice, diversity, while raising prices. With an expected passage in September, the law is a major shift to stop exclusionary processes, allowing for more housing and options.

“For too long many [Massachusetts] cities and towns have used the supermajority rule as a tool of racist exclusion to protect exclusionary local zoning and perpetuate modern redlining.

Jesse Kanson-Benanav, Abundant Housing MA

Major lessons learned include:

  1. Voters are Pro-Housing – the article cite recent changes in Cambridge, Newton in the state, but also Boulder and Minneapolis. This is seen as a major shift that will be sustained. While I agree there is progress, there seems to be little desire in my town and county to really confront the the obvious affordability and diversity issues here. My sense is this is due a general lack vision and progressive thinking, lack of resources and technical expertise to take meaningful actions. This is not willful, but just going with the flow mentality.
  2. Activists Must End State Barriers – There needs to be sustained and coordinated actions by pro-housing groups to force changes to the regulations and other policies that are barriers to need housing, This has resulted in changes in Colorado, Oregon, Texas and Washington. In Maryland, housing reform legislation was introduced during the 2020 session, but failed because lack of full support and COVID-19. I suspect it may be re-introduced, but will have to complete with budget cuts and related pandemic issues. Activists in Maryland include Maryland Affordable Housing Coalition, Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, and Community Development Network of Maryland.
  3. Governor Support is Key to Passing Housing Choice For any public policy initiative political leadership is essential and the author provides positive examples – Massachusetts, and Washington State governors. This is countered by neutral leadership – California and New York, These are surprising, given California’s infamous high housing prices and the New York – governor’s past job as Housing and Community Development Secretary. Maryland’s current leadership is lukewarm at best about housing and perhaps may not change two years left on a second term,but countered by an active General Assembly.


Sightline Institute , Micheal Anderson, August 11, 2020

The passage of this was the culmination of a six year effort to change the city’s housing affordability and availability. The ordinance allows four to six homes on any lot if half are available to low income residents. In addition, the law removes all parking mandates in 75% of the city’s residential land. The graphic below provides a visual of the new law and impact on needed “middle housing”

Sightline Institute, August, 2020

This effort builds on previous reform efforts from Minneapolis, Austin, and Vancouver, Oregon state. The city’s Residential Infill Project provided the institutional expertise. This also counters major opposition by demonstrating increased density and different housing can be integrated into existing neighborhoods.

It is striking to note the success of this process mirrors the lessons learned from Masscuasetts:

  1. There was a support from citizens to overcome long term resistance to change. This initiative was started by a “local micro developer“. At the public hearings “pro-housing testimony outnumbered anti-housing testimony more than six to one.”
  2. There was also a robust and vocal collaboration by local community housing activists – Hacienda Community Development, the Cully Housing Action Team, Sunrise PDX, amd other state organizations AARP Oregon, the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, Oregon Walks, 1000 Friends of Oregon.
  3. Political leadership was provided by the Mayor and City Council members. Prior Oregon state housing reform legislation also provided both political and policy support.

An important quote many communities ( including where I live) need to consider:

It shouldn’t take six years for any city to agree to give itself permission to build the sort of homes that every city once allowed.

The technical issue here, over enforcement of a provision of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, isn’t massively important to the number or price of homes that get built.

So-called “missing middle” housing options like triplexes, courtyard apartments and cottages aren’t radical or even unfamiliar. They’re just scarce—because they’ve been largely banned from cities across Cascadia and the rest of the US and Canada. In Portland, the bans began in 1924 and expanded almost citywide in 1959. Almost every city in either country that’s existed for more than a century has a similar story.

The technical issue here, over enforcement of a provision of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, isn’t massively important to the number or price of homes that get built.

What matters more is a battle of big ideas. Is it good to have a diversity of housing types and prices in every neighborhood? Or is it bad?

Sightline, Michael Anderson

I believe it is good to have this big idea – housing diversity and affordability! I hope my county and town embrace these “big ideas”!

It is especially relevant now as my town adopts a new Comprehensive Plan, and an opportunity to also update the current antiquated zoning ordinance. A further urgency is review of three large residential annexation requests, proposing over 6,600 dwelling units.

The challenge is can or will our political leadership support the needed housing reforms discussed here?! Many examples and best practices are available for us to at a minimum start!

Source: Centre County Housing Trust

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