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Analysis & News on the Future of Public Finance

CSG: Local Zoning Will Emerge as an Issue - Affordable Housing

By Court Street Group Partner, Joseph Krist

Minneapolis recently took action to end single-family zoning to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city. The changes allow for the establishment of smaller apartment buildings in neighborhoods to increase affordability and access to housing and the benefits of the established local economic bases often found in those neighborhoods.

The speaker of the House of the Oregon Legislature is drafting a bill that would require cities to allow apartments in all residential neighborhoods and it would compel cities to permit duplexes triplexes, fourplexes, and cottage clusters as-of-right in all urban areas zoned for detached single-family housing (with an allowance for reasonable design and siting regulations). Jurisdictions with more than 10,000 residents would have 16 months to revise their zoning codes accordingly, or else be governed by a state code.

Seattle will vote on whether to allow larger buildings in two-dozen neighborhoods in March. The California Legislature is expected to revisit the issue with reformulated legislation designed to encourage growth near public transit and the development of more affordable housing. State Sen. Scott Wiener has proposed SB 50, a revised version of his bill to force the state’s municipalities to permit denser housing near transit—effectively legalizing apartment buildings in all of San Francisco and much of Los Angeles.

These issues will become more important as the debate over density and its relationship to transit and housing and commercial development. Many of the imagined technological changes forecast for cities especially come from a presumption of certain density levels which do not comport to realities on the ground. Zoning invokes a significant level of interest and neighborhood participation, more so than many items that could easily be thought of as more important. So the process will involve many difficult challenges as the effort to align transit, housing, and economic development issues.