At the core of this housing supply action plan is a federal push to budge local zoning codes that restrict or forbid apartments across vast swaths of the country. Strict zoning codes allow affluent communities dominated by single-family homes to exclude the kinds of multifamily housing that would expand access to amenities and opportunities in these neighborhoods. Nixing these rules won’t make cheaper apartment buildings spring up overnight, but it’s a necessary first step to expand the supply of homes, especially where they are most needed.
The long-term goal is, ultimately, to reduce the number of single family, standalone homes and replace them, over time, with multi-story multi-family dwellings. Think of cities such as Amsterdam. The public facing goal is to increase the supply of housing and reduce zoning barriers that have been used in some areas as a form of racial discrimination.
My state has already enacted some of these zoning changes and it has resulted in driving up the price of single-family homes. This is because market demand remains in favor of single-family homes but the overwhelming majority of new construction here is now multi-family dwellings. But the impact, then, is to move more people into multi-unit dwellings.
First, my state enacted “growth management” rules that limit most new housing to within existing boundaries. This is to make delivery of city services such as water, sewer, police and fire “more affordable” (in theory).
Second, my state has abolished zoning rules that prohibited apartments and condo complexes within single, standalone home neighborhoods. It is now legal, for example, for a developer to purchase the homes and lots next door to mine and build 8-unit apartments on them, if they wished to do that. In fact, vacant land adjacent to my neighborhood has already been built with multi-unit family dwellings (condo-style housing). Perhaps this implies that eventually, the neighborhood will be served by transit (there is none here now) and perhaps the phone company would upgrade the copper network to fiber to the curb.
I have no idea what the right way is to proceed on this – I know only that it is proceeding. I doubt most people are aware of what it means for their own situation.
Again, the long-term goal is that U.S. cities gradually transform into more European style cities, with multi-unit dwellings, and homes without yards, within high population cities, served by government run mass transit. This goal seems most likely to occur in large, high population cities that are currently suburban in nature with a core old-style downtown surrounded by expansive blocks of standalone residential homes. These were created post World Wars, with grid-oriented streets and housing frequently separated from shopping and business/office/work locations, resulting in long commutes.
Update July 14 2022
Apparently this “upzoning”, as it is called, may be required by the Federal government.
Seattle City Council is considering upzoning all residential neighborhoods to comply with a federal housing mandate.
Beyond comprehensive upzoning, OPCD considered several other options, labeled “No Action,” “Focused,” “Broad,” and “Corridors.”
“Broad” would potentially allow a more comprehensive range of low-scale housing options, like triplexes and fourplexes, in all neighborhood residential zones.
“This envisions new types of housing and somewhat more growth at a very dispersed and lower level than you would see certainly in an urban village,” Hubner said. “But with housing types like triplexes, and fourplexes, townhomes, that sort of thing in all areas of the city and trying that emphasize what that would look like. It’s not tossing out the centers and villages, it’s a new feature.”
Under the current plan, new housing is primarily rental apartments concentrated in existing mixed-use areas. Most land outside urban villages remains limited to high-cost detached houses.
This reinforces my comments above – the goal is to – very gradually – increase density, over time into European-style cities and this will occur in large to mid-sized cities.
Update July 23, 2022 – Oregon revamps zoning rules
Like I said – turn U.S. cities into dense European style cities – here’s the new law in Oregon:
- Increase development in climate-friendly locations, including city centers, town centers, and transit corridors, where housing, jobs, and services are located and the need to drive is reduced;
- Improve facilities for walking, bicycling, carpooling, and transit so people can reach destinations without depending on single-occupancy vehicles;
- Manage parking to avoid over-building parking, which uses land needed for housing and services, increases housing costs, and pushes housing and services further apart, making it harder to access destinations without a vehicle;
- Refocus transportation planning towards a system that provides a broader range of equitable and climate-friendly transportation options rather than emphasizes motor vehicle congestion.