Eliminating Choice in Housing

By John Glennon

You should be able to decide what type of home you live in, but your ability to make that decision is severely limited by urban planning. Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary removes the responsibility of supplying housing from market actors who profit from producing what consumers want to buy. Instead, planners decide whether land within the Urban Growth Boundary has been sufficiently used, or whether it can accommodate growth for the next 20 years. Urban planners effectively choose what types of housing residents will have available to them.

According to the city of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, in Portland, “[a]pproximately 20 percent of all new housing will be in single-dwelling residential units.” Most future housing capacity allowed by planners in jurisdictions across the region is dense “mixed-use” developments. New single-family residences which are permitted are crammed together without yards. Beaverton’s comprehensive plan actually bans new low-density residences. Beaverton’s plan says: “To limit the City’s deficit in its regional share of population, expansion of the low density residential areas must be prohibited.”

Not everyone’s wants or needs are met in dense urban centers, but with the plans in place only the wealthiest residents will be able to make different choices. Let’s prevent this future and question whether compact development is always the best option.

John Glennon is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market think tank.

Learn more at cascadepolicy.org.