Oregon’s affordable housing crisis can be attributed to restrictive land use policies


By Lydia White

Affordable housing advocates are quick to criticize Portland City Council’s use of the $258.4 million affordable housing bond, but their criticism is fundamentally misdirected. Advocates should turn instead to Oregon’s state and local governments to demand an overhaul of restrictive land use policies.

Vanessa Brown Calder of the Cato Institute has produced a report which demonstrates a correlation between increased zoning and land use regulations and more expensive housing.

One of Oregon’s most restrictive land use policies is the urban growth boundary, a simulated border created to reduce urban development. The Portland Tribune recently reported that, according to Christopher Herbert, the managing director of the Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, UGBs “have the downside of raising land prices” by restricting access to developable land. While some proponents claim that UGBs protect farmland, most fail to acknowledge the extent of their negative externalities.

Calder also suggests government housing subsidies undermine the incentives for states and localities to address what underlies the housing problem—an artificially scarce supply of land—because the aid serves as a substitute for substantial solutions.

Advocates continue to underestimate well-intentioned policies’ unintended consequences. To have an effective impact on housing affordability, they should call on legislative officials to address Oregon’s state and local land use policies.

Lydia White is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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  • Bob Clark

    The Urban Growth Boundary is suppose to expand proportionately with population growth, but instead it’s practically an urban fixed boundary where every acre leaked out is contested in long drawn out processes. Then too government of one sort or another in the state owns over half the land mass, with Metro buying up land not even in its jurisdiction and just locking it up.
    Houston who most all Oregon swamp leaders bemoan as a dreadful sprawl zone is reportedly one of the more affordable home places in spite of substantial population growth. It reportedly has little to no land development restrictions.
    It is kind of interesting one back door way of unlocking the government’s hold on land is homeless folks invading government lands to set up temporary quarters of sorts. All needs happen is government services move out towards these undeveloped areas owned by government.

  • Bill Darcy

    Wow, you can say that again. Starting in the early 70’s creation of LCDC land use rules started the decline of Oregon.

  • Hush D

    Of course, the author of the report lives in Washington DC. And Christopher Herbert presumably lives in Cambridge, Mass and Lydia White went from Ohio to Alabama….so while they can analyze numbers from those places, can they really grasp the challenge? Oregon has 35 million plus just south of the southern state line pining to move here, not to mention people in other locations wanting to get here. The differences between California and Oregon can be extreme, because we have restrictive land use policies and lots of protected farm land. Is California cheap? We know about the externalities of our land use policy because we are here with friends and family trying to afford to live here and we have seen the shitty places these people are from. So save your ignorant arguments. If we want to live in an urban dense environment or a place that is uninteresting, that is an option for us. What a joke. Cato institute says do away with your zoning to make things cheaper. Idiots.

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