Urban Growth Boundaries

NAHB Policy

Urban growth boundaries should not be used to restrict suburban development.


Background

Urban growth boundaries (UGBs) are a tool of growth management policy that establishes lines around towns or metropolitan areas and discourages or prohibits growth outside the boundary. Urban growth boundaries have been adopted in only a handful of communities.

The urban growth boundary in Portland, Oregon, which was adopted in 1979, has received the most attention. The Portland boundary is a metropolitan-wide boundary that encompasses several cities and parts of several counties and was made possible by Oregon State legislation. The UGB in Portland was adopted in tandem with other measures that theoretically were designed to make development within the boundary more certain for developers.

NAHB has several concerns with UGBs. In the Portland example, as the region rose out of its long recession of the 1980s and growth accelerated during the 1990s, the UGB's restriction of the land market drove up costs substantially. While Portland was one of the most affordable housing markets in the country in the 1980s, it jumped to one of the most expensive housing markets. Also, when first adopted, it was envisioned that the Portland UGB would be moved outward after a certain period of time to ensure that an adequate land supply existed. However, the expansion of the boundary has become a very contentious political issue, and only a small area has been added to the urban growth area.

The envisioned higher densities within the growth boundary are very difficult to achieve for a number of reasons. First, many prospective residents do not what to live in high-density housing products. Second, when builders do propose high-density housing, adjacent neighbors often successfully oppose the new development. And third, the UGB plans do not address the need for funding transportation infrastructure. As a result, higher density often gets pushed to the outer fringes of the urban boundary, which means households in workforce and affordable homes must commute longer distances.


Solutions

Oppose urban growth boundaries, which restrict the amount of developable land and contribute to increased housing prices and leapfrog development patterns.


Related Resolution

Urban Growth Boundaries