On Nov. 6, the Portland City Council will hold its second hearing on an incredibly important — and understated — policy, known as Better Housing by Design (BHD), that has the potential to transform how abundant and affordable housing is created.
With housing unaffordability gripping the Portland metro region, the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland and 1000 Friends of Oregon have come together to support BHD and advance our shared desire to see more housing options and less displacement.
BHD will allow for the creation of more housing options for households of all ages, incomes and sizes. The proposed new rules also ensure that new development is healthier, more livable and better connected to streets and neighborhood amenities.
These rule changes couldn't come at a better time. It's no secret that Portland (and the rest of Oregon) is experiencing a housing affordability crisis driven by dramatic underbuilding (Oregon is short over 155,000 homes) and a steady increase in new household formation. Portland is stepping up to tackle the crisis, and BHD plays a critical role in that effort.
Within BHD, one policy shift will produce a triple return on investment and help achieve the city's goals of enhancing transportation options, decreasing the cost of housing, and building a sustainable future for all Portlanders.
The proposal before the City Council includes eliminating parking minimums for certain housing types. Doing so will bring us one step closer to achieving a host of environmental and affordability goals.
Eliminating parking minimums allows for more space within a building to be dedicated to housing people, rather than cars. Current city regulations require at least 162 square feet for each parking space. Allowing for buildings to swap this space for habitable uses ensures that more families have opportunities for housing.
This, in turn, means that they will not have to live farther from Portland's business centers, like downtown (where many jobs are concentrated) and will lead to fewer vehicle miles traveled. Fewer miles means reduced greenhouse gas emissions from transportation (Multnomah County's largest emissions sector), which helps advance a pro-climate agenda at the neighborhood level.
A majority of the new housing that would be built under BHD will be located in frequent-service transit areas. More housing near transit will drive investment in public transportation options, which supports lower-income Portlanders who rely on frequent bus and rail service. Better and more frequent transit benefits everyone, including car drivers, as it helps ease overall road congestion.
While BHD will not change Portland's housing makeup overnight, it will give developers the option and tools to build the types of housing that many residents want and need.
Current parking policies force renters to pick up the cost of parking spaces (which can cost upward of $35,000 to build) even if they do not own a car.
BHD remedies this inequity and allows for a market-driven approach to parking. If there is a need, developers will still be able to build parking spaces; if not then the cost of providing new housing will decrease. BHD allows for right-size parking in new buildings and prioritizes people-space over car-space and supports new housing types.
Parking requirements can directly shape the type of housing that developers build. According to a recent analysis by the Sightline Institute, BHD's off-street parking requirements could make it profitable to build a 32-unit, mixed-income building with 28 market-rate condos selling for an average of $280,000. However, due to current parking requirements, the city essentially forces the construction of a 10-unit building with each valued at $733,000 on the same lot.
Portland cannot afford inaction. If we do nothing, prices will continue to rise at an exponential rate and an increasing number of Portlanders will be displaced. Our current housing costs are 181.5% of the national average and rapidly catching up to other metro areas on the West Coast like Seattle (305%), Los Angeles (298.2%), and San Francisco (596.2%).
By voting in favor of BHD, the City Council will send a message that they recognize the inequity of these housing costs and are willing to take direct action to make Portland affordable and livable for everyone.
Ezra Hammer is the Director of Policy & Government Relations for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland. Jennifer Bragar is the president of Housing Land Advocates. Sean Carpenter is the Communications & Media Relations Manager at 1000 Friends of Oregon.
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