My View: Deeper Deception - RIP Lacks Public Support and Accountability
Editor's note: The City Council will hold a remote public hearing on the residential infill project on Wednesday, June 3.
This may surprise. The Residential Infill Project is not a "modernization" of Portland's zoning code but an untested and radical inversion. The impacts are as divisive as its "RIP" acronym might suggest — effectively handing over single family neighborhoods across the city to investors for random density redevelopment. The advocates including Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability planners, both mayoral candidates, and boosters all offer aspirations and ideology. Maybe it will be needed in 20 years. Maybe it will welcome new neighbors. Maybe it will produce "innovative" housing. Maybe it will advance social justice. Maybe it will lower housing costs. Maybe it is compelling in that unlikely bed-fellows 1000 Friends (under various guises), real estate investors, and the home builders joined forces to advance their own interests and ideological notions of how Portlanders should live. Maybe.
Or maybe it has become a race to displace — our most disadvantaged citizens, our most affordable housing, our most desired housing types, our adopted comprehensive planning goals for livability, home ownership, stable neighborhoods, compatible infill, and goals for resilience and sustainability. Leading to this point of final decisions, there has been no testing, an embarrassing lack of analysis, and no framework or standards for assessing the impacts of these far reaching policies.
RIP emerged from an increasingly ham-fisted process flagrantly disregarding thoughtful public testimony in opposition over several years. Even the heavily lobbied planning commission (PSC) found it a challenge to provide a green light to the previous iteration. The reduced lot sizes and "deeper affordability" amendments, under consideration this week by the four remaining City Council members, continue this pattern. What has become crystal clear is that new higher density rental/condo housing displacing older single family housing is not about affordability. Encouraging 6 and 8-plex housing everywhere is simply deeper deception.
Displacement of every sort has been one of the Achilles heels of this project. Displacement mitigation remedies remain ill-conceived, without standards for accountability, and of course unfunded. For these reasons, we urge that if the RIP advances it must be constrained by a mandated periodic assessment; this to be conducted by an independent auditor and published at least every 5 years until the next (2055?) Comprehensive Plan is approved. This audit should include at minimum an assessment of the following indicators associated with additional density building permits in the "Single Family Zones"(R2.5-R20).
• Transportation impacts and specifically: Transit ridership, pedestrian travel, parking congestion, and auto ownership patterns associated with the additional density.
• Displacement of lower income residents and communities associated with the additional density.
• Housing Affordability relative to income associated with the additional density.
• Ownership patterns (owner occupied, small scale investor owned, corporate ownership) associated with the additional density building permits.
• Displacement of middle income families with children associated with the additional density.
• Urban tree canopy reductions and changes in the heat sink characteristics.
• Public school participation rate associated with the additional density.
• Complaints about incompatibility of scale and design of structures associated with the additional density building permits.
In this season of ugly surprises and crisis, let's take careful thoughtful steps for a change. We have time on our side — time to assure that assessment is integral to the approval of the RIP and time to clarify RIP's purpose; time to evaluate outcomes and to allow for adjustments in guiding development of our city.
Rod Merrick, AIA
Rod Merrick is a Portland architect, urban planner, long time advisor to the City on transportation issues and president of his southeast Portland neighborhood association.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.