FONT & AUDIO
Economist reinforces Residential Infill Project
Fewer home demolitions. More but less-expensive replacement housing units.
Those three housing goals would be achieved if the City Council approves the recommendations of the Residential Infill Project, at least according to a revised economic analysis released by the city Monday.
The project — which started under former Mayor Charlie Hales — has become a flashpoint in the contentious debate over how the city should accommodate the 100,000 additional households expected to be here by 2035. It is primarily supported by those who favor increased residential density and largely opposed by those who want existing neighborhoods to remain unchanged.
Now, as the appointed Planning and Sustainability Commission is preparing to hold public hearings on the project's most recent set of recommendations, Johnson Economics says the results should offer something for everyone.
For those opposed to residential demolitions, restrictions on the maximum size of replacement homes will prevent the construction of new "McMansions," saving at least some smaller houses in existing neighborhoods, Johnson Economics concluded in the analysis, which is included in the proposed draft report.
And for those who favor increased density, future replacement projects are more likely to be duplexes and triplexes, which will house more people and cost less to rent or buy than single-family homes.
Not everyone opposed to the project is likely to accept the conclusions in the analysis, because it was commissioned by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which is managing the project. But it will now shape much of the debate before the commission, which will recommend a version for the council to consider later this year.
The most recent recommendations were posted in the latest project report on its website on April 2. Like earlier versions, it proposed rezoning approximately 60 percent of existing single-family neighborhoods in the city to allow relatively small multifamily projects near transit stations and major transportation corridors. It also recommends shrinking the maximum allowable size of new residential homes on 5,000-square-foot lots from 6,750 square feet to 2,500 square feet.
The 10-page analysis is included in the most recent report. Dense and wonky, it is hard for anyone but an economist to understand. The private Johnson Economics firm examined how the recommendations would potentially affect 17 subareas within the Additional Housing Options Overlay Zone that would be rezoned.
The analysis concluded the square-foot restrictions would reduce future residential demolitions by 22 percent. But allowing replacement projects to house more than one family could increase the overall number of new units by an estimated 31 percent.
In addition, the smaller new units would be more affordable than the larger ones that otherwise would be built. Rents would drop from an average of $4,597 for a new large single-family house to an average of $2,997 for half a new duplex. Average sales prices would fall from $848,000 for a new house to $392,000 for half a duplex. The differences would be even greater for triplexes, which could be built on corner lots.
As the analysis puts it, "The modest increase in allowable units is offset by the lower allowed square footage of new development, which generally reduces the supportable land value for new development. The lower supportable land value decreases the likelihood for redevelopment on a significant number of parcels.
"Sites that do redevelop under the proposed modifications would be expected to deliver units at a generally lower price point and higher unit density. When adjusted to reflect net new units (deducting units lost during redevelopment), the net unit yield is significantly higher."
Still, for those who want existing neighborhoods to stay the same, the analysis confirms that older, less-expensive homes will continue to be demolished and replaced with new housing that many people cannot afford, even if it happens at a slower rate.
The recommendations are also intended to encourage additional accessory dwelling units and the redevelopment of so-called skinny lots, although their potential totals are smaller.
Council already signaled intent
The City Council approved the concept of rezoning existing single-family neighborhoods for more "missing middle housing" when it updated the Comprehensive Plan that governs growth through 2035 last year.
The state Land Conservation and Development Commission recently approved the update, which is scheduled to take effect on May 24. The Residential Infill Project recommendations add city code and zoning changes to enact that concept.
The Planning and Sustainability Commission has scheduled public hearings on the project recommendations on May 8 and 15. It will hold a work session on May 22 and is scheduled to vote on a version for council consideration on June 26.
The council will then hold its own public hearings on the recommendation, with approval expected in the fall.
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.