Commission wants more housing in infill plan
The City Council is now on track to consider rezoning almost every single-family neighborhood in Portland to accomodate many more homes.
Last Tuesday the appointed Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) tentatively approved new infill policies intended to encourage a greater range of homes throughout the city. The goal is to create more housing opportunities in all parts of Portland, including up to four homes on most properties.
According to PSC Chair Katherine Schultz, the new Residential Infill Project (RIP) recommendations are intended to fight skyrocketing home prices in Portland by allowing relatively small multifamily housing projects to be built in all single family neighborhoods, from accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to four-plexes on practically every lot.
"We recognize that with the current housing market, displacement and gentrification are real and that our vulnerable populations are at risk. The changes to the proposal are intended to mitigate displacement by creating more housing in more locations and at a wider range of price points in an effort to ease the pressure these communities are facing today," says Schultz, an architect and director at GBD Architects.
The new recommendations are likely to be controversial. The project — which started under former Mayor Charlie Hales — has already become a flashpoint in the contentious debate over how the city should accommodate the 123,000 additional households expected to be here by 2035. It is primarily supported by those favoring more density and a greater range of housing choices, including Portland for Everyone, a project of the 1000 Friends of Oregon land use watchdog organization. But it is opposed by many homeowners who fear the changes will undermine the character of the city's residential neighborhoods without producing much lower-priced housing.
"Targeting whole neighborhoods for redevelopment will fuel current trends of displacement, waste, increased cost, increased auto traffic from dispersed density, and will insert out of scale infill. The false narratives concerning affordability, size, and zoning are being peddled by paid and volunteer advocacy orchestrated by Portland for Everyone and redevelopers who will benefit from widespread access to city lots," says local architect and oppoenent Rod Merrick.
The PSC advises the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), which has staffed the RIP. Project staff will now draft the recommendations into proposed code revisions and conduct a new economic analysis of their potential results. According to project manager Morgan Tracy, the new language and anaylsis will likely be brought back to the PSC for final consideration in November, with a vote to forward them to the council taking place before the end of the year.
The recommendations tentatively approved on Sept. 11 would potentially create far more housing than those that had been presented to the PSC by project staff. Among other things, the changes would:
• Rezone 96 percent of single-family neighborhoods to allow for so-called missing middle housing, including duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes and accessory dwelling units. The staff had recommended rezoning 60 percent of such neighborhoods, mostly along high capacity transit lines and stations.
• Allow for any combination of up to four homes on a single lot, ranging from a single-family home and three ADUs to a four-plex. The staff had recommended up to three homes, with four-plexes limited to corner lots.
• Grant size bonuses to additional units by allowing duplexes to be larger than single-family homes, and triplexes to be larger than duplexes. A size bonus would also be offered for affordable units. The staff had recommended a single maximum allowable size for any new house. They would still be much smaller than what is now allowed.
• Require that at least two new homes be built on any double-size lot, a new recommendation.
"The PSC prioritized a wide range of housing types over single-family residences, internal conversions over demolition, the environment over increased consumption of land and inclusive neighborhoods for people of all ages, incomes and abilities. By creating more and smaller housing options, we hope more Portlanders can become homeowners," says Schultz.
Similar proposals have either been enacted or are being considered in other fast-growing cities, including West Coast ones like San Francisco and Seattle. They have also proven controversial, frequently pitting homeowners and renters against each other, and longtime residents against newcomers.
Schultz says the goal is to make Portland a more livable city for more people. She says the recommendations are not intended to solve the affordable housing crisis by themselves, but to reduce displacement and provide more housing choices as the city continues to grow.
"If we continue our pattern of development today of tearing down smaller existing homes and building much larger single family homes, we will lose the opportunity to create more housing options," says Schultz.
You can learn more at www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/77664.