Commission: Infill report mostly good news
The new economic report of a rezoning plan working its way to the City Council was well received by most of the members of the citizen committee working on it last Tuesday.
The majority of the Planning and Sustainability Committee was pleased that the report said the current Residential Infill Project recommendations will create far more housing units in neighborhoods now zoned for single-family homes over the next 20 years. The units would also cost far less to rent than single family hoomes because they would be in duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes.
"I'm very happy with the way this turned out," commission member Chris Smith said of the Johnson Economics report released shortly before the Dec. 11 meeting.
But commission member Andre Baugh said that even though the predicted rents were lower, they stall are predicted to average $1,823 per unit, which is more than lower income households can afford.
"That's not affordable by HUD [US Department of Housing and Urban Development] standards. All of a sudden, we have a class of people being left out."
Other members noted that few of the new units would be available for purchase. And some worried that older existing homes, which are currently the most affordable ones, will be demolished to way for the new multifamily projects. The commission responded by directed the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which is staffing to project, to prepare a study on the dispalcement of existing lower income residents potentially caused by the recommendations.
Project manager Morgan Tracy said the recommendations were never intended to create affordable housing as defined by HUD or home ownership opportunities, but to increase the availability and variety of housing in the city. Tracy said the city has other programs to create afforable housing and home ownership opportunity.
The commission is expected to approve the recommendations on March 12 and forward them to the council, which will consider them in the summer.
The commission originally considered recommending that 60 percent of single-family neighborhoods be rezoned to allow smaller multifamily project. It now has raised that number to 96 percent, or almost all of them. The commission also wants to encourage developers to build multifamily projects by increasing the maximum size of the structures. Single-family homes would be limited to 2,500 square feet but increased to 3,500 for a triplex or four-plex.
The Johnson Economics report found the current recommendations would result in 38,115 new homes being built over the next two decades. That compares to 13,665 new homes under the city's current zoning, the report says. The original recommendations would have produced only around 200 additional homes.
According to the report, under the city's existing zoning, the majority of new homes built over the next 20 years would be single-family houses that would rent for an average of $4,159 a month. If the council approves the recommendations, the majority would be duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes, with the average rent being $1,823 per unit.
"The impact on rental residential pricing was highly significant, with average rents dropping by 56 percent as compared to the default scenario (current zoning), which reflects a change in unit size as opposed to reduced rents per square foot," the report says.
The numbers do not include the larger multifamily projects expected to be built along major transportation corridors and in designated urban centers including downtown.
The report also predicts a relatively small increase in demolitions if the rezoning happens — from 1,384 to 1,501 over the next 20 years. But the net increase of 24,333 units is much greater because so many multifamily projects will replace them.
Almost all of the new units will be rentals, not owner-occupied homes, however. According to the report, few developers are building condominiums anymore because of liability and insurance issues, which are national concerns.
The recommendations are controversial. Supporters say the change will encourage the construction of a greater and more affordable range of housing throughout the city. Opponents say the rezoning will change the character of the city's neighborhoods and encourage more existing homes to be demolished and replaced.
"It is no surprise that by allowing more units on a single lot, we can lower prices per home. Right now, the only type of housing allowed in 43 percent of the city is the most expensive: a single-family detached home with mandatory space for a car. This latest recommendation will allow for smaller, more flexible, and less-expensive housing options, making it possible for all kinds of Portlanders to live in neighborhoods that are close to schools, jobs, parks, transit and all the things that we love about our city," said Madeline Kovacs, coordinator of Portland for Everyone, a project of the 1000 Friends of Oregon land-use watchdog organization.
But the results were criticized by the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, which is challenging the city's push for more "missing middle" housing in court.
"The memo shows that the RIP will increase demolitions by 8 percent, create 24,333 mostly small rental units, promote rentals over owner-occupied units, [and] result in an average monthly rent of $1,823," reads a Sunday email from the MNA, whose members also are demanding public testimony on the report. The deadline for submitting comments on the recommendations was May 15.
You can learn more about the project at www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/67728.
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.