Portland ahead of House Speaker on controversial infill policy
Portland is already on track to meet Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek's goal of eliminating almost all single-family zoning.
The idea is controversial, however, and will likely spark conflict before both the Oregon Legislature and City Council next year.
Kotek, who represents parts of North and Northeast Portland, plans to ask the 2017 Legislature to allow duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes in single-family zones in cities with more than 10,000 residents. Her goal is encourage the construction a greater variety of homes that are more affordable than single-family houses.
"Oregon needs to build more units, and we must do so in a way that increases housing opportunity for more people," Kotek said in a statement.
The council already approved a policy to encourage more so-called missing middle housing when it updated the city's state-required Comprehensive Plan in 2017. The details are being worked out in the Residential Infill Project, which is currently before the appointed Planning and Sustainability Commission.
The commission is currently recommending that 96 percent of the single-family neighborhoods be rezoned relatively small multifamily projects. Duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes can also be larger than single-family homes — up to 3,500 square feet for a triplex or four-plex, compared to 2,500 square feet for a single family homes.
The commission is expected to approve the recommendations on March 12 and forward them to the council, which will consider such changes in the summer. Although the Legislature could approve Kotek's bill before then, the council would still need to adopt such details as the square footage allowances to enact it.
The commission was briefed on the findings of a recent economic report on its recommendations on Dec. 11. A majority of the members were pleased that Johnson Economics said they would result in far more lower-priced homes being built over the next 20 years. The firm's report said the rezoning and size allowances would encourage 38,115 new homes to be built over the next two decades. That compares to 13,665 new homes under the city's current zoning, the report says.
The report also said the additional homes would be mostly rental units that would cost far less than single-family homes, mostly because they are far smaller. According to the report, the average rent for the new units would be $1,823, compared to $4,159 to rent a single-family house.
And the report predicted a relatively small increase in demolitions if the recommendations are adopted by the council — 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.
"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 will still be higher than lower income households can afford.
"That's not affordable by HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] standards. All of a sudden, we have a class of people being left out."
Other commission 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 displacement of existing lower income residents potentially caused by the recommendations.
Project manager Morgan Tracy said it was 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 affordable housing and home ownership opportunity.
The figures in the report do not include the larger multifamily projects expected to be built along major transportation corridors and in designated urban centers. including downtown, over the next 20 years.
Although the council is not expected to vote on the recommendations for months, they are already dividing the city. 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.
"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 members the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, which is challenging the city's missing middle housing policy in court.
"This is far from a providing a solution to the affordable crisis and it comes at the expense of destroying the zoning of residential properties that Portland has today," said MNA Land Use Committee Chair Jim Peterson.
The same divisions can be expected to surface when the Legislature takes up Kotek's bill. The current draft also allows "cottage clusters," which are not included in the commission's recommendations.
You can learn more about the project at www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/67728.
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