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Portland neighborhoods fighting the hardest against the Residential Infill Project tend to be more affluent and the least affected

COURTESY PORTLAND BUREAU OF PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY  - Neighborhoods in red, orange and yellow — generally working-class areas about five miles or so from downtown — are projected to get the most redevelopment due to the proposed Residential Infill Plan. Areas in blue and darker green — which tend to more affluent neighborhoods most opposed to the infill plan —are projected to get less redevelopment than they would under current zoning. Portland neighborhoods five miles or so from downtown could experience the most redevelopment and home demolitions under the city's proposed Residential Infill Project, according to a new city analysis.

Conversely, closer-in affluent communities — home to many of the biggest critics of the infill plan — are projected to have the least amount of new development as a result.

"Higher-income and higher-value neighborhoods will likely see less redevelopment compared to other areas across Portland," city planners wrote in a new 31-page report, Displacement Risk and Mitigation. The report analyzes the impacts of the latest version of the Residential Infill Project, often dubbed RIP, which is slated to go before the Planning and Sustainability Commission for a final vote on March 12.

City planners devised the plan to require more "missing middle" housing — accessory dwelling units, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes — to provide more affordable housing closer to job sites and promote greater racial, class and age diversity in neighborhoods across the city.

Planners project the plan will spur 300 to 400 more triplexes and fourplexes per year within 20 years — about 24,000 units — plus 3,000 added accessory dwelling units.

But many critics are skeptical the plan will provide much new affordable housing or stem home demolitions, and fear it will create parking shortages and other negative impacts in their neighborhoods.

"We're concerned that houses that are affordable are going to continue to be torn down," said Michael Molinaro, a retired architect who lives in the Sunnyside neighborhood.

The new fourplexes won't be owner-occupied, Molinaro said. because condos don't work very well in such buildings. "These are going to be absentee-landlord-owned and rented out," he said.

Residents in Laurelhurst and Eastmoreland — neighborhoods consisting largely of upper-end single-family homes — have gone so far as to petition to become historic districts, in part to thwart redevelopment under the RIP.

But city planners say the current plan, which was changed significantly last spring, makes demolitions in those neighborhoods less likely. That's because, under provisions meant to prevent "McMansions," the maximum size of a new house would be 2,500 square feet, making it less likely someone will buy an existing house to tear it down and replace it.

"Under the proposal, new development in higher-value neighborhoods is expected to be limited to sites with lower-value houses compared to the surrounding neighborhood," the new displacement report states.

"You still could see a fourplex in Laurelhurst or a triplex in Eastmoreland, but the likelihood of that being developed is less than under the current scenario," said Tyler Bump, a senior economic planner working on the RIP.

Molinaro agrees the new provisions will shift developers to opportunities in less-affluent parts of the city.

"They're going to concentrate their work in areas of Portland that are less expensive," he said.

COURTESY PORTLAND BUREAU OF PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY  - Neighborhoods in darker colors are expected to have more low-income renters at risk of being displaced from single-family homes by the Residential Infill Project. Closer-in neighborhoods, which tend to be more affluent, face less displacement, though they tend to have more residents fighting against the infill plan. Displacement potential

City planners say neighborhoods most likely to have residents forced out are those with a higher share of renters who are low-income or people of color, without college degrees, in areas with desirable amenities or locations. Lents, Brentwood-Darlington and the eastern part of Montavilla are likely to experience the most displacement, city planners say. Those and other "middle-ring" neighborhoods such as St. Johns, Portsmouth, Concordia and Cully are expected to see "more significant increases in new unit production," the displacement analysis forecasts.

Some East Portland neighborhoods, including Centennial, Powellhurst-Gilbert, and Mill Park, are forecast to see "moderate increases in new housing units." But nearby neighborhoods such as Parkrose, Argay, Hazelwood and Glenfair "will likely see minimal change," the report states.

Close-in neighborhoods such as Buckman, Richmond, Eliot, Humboldt, and Northwest Portland are pegged to see "minimal change in redevelopment rates and moderate increases in new housing units."

Several close-in neighborhoods are pegged to have less redevelopment than they would expect from current zoning, planners say, including Eastmoreland, Pleasant Valley, Southwest Hills, Sylvan-Highlands, Hayhurst, Maplewood and Wilkes.

City planners, under the guidance of the Planning and Sustainability Commission, revamped the RIP last spring to include most Portland neighborhoods, in order to spur more missing middle housing. They were encouraged in part by support from some of the areas expected to get the most redevelopment, largely in more working-class neighborhoods.

People in Lents are concerned about the potential for displacement, but doing nothing is not going to lead to more affordable housing, said Nick Christensen, the land use chair for the Lents Neighborhood Association.

"As people continue to move here, the only real answer is to make sure there are places for everybody, so they have a place to call home," Christensen said. "We don't want to see people being forced to move further out."

Support with conditions

Some activists say they'd support the RIP if the city invests in some of the tools to mitigate displacement, as catalogued in the new report. Those include weatherization programs for landlords with low-income tenants, waiving development fees if landlords agree to rent to households below the median income, expanding homeownership programs such as those offered by land trusts, and education for lower-income homeowners so they don't get duped by predatory lenders.

Cameron Herrington, anti-displacement coordinator for Living Cully, a coalition of nonprofits in that neighborhood, pointed to a recent Portland State University study that found a disproportionate share of accessory dwelling unit tenants are white and well-educated. "That's a cautionary tale," Herrington said, that a new supply of lower-cost housing may not serve the people who most need it.

"I think that allowing more supply is a key ingredient," Herrington said. But other city bureaus need to use the tools suggested by the Planning and Sustainability Bureau to assure more aren't displaced, he said.

City planners argue that demolitions will decrease under the RIP when compared to current zoning.

However, Johnson Economics, a consultant commissioned by the city, calculated demolitions will grow under the RIP.

Bump said the city used a different computer model than Johnson, and he depicted the different results as relatively minor.

Attacking inequities

One of the raging controversies in the RIP debate has been allegations of elitism or downright racism by communities trying to stave off changes and more affordable housing in their midst.

In the displacement report, city planners conclude that past city zoning codes, along with racist home-lending practices known as redlining, served to maintain some neighborhoods as exclusive enclaves of single-family homes.

The city's first zoning code, adopted in the 1920s, emerged after court decisions banned discriminatory practices in housing, said Morgan Tracy, the RIP project manager for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Then in the 1950s, when the city rezoned many neighborhoods to make them exclusively single-family, that followed the growth of redlining, he said.

The class and racial segregation that resulted "was not an accident," Tracy said.

"Zoning, redlining, racial covenants, and community planning have played a role in shaping the city's urban form — and in exacerbating inequities along race and class lines," planners state in the new displacement report. "Exclusive neighborhoods that do not allow for more housing options to absorb a growing and changing population can increase gentrification pressures in other neighborhoods as housing demand spills over and increases housing costs."

RIP critics resent such allegations, saying planners are using dubious arguments about equity and affordability to win passage of the plan.

If the Planning and Sustainability Commission approves the plan, this political hot potato will get placed on city commissioners' plates.

Displacement risks

• The new report estimates there'd be a slight reduction in home demolitions under the Residential Infill Project.

• In contrast, the Johnson Economics report commissioned by the city estimated there'd be a slight increase in demolitions.

• 14,000 low-income households rent homes in areas that would be rezoned under the Residential Infill Project.

• Planners project 680 low-income renters in single-family homes are at risk of displacement by 2035 under RIP, versus 940 under current zoning.

• People of color make up 30 percent of Portland's population but only 18 percent of its homeowners.

• 18,000 homeowners of color live in areas to be rezoned. In the past, unscrupulous home lenders have preyed upon people of color.

• 37 percent of those homeowners are low-income.

Source: Displacement Risk and Mitigation report, available at:

Source: Displacement Risk and Mitigation report, available at:

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