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Portlanders show up for more housing as Residential Infill Project heads to council

Posted by on January 13th, 2020 at 9:56 am

Standing room only for housing reform. Yup.
(Photo: Henry Kraemer)

When more people live closer to each other and to destinations, they will ride bikes more. That’s one reason housing and land-use is crucial if we want to reach our bicycling goals.

(Source: Bureau of Planning & Sustainability)

This week Portland City Council is hearing two days of public testimony for the long awaited Residential Infill Project (RIP). The hearings are scheduled for Wednesday January 15 at 2:00 pm and Thursday January 16 at 5:00 pm. On Friday night I attended an information session at Lucky Lab in northwest organized by Portland Neighbors Welcome (along with SunrisePDX, Business for a Better Portland, and No More Freeways).

Here’s what I learned…

The Residential Infill project will re-legalize duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes in single family zones. 40% of Portland’s land area is currently zoned for single family housing and is expected to absorb twenty percent of Portland’s population growth. It wasn’t always this way. Portland’s first zoning plan was approved by voters in 1924, at a time when the Klan was running Oregon politics. Single family zoning was extended to more areas of the city in 1959. These decisions still impact housing prices today.

Housing types allowed in single family zoned lots with RIP.

The latest version of the RIP draft (PDF) allows more flexibility for housing options up to fourplexes. Why four? Splitting land costs four ways has a significant affordability boost compared to three units. Homes with up to four units are considered residential and not commercial properties in banking and are available for a standard mortgage.

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A key to the proposal is that maximum homes sizes are set to significantly decrease from what is allowed today, effectively ending demolitions of single family houses for much larger single family houses. On an R5 zoned lot the maximum house size will decrease from 6,750 square feet to 2,500 square feet for one unit. If more units are built, the maximum building size can increase to 4,000 feet.

Other notable items include:

  • Eliminating parking minimums.
  • “Visitable” ADA access for at least one unit on lots with 3-4 units. Visitable means no step entries, ground floor bathrooms, and wider doorways.
  • Larger basement ADUs in existing houses.

Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Commission analysis showed that “there is a net reduction in displacement pressures across Portland as the result of the proposals.” Much like today though, displacement is not evenly spread out among neighborhoods. Julia Metz, an affordable housing developer with Catholic Charities, cautioned against using displacement models and maps too literally. “There has also been some chatter about removing some of the areas that are noted as being at-risk of displacement. If you remove those spaces you also remove the opportunities for affordable housing developers to get in there and build affordable housing.”

The Willamette Week recently reported that Commissioner Eudaly would like to see additional anti-displacement measures such as right of first refusal for tenants to purchase their property and city funding to help low income homeowners finance these projects.

Portland Neighbors Welcome is proposing a deep affordability option, where affordable housing developers could build up to eight units for housing affordable to families making 60% or 80% median family income. Neil Heller illustrated (below) how these units could stretch out public subsidy dollars further by helping more people or be able to provide even deeper subsidies.

The money shot: public subsidy required for deeply affordable housing by Neil Heller.

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When asked if supporting this option would delay the RIP even more, Heller responded that this potential amendment wouldn’t require any additional funding. Organizers pressed the need to get RIP passed as soon as possible, and that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability could work on additional proposals to improve it after adoption.

Excited? Want to testify?

Portland Neighbors Welcome says it will be a packed hearing and people can sign up early on the 15th and expect the list to overflow to the next day. If this happens to you, make sure to check-in on the 16th. Supporters of RIP are planning on wearing blue to city hall. Testimony can also be submitted online to the Map App for both general and property specific comments.

For your testimony speakers recommended being specific and personal. What does affordable housing mean to you? Metz recommended that you use specific dollar values for incomes and rent or mortgage costs. Humanize who these policies will help. Low income residents include home healthcare workers, teachers, and seniors on social security. It’s likely that hundreds of people will be testifying over the two days, so make yours memorable by sharing personal stories of your housing experience in Portland, and what RIP would mean to you.

Thanks for stepping out of the bike box. Portland will never be a home for all bike riders if we don’t have homes for all Portlanders.

CORRECTION: This article originally had the days of this week’s hearings wrong. They are on Wednesday and Thursday. And the lead photo was taken by Henry Kraemer, not Doug Klotz as originally stated. We regret the errors.

— Catie Gould @citizen_cate on Twitter
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Fred
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Fred

I am old, and I’ve been lucky to have been able to live most of my life in the ‘burbs. There’s a reason why the ‘burbs are the most popular housing choice in the US: people like it the best. People like having some space for kids and pets to run around and play, and some space to entertain guests and to garden and to be shaded by tall trees in summer. People like having some separation from neighbors, so you don’t sneeze and your neighbor says bless you. People like it so much that they are willing to go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and work long hours to get it.

I can understand why young people, who are packing these meetings and hearings, might think it’s a good idea to replace the ‘burbs with really dense housing, since young people have been largely shut out of the America dream of owning a home in the ‘burbs. You think that you’ll now be able to afford a unit in a triplex or a four-plex. And if you do, fine. But my guess is you won’t like it: you will long for some living space, which your triplex or four-plex won’t really provide, and if you live next door to a triplex or four-plex, you won’t like how your neighbors impinge on your living space.

I don’t see why cycling advocates (looking at you, J.M.) present the RIP as some nirvana for cycling. It’s not an either-or thing – either we have extreme density or we cannot cycle to work or the store. We can do it now – some of us are doing it now. We can also run bus routes through suburbs – we are doing it now. Sure it would work better if more people got out of their cars and took the bus, but that’s not a function of density.

I predict the RIP will gradually destroy Portland’s suburbs and displace the people currently living in them, who will move further out to have the lifestyle they want and then need to drive more to get to work and to the store etc. It will have the opposite effect of the one RIP supporters envision.

Want to build dense? Go for it! But the RIP is a “have your cake and eat it” scenario.

SERider
Guest
SERider

I don’t know if I get this argument for affordability:
“A key to the proposal is that maximum homes sizes are set to significantly decrease from what is allowed today, effectively ending demolitions of single family houses for much larger single family houses. On an R5 zoned lot the maximum house size will decrease from 6,750 square feet to 2,500 square feet for one unit. If more units are built, the maximum building size can increase to 4,000 feet.”

Most of the skinny houses seen going up around the city (that replaced much more modest, affordable homes) are already way under 2500 ft^2. Many are in the 1400-1600 ft^2 range, and most are still at least $500K+.
I don’t think increasing density in places that can handle it (have decent ammenities like shopping, transit, etc.) is a bad idea. I’m just very skeptical that RIP will have much impact on housing affordability.

Does this proposal do anything for lot splitting (apologies, I haven’t read the most recent version)?

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

RIP, Portland.

mh
Subscriber

Catie, Jonathan: the first picture credit is wrong. Doug may have sent it to you, but he’s in it and did not shoot it. Ask him who should be credited (and then delete my post).

joan
Subscriber

Fred
I am old, and I’ve been lucky to have been able to live most of my life in the ‘burbs. There’s a reason why the ‘burbs are the most popular housing choice in the US: people like it the best. People like having some space for kids and pets to run around and play, and some space to entertain guests and to garden and to be shaded by tall trees in summer. People like having some separation from neighbors, so you don’t sneeze and your neighbor says bless you. People like it so much that they are willing to go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and work long hours to get it.I can understand why young people, who are packing these meetings and hearings, might think it’s a good idea to replace the ‘burbs with really dense housing, since young people have been largely shut out of the America dream of owning a home in the ‘burbs. You think that you’ll now be able to afford a unit in a triplex or a four-plex. And if you do, fine. But my guess is you won’t like it: you will long for some living space, which your triplex or four-plex won’t really provide, and if you live next door to a triplex or four-plex, you won’t like how your neighbors impinge on your living space.Recommended 7

I’m not a young whipper snapper, and I have all of these things in my in-town neighborhood, plus I can walk to the grocery store, multiple bus stops, several parks, great restaurants, and much more. I can also bike to many more places, including work. I can also sit on my porch and chat with my neighbors when they walk their dogs. The suburbs don’t have a lock on livability. On the contrary, after living in the suburbs, a college town, a city with millions of people, and a rural forest, I find my in-town neighborhood to be the best lifestyle possible. Car commutes are soul-destroying, and I don’t want to live someplace where I have to drive to get anywhere. It’s not healthy for my body, the environment, mental health, or a sense of community. And what happens when older folks are car dependent but can’t drive anymore? I’m starting to wonder about this as I watch my parents age. They’d be much better off in an urban area with amenities than in any car-dependent suburb. Indeed, I think my neighborhood accommodates every age: my kids and their friends get around easily on pubic transportation, for example, and don’t need me to drive them everywhere.

But also… all that suburban space you’re enjoying has been subsidized by freeway building, which destroyed many urban livable, walkable neighborhoods. And the suburbs were historically inaccessible to many families of color, who simply were never allowed to buy in (the GI Bill, for example, which set off a lot of white families moving to the suburbs and started the process of building wealth for an entire generation of white families, also perpetuated segregation and was designed not to provide those same benefits to black veterans).

I can afford my home because I have a good paying job and because I went to a public university at a time when my family could afford to pay for it, so I’m not wracked with student loans. Being Gen X means I’m not on the boomer gravy train, but I’m in much better shape than some of the young folks you’ve decried. And this is because of an incredible amount of government subsidization of my education. I think it’s very easy for older white folks not to recognize how the government has subsidized so much of what we have.

But, here’s the thing: I don’t want to stay in my large house when my kids are older and I don’t need all that space. I would love to be able to move into a four-plex and grow old in my walkable community. You know what else I want? More people to be able to afford to live in my neighborhood and enjoy all that we have. Increasing density is the only way to do that.

Younger doesn’t mean dumb. Younger folks want to live in town because they value shorter commutes and livability and community and diversity. Many grew up in the suburbs and know exactly what they are missing out on. Just because they have a different vision for their future doesn’t mean they are wrong.

chris
Guest
chris

I’m not against it, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that new 4-10 story apartment buildings will supply the majority of new housing units. ADUs or fourplexes will be small potatoes in comparison.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

I’m stoked to live in an area that will be greatly affected by RIP and readily welcome a developer paying for my corner lot. Washington is beginning to sound better.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

I like the idea of increasing density, but tearing down existing buildings seems like a wasteful way to achieve it.

ITStrong
Guest
ITStrong

So glad i left Portland, it’s turned (and is turning) into a terrible place.