Wednesday, August 12, 2020, Portland City Council approved two landmark housing relief measures that allow more housing, more types of housing, and more affordable housing throughout Portland’s neighborhoods. Today’s housing relief measures build upon a broader suite of housing and houselessness policies and investments.
First, Portland City Council voted (3-1) in support of the Residential Infill Project. After five years, multiple iterations of the proposal, more than 12,000 comments and countless hours dedicated to research, analysis, drafting and updating the proposal, the Residential Infill Project is the biggest rewrite of zoning code since 1991 and the first of its kind policy in the United States.
Second, Portland City Council voted (4-0) in support of an intergovernmental agreement with Portland Metro, the regional government responsible for long-range land use planning and administering affordable housing, houselessness, transportation, and parks and nature investments.
Residential Infill Project
The Residential Infill Project adds a tool to the City’s toolkit to help achieve housing affordability and availability. The proposal decreases the maximum footprint for a single-dwelling unit while increasing the number of homes that can be built throughout the majority of Portland’s residential areas.
The relief measure comes at a critical juncture as the City manages the COVID-19 pandemic, rising unemployment numbers, racial injustice, and budget shortfalls. According to the Regional Multiple Listing Service (RMLS), Portland suffers from an undersupply of homes (approximately 2.4 months’ supply of homes on the market), contributing to an artificial scarcity of housing. At the same time, banks are offering historically low interest rates to those who are able to qualify, contributing to a high level of interest and demand in potential homebuyers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it a wave of uncertainty, but we know that low supply and high demand of housing will add to the barriers Portlanders face in accessing housing,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler who voted in support of the policy. “I am proud to support a policy that creates opportunities for more housing and different kinds of housing. I am particularly proud that the proposal offers a significant bonus for affordable housing developers, given the significant need.”
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, a supporter of RIP, noted the additional anti-displacement strategies and renter protection policies, saying: “For over 100 years, exclusionary zoning laws have kept certain types of housing, and therefore certain classes and races of people, out of single-family neighborhoods… simple upzoning will not remedy past harms or guarantee more affordable housing and diverse neighborhoods. That is why I've worked so hard to ensure that we included incentives for affordable housing, commit to developing and implementing anti-displacement measures, and encourage the preservation of existing housing.”
“Today’s victory belongs to the community – this idea was conceived by the community, refined by community, and championed by the community,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said. “While I’m very excited this has passed, I do not believe this is the conclusion of the discussion on housing in Portland – I will continue to keep a close eye on how RIP impacts the city, and remain committed to working with my colleagues and housing advocates on finding more ways to make sure Portland remains accessible and affordable to people of all incomes.”
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Bureau of Development Services will continue to work together to update the City’s code changes and translate these changes into development review processes.
Intergovernmental Agreement with Metro
In November 2018, voters in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington Counties approved $652.8 million in general obligation bonds to fund 3,900 affordable homes in the tri-county metro region.
Portland Housing Bureau, the lead bureau responsible for implementation of the City of Portland’s allocation of general obligation bonds, developed a Local Implementation Strategy (LIS) with an extensive community engagement process. The LIS charts how the City will spend the City’s share.
Portland City Council authorized the Intergovernmental Agreement in order to receive the City of Portland’s allocation of the general obligation bonds. The funding helps the City affirmatively further fair housing, meet Portland’s statewide planning Goal 10 housing obligations, and create economic prosperity and housing stability for everyone.
As Housing Commissioner, Mayor Wheeler and the Portland Housing Bureau will continue to work with Metro, service providers, affordable housing developers, and lending institutions to make these homes a reality.
What Residential Infill Project Supporters are Saying
“With the passing of the Residential Infill Project and deeper affordability bonus, this will open up the market to start providing homes that have not existed for a while in Portland,” said Steve Messinetti, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro East. “The new American dream is a stable home that you can afford. This will help make that dream possible for more people in our community. With the deepening of our housing crisis during COVID, we have to take steps to help prevent displacement.”
“RIP will ensure an expanded range of housing options throughout all Portland neighborhoods making them accessible across the income continuum and create a pathway to homeownership that would otherwise be unattainable for many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities,” said Brian Hoop, executive director of Housing Oregon.
"This is the most progressive reform to low-density urban zoning in U.S. history," said Michael Andersen, a senior researcher at Sightline Institute, a sustainability think tank for the Pacific Northwest. "Portland is going above and beyond Oregon's mandate for re-legalizing middle housing. Nonprofits will now be able to add below-market housing to any neighborhood. Middle-income Portlanders will be able to afford newly built, energy-efficient homes in walkable areas essentially by teaming up with each other to split the land costs. This is no substitute for other important policies to fight involuntary displacement and segregation. Those will, unlike this one, cost money. But this will make all those policies more efficient and effective, using steps no other U.S. city has taken.”
Catholic Charities of Oregon: “We are so excited to see this important project cross the finish line. Housing options should be as diverse as the people in our community. We’ve long advocated for increasing housing opportunities in the scale provided by the Residential Infill Project because of the important role it plays in the overall affordable housing continuum. With adoption of the RIP even more opportunities will exist for non-profits and other socially minded developers to provide affordable homes – for rent and ownership, for families and individuals, and across Portland’s diverse neighborhoods. We’re extremely grateful for the thoughtful collaboration with City staff and Commissioners throughout the process and look forward to continuing to explore ways to work together to provide and preserve affordable housing choices in Portland.”
Ezra Hammer, VP of Policy and Government Affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland, Homebuilders Association Portland Metro: “The Residential Infill Project represents a powerful, progressive step that will help Portland address the housing crisis that is impacting hundreds of thousands of Oregonian families. With the Residential Infill Project, the City of Portland is taking a bold step to address historic inequities in the zoning code. We are incredibly proud of Portland’s commitment to ensure that everyone has a place to call home and the Residential Infill Project is a testament to that commitment.”
Oregon Environmental Council: “The Residential Infill Project will shape residential redevelopment over time to be more supportive of transit, biking and walking for transportation, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. It will more equitably allow more people the option to make a home in close-in neighborhoods with access to jobs, schools, services, stores and community gathering places.”
Business for a Better Portland: “BBPDX is thrilled at the passage of the Residential Infill Project, an important update to our zoning rules that will contribute to the economic health of our city. The policy change will allow more people to access jobs and opportunity in the city and, over time, help add housing options in neighborhoods across the city. We thank the many advocates and city leaders who worked for years to end an exclusionary zoning policy that was designed with the intent and outcome to discriminate against non-white Portlanders.”
AARP Oregon: “The Residential Infill Project offers an unprecedented opportunity for the City of Portland to meet the growing and changing housing needs in our communities. Throughout the process, AARP has advocated for policies to foster affordable, accessible, and expanded housing options for current and future residents. We are excited that the final RIP policy package addresses these AARP policy priorities and applaud the city for listening deeply. The RIP will help make Portland a more age-friendly place where people of ages, abilities, races, family size, and incomes can thrive.”
1000 Friends of Oregon: “The passage of the Residential Infill Project sets the tone for cities all over America to acknowledge long-codified racist zoning practices, end exclusive single-dwelling zoning and provide the missing middle housing so many need, especially preventing and mitigating displacement. It’s not a silver bullet: there is much more to do to meet the needs of Portlanders. But with the passage of RIP, it’s clear we are heading towards the right direction and that smart land use planning will play a starring role.”
Source: City of Portland