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Commissioner Steve Novick

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A Tour of Middle Housing in Buckman

Eli Spevak gives an overview of the City’s zoning code before touring middle housing in Buckman neighborhood. From left to right: Pam Phan, 1000 Friends of Oregon; Zev Nicholson, Urban League; Tameka Taylor, Urban League; Commissioner Steve Novick, Portland City Council; Mary Kyle McCurdy, 1000 Friends of Oregon; Eli Spevak, Planning and Sustainability Commissioner; Alan Durning, Sightline Institute


Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about one tool that could help us resolve part of our housing crisis: middle housing. I was pleased to learn that the concept struck a chord with Portlanders, so much so that I was asked to host a tour of middle housing. I jumped at the opportunity and asked Eli Spevak, small scale developer and Planning and Sustainability Commissioner, to lead the tour. Eli suggested touring the Buckman neighborhood since it has several examples of middle housing alongside single family homes and nearby larger apartment buildings.

Last Friday, Eli led our group through the Buckman neighborhood. Here’s a short video of Eli’s tour introduction:

In the two hours we spent in the neighborhood, I was delighted to learn that in Buckman, alone, you can get a glimpse of almost all of the housing types Daniel Parolek, the architect who coined the phrase “middle housing,” discusses on his website.



 An example of a stacked duplex at the beginning of our tour. This house was originally built as a single family home, but because of the housing crisis during World War II, the City of Portland allowed houses like this to be internally subdivided, increasing available housing without building brand new structures.


 Two stacked duplexes, side by side, that fit with, and contribute to, the character of the neighborhood.


 Another stacked duplex, likely subdivided in the 1940s. These homes have a large fenced yard, in which they have built several shared gardens.


One door, but two mailboxes: an inconspicuous stacked duplex. This duplex is also the relatively rare example of newly constructed middle housing. A “For Rent” sign out front advertised high end features—the people in our group thought the monthly rent was high, especially considering our hope that middle housing would be more affordable than other housing options. 


 DUPLEX—Possible Triplex

 The tour group loved this example. While it appears to be a stacked duplex, the “mystery door” on the right side of the above photo (pictured below), suggests that this might be a stacked triplex.

Said mystery door.



These courtyard apartments were built on the equivalent of two single-family lots, and are fronted by a large shared dog run—making use of the extra space in a way that works for the families who live here.


This is another example of courtyard apartments. The entries to these homes are inside of a fenced in “courtyard,” giving the people who live here a greater sense of privacy. 




Dan Valliere, Chief Executive Director of Reach CDC, stopped the group to discuss this multiplex owned by his organization and operated as low-income housing. The structure (the yellow building at the front of the photo) looks like a single family home, but Dan explained that there are several units inside. The meters on the side of the house (pictured above) are a handy hint at the number of units, making this structure a multiplex.


We encountered this structure towards the end of our tour, which is a more traditional example of a multiplex than the one owned by Reach CDC. Multiplexes typically have a wider footprint than a single-family home that was later subdivided and are characterized by five to 10 side-by-side or stacked units, which usually share one entry.


 The tour group saw this unusual structure that might also be defined as a multiplex. It has two doors, but the five mailboxes suggest that there are many more than two units inside.


Next Steps

We wrapped up the tour at The Zipper micro restaurant and discussed what we saw and what Portland should be considering moving forward. While the current zoning code wouldn’t, in many cases, allow Buckman’s middle housing to be built there today, there are some upcoming projects that are worth noting:

  1. Draft Comprehensive Plan Amendment #P45. This policy, which may be refined by City Council before it’s ultimately adopted, would give BPS clear direction about Council intention to look further at middle housing. As with any policy direction related to land use, any action based on this policy cannot happen without a full public legislative process. The specifics of any middle housing policy will continue to evolve with public guidance, and I look forward to hearing from community members about this issue.

New Policy after 5.5

Requested by: Novick, Saltzman, Hales

Middle Housing. Enable and encourage development of middle housing. This includes multi-unit or clustered residential buildings that provide relatively smaller, less expensive units; more units; and a scale transition between the core of the mixed use center and surrounding single family areas. Apply zoning that would allow this within a quarter mile of designated centers, where appropriate, and within the Inner Ring around the Central City.

  1. Zoning Map Update. Currently, the Planning and Sustainability Commission is considering recommending changing some R5 zoning to R2.5 in locations where the existing Comprehensive Plan allows R2.5 zoning. Changing the zoning in this year’s update would bring it into alignment with plan designations that have, in some cases, been in place for 20-30 years or more. And, this is significant because R2.5 allows much more opportunity to build middle housing than R5 zoning.
  2. Residential Infill Project. The Residential Infill Project will address the scale and design of new infill houses and home additions on both regular and narrow lots. It also will determine where new houses on narrow lots would be allowed. Finally, the project will explore whether single dwelling zones should allow more types of housing. This includes buildings that have two or more units and more than one small house on a lot. Allowing for alternative types of housing in single dwelling zones could address the concern that new infill does not fit into our neighborhoods while also creating more and smaller housing units. This is key to keeping housing costs down while increasing the variety of housing available for Portlanders.
  3. Multi-dwelling Code Project. Funded through a Metro grant, BPS will review the multi-dwelling zoning code. Like the current Residential Infill Project and Mixed Use projects, this project will look at how current codes are working. It will document the quality and quantity of new development that results from the current code. Recommendations will include how to improve multifamily development and expand middle housing design options in the multi-dwelling zones.
  4. BPS Study of Middle Housing. BPS staff mapped potential middle housing study areas for Council consideration during work sessions on the Comprehensive Plan.  Those documents are available here. Council may direct BPS staff to study middle housing opportunities outlined on the map and in the table; staff would then come back to Council with recommended code or map changes to implement those ideas. If we pursue this study, there will be multiple opportunities throughout the process for engagement and public involvement before Council adopts any zoning changes.

More Portlanders deserve to live in areas with access to recreational amenities, transit, and jobs. Middle housing could provide access to these livable, walkable neighborhoods, offering more environmentally friendly housing choices, as well. When used in addition to other tools like inclusionary zoning and land banking, middle housing could get us one step closer to solving our City’s housing crisis. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on Council towards a solution. 


You can view the full album of our tour and discussion here: