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Dan Saltzman

Commissioner, City of Portland

Phone: 503-823-4151

Fax: 503-823-3036

1221 SW 4th Ave Ste 230, Portland, OR 97204

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Portland looks to cut red tape for affordable housing

By Brad Schmidt | The Oregonian/OregonLive The Oregonian
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on March 03, 2016 at 10:47 AM, updated March 03, 2016 at 10:49 AM

Mayoral candidates Ted Wheeler and Jules Bailey have been suggesting in recent weeks that Portland can do more to fast track affordable-housing projects.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman is stealing their thunder.

Saltzman next week will ask the City Council to approve a less-stringent review process for some affordable-housing projects that receive city subsidies. Although the new rules would be temporary, they're expected to cut the time spent by the city to review project design while also trimming costs for those reviews.

Saltzman, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau and the Bureau of Development Services, said he didn't know the mayoral frontrunners had been stumping on the topic.

"That's news to me," he said. "We've actually been working on this for a while."

Two weeks ago, at a forum sponsored by Multifamily NW, both Wheeler and Bailey took aim at the city's design-review process.

Wheeler said the city could create a standardized set of materials and requirements for affordable housing projects, such as the color of bricks that can be used, so designs don't have to come back for time-consuming reviews.

"We can fast track the affordable housing piece by taking the subjectivity out of it," he said.

Bailey piled on.

"I agree that design review is a broken process that needs to be streamlined," he said.

Saltzman's plan isn't quite so sweeping.

The proposal would impact affordable-housing projects in the central city or the Gateway area. Eligible projects would include only those that receive city subsidies to serve people who earn up to 60 percent of the region's median income.

The upshot? Affordable-housing developers would save time and money, which theoretically would help keep costs lower for renters.

Instead of going through the city's most time-consuming process, called a Type III review, those projects would instead be subject to something called a Type IIx review.

Design-review fees estimated at $9,381 to $31,131 would be cut by half or more, to $5,255 to $9,245. And instead of a review process of 51 to 90 days, on average, projects could instead expect 42 to 80 days.

If approved, the rules would run through Oct. 6 – the date when the city's declared housing emergency ends. It's not immediately clear how many projects might be impacted by the rules in the next seven months.

If the City Council extends the emergency declaration, the new review process would continue.

Saltzman has also asked the City Council to direct planners to come up with options for more sweeping changes by Dec. 1.

Saltzman said the proposal comes, in part, as a result of challenges Home Forward experienced when trying to develop the St. Francis Park Apartments.

"We certainly honor the city's respect for design review and we're not trying to circumvent that," he said. "We're just trying to make sure things move a little faster, particularly for much-needed affordable-housing projects."

-- Brad Schmidt