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Housing. It’s a basic human need: Shelter from the elements; respite from work and public life; a place to cook, gather, eat and sleep.

But many Portlanders cannot find a home, especially an affordable one. They may be forced to rent an apartment that is too small, or too far away from work and their community. Maybe they take on several roommates to help with the rent. And if they do find a home they can afford to buy or rent, it likely is far from transit and basic amenities — like grocery stores.

The rising number of people who cannot find a safe, healthy, affordable place to live has become a critical issue for our community.

  • So what can the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability do to address these complex problems?
  • How can the City help to create more housing for our growing population?
  • And how will it ensure that underserved populations aren’t left out of the opportunity to live in a comfortable place to live?  

Here’s an introduction to some BPS projects that encourage or require new development that is more affordable and create more housing choice for all Portlanders. 

Note: If you’re looking for resources to find housing, the Portland Housing Bureau has some useful information.

Inclusionary Zoning: Ensuring affordable units are included in new construction of 20 units or more

Effective Feb. 1, 2017, the City of Portland’s Inclusionary Housing (IH) Program went into effect, including new inclusionary zoning requirements. This means that all new residential buildings with 20 or more units must include a certain number of units that are affordable to Portlanders making 80 percent of median family income (MFI). Additional rules create incentives for developers to build units for people making 60 percent of MFI. 

Median Family Income (MFI)

MFI refers to the income level earned by a single household (typically four people) where half of the households in an area earn more and half earn less. The MFI for Portland is $74,700 per year. A household at 80 percent MFI earns $59,750 a year; at 60 percent MFI, it’s $44,820. Many housing programs target households earning less than 60 percent MFI.

Tyler Bump, the BPS economic planner who helped craft the zoning code to implement the new IH program, states, “We’re still talking with designers, developers and real estate professionals to work the new regulations and program requirements into the design/financing for new development in Portland.

“Look for coverage of these efforts  —  as well as a discussion of how Portlanders will know whether their affordability program is working  —  in the months to come.”

Residential Infill Project: Right-sizing new homes and increasing housing options that blend into single-family neighborhoods

The Residential Infill Project (RIP) is exploring ways to allow more housing units in single-family neighborhoods.

By applying better controls on house size and improving the way houses relate to each other, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), duplexes and triplexes can be carefully introduced into residential neighborhoods, while keeping the size and scale of new buildings relatively small.

Portland’s single-family neighborhoods used to allow a lot more middle housing, such as courtyard apartments, duplexes and stacked flats.

“These housing types provide options to detached single-family homes at a lower price point,” says Morgan Tracy, RIP project manager. “We’re trying to bridge the gap between past zoning and the present to create more housing stock and choices for Portland’s growing population.”

But where will these new regulations/rules apply? A housing overlay zone is also being considered as part of RIP to answer that question.

Currently, staff are following City Council direction to include neighborhoods that are approximately five blocks (a 5-minute walk) from designated centers, corridors with frequent bus service, and MAX stations.

Also included are neighborhoods that may be slightly farther from centers and corridors but are still close to downtown, have good transit access, include a well-connected street grid and are near schools, parks and jobs.

Better Housing by Design: Changing the rules to improve apartment development and allow other types of housing in multi-dwelling zones

Residential zones outside the Central City, where two or more units are allowed, are called multi-dwelling zones. In these neighborhoods you’ll see everything from apartment buildings and fourplexes to courtyard apartments and duplexes.

These zones cover large swaths of East Portland and SW Portland.

East Portland’s District Liaison Chris Scarzello says of typical East Portland development, “What we’re trying to do is make new development in the area not just more attractive but healthier, safer and more responsive to the needs of the residents.”

Initial concepts for how to do this include requiring more residential open spaces like balconies, shared common areas and open spaces for residents and children to hang out and play.

According to BHD Project Manager Bill Cunningham, “We might also change zoning to encourage more types of housing, such as house-like triplexes and courtyard apartments. These used to be allowed in Portland’s older neighborhoods, but current zoning makes it hard to build them now.”

The project may also look at strengthening incentives for affordable housing and universally accessible units, so that a broader range of Portlanders can benefit from the new housing being built.

The Design Overlay Zone Amendment project (DOZA): Revising the d-overlay and improving the design review process so more units can go online faster

Even though it feels like new buildings are rapidly sprouting up all over Portland, the supply of new housing is still not keeping up with demand. Designers, builders, architects and the community have expressed concerns about how long the design review process takes and how restrictive it is.

The Design Overlay Zone Amendment project is rewriting the rules for regulating the design of new buildings in the Central City, Gateway and mixed use zones, where the city’s tallest buildings are or will be.

The project aims to simplify the design review process and reduce the amount of time the volunteer Design Commission must spend working through the many projects they have to review.

“By amending the rules and design guidelines, we hope to increase the supply of new housing more quickly,” says DOZA Project Manager Lora Lillard.

SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy: Ensuring the benefits of a multi-billion-dollar light rail investment are available to everybody

Over the next 25 years, the SW corridor, located on and near Barbur Boulevard, will experience a lot of the region’s development growth.

But it is currently underserved by transit. So investments in light rail will provide a reliable and affordable way to get to existing and future jobs, educational opportunities, as well as more places to live along the corridor.

The cities of Portland and Tigard, along with Metro, have partnered with the community to create an Equitable Housing Strategy. This is intended to preserve and create more housing opportunities for households of all types and incomes.

The Housing Strategy will identify steps to address displacement of existing residents, as well as build new affordable housing in the corridor. The project will set housing targets for the corridor, explore how to raise additional resources for affordable housing, and identify who will be accountable to meet the targets.

The project also includes working with groups like the Community Alliance of Tenants and OPAL to organize tenants in the corridor.

“When making major public infrastructure investments,” says Project Manager Ryan Curren, “We’ve learned the hard way that it’s necessary for the public sector to get ahead of the market forces behind gentrification to avoid displacement of low-income people and communities of color. Now we have a chance to put these lessons into practice in our community.”

According to Mayor Ted Wheeler, a successful housing strategy will require strong leadership and new partnerships. “To ensure the SW Corridor is a place of opportunity for all, we need to bring public and private partners together to achieve our common goals around housing affordability and choice.”