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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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What is the Residential Infill Project about?

As we spoke with Portlanders around the city over the past two years, we heard that people want to take care of and improve their neighborhoods as the city grows. They want more access to our vibrant residential neighborhoods—and all the great things they offer like schools, parks, shops, restaurants, and grocery stores.

We heard that Portlanders want more opportunities to live in complete neighborhoods not just for themselves, but for their parents, so they can age in place. For their children so they can afford to live in the city they grew up in. For the teachers, and nurses, and firefighters who contribute to our communities. And the many newcomers who are moving here every day.

To fulfill this shared vision, we’re revisiting the rules that shape our residential neighborhoods to create opportunities for more Portlanders to enjoy the benefits of these vibrant communities. In collaboration with Portlanders from all over the city with many different experiences and perspectives, we’ve created a proposal that allows more housing units to be built in residential neighborhoods, but only if they follow new limits on size and scale.

The project will address the scale of houses and home additions. The project will also provide opportunities for more housing choices, which could help keep costs down by diversifying the city’s housing stock with a greater variety of housing options for Portlanders. The project will also look at improving narrow lot development and make recommendations about where these lots may be appropriate. Review a summary sheet of the project.


What is the Residential Infill Project NOT addressing?

This project doesn’t affect properties in multi-dwelling zones (where larger apartments are typically sited) or residential development in commercial/mixed use zones. There are a number of issues that fall outside the scope of this project, such as rules for affordable housing, demolition, historic preservation, system development charges (SDCs), movable homes (tiny houses on wheels), and changes to the Community Design Standards.

But a number of BPS projects have or are presently addressing these issues, including:

  • Better Housing by Design is revising development and design standards in Portland’s multi-dwelling zones (R3, R2, R1 and RH) outside the Central City.
  • The Design Overlay Zone Assessment includes recommendations to improve the Community Design Standards and other tools used in the design overlay system, as well as suggestions for considering the design of multi-family housing in rewriting these tools.
  • The Mixed Use Zones Project created new commercial/mixed use zones that include provisions for housing in Portland’s commercial areas outside the Central City.
  • Inclusionary Housing mandates the provision of affordable housing units in new multi-dwelling residential development and provides additional incentives for creating affordable housing units.
  • BPS is exploring the possibility of changing the current threshold for deconstruction requirements to increase the number of homes that would need to be deconstructed and salvaged instead of demolished, which would make it less attractive to demolish an older home.
  • An upcoming historic resources code improvement project will amend procedures and regulations that protect designated historic resources and propose new options for creating local historic and conservation districts. 

It’s important to recognize that updating the residential zoning code is part of a larger effort to address housing affordability in Portland. Expanding the kinds of housing choices that are available in our residential neighborhoods is an important step to give more people the opportunity to live close to schools, parks, and jobs at a variety of price points. But it’s only one part of a larger, coordinated effort to address the city’s housing crisis. City and regional leaders are addressing the housing crisis on making other fronts, including:

  • A $258 million affordable housing bond passed on the November 2016 ballot that will create 1,300 newly affordable homes over the next several years.
  • Newly created revenue streams for affordable housing, such as the construction excise tax and the accessory short-term rental fund.
  • Affordable housing incentives for multi-family housing projects through the MULTE program.
  • A collaborative effort to address homelessness through the Joint Office of Homeless by connecting thousands of people with housing, employment, health, and emergency services.
  • An inclusionary housing program that requires affordable housing units in new multi-family residential development and provides additional incentives for creating affordable housing units.
  • New tenant protections, including relocation costs for no-cause evictions or large rent increases.

Has the Residential Infill Project already been adopted?

No, the Residential Infill Project is being completed in two phases; Phase I: Concept Development and Phase II: Code and Map Amendments. Phase I was completed last December when City Council accepted the Concept Report. The concepts provided staff with direction to develop a formal proposal as part of Phase II. Phase II is in progress, which involves developing amendments to the zoning code and zoning map for additional public review, which occurred in the fall of 2017. Public hearings at the Planning and Sustainability Commission in spring of 2018 will be followed by a decision from City Council in late 2018. See the timeline for the steps in each phase.


Specifically, what did City Council direct staff to do?

City Council heard a large amount of testimony during the hearings on the Concept Report. Reflecting community input, the Council approved and amended the concepts as follows:

  • Reduce the maximum size of new houses and remodels in single-dwelling zones.
  • Establish an overlay zone in single-dwelling zones that will allow more housing types (i.e. houses with two ADUs, duplexes, duplexes with a detached ADU, and triplexes on corner lots).
  • Explore overlay zone boundary options near designated neighborhood centers and corridors with good transit service; consider property lines, physical barriers, natural features, topography and infrastructure constraints.
  • Provide added flexibility for internal conversions of existing houses citywide.
  • Increase flexibility for cottage clusters on large lots citywide.
  • Explore incentives for age-friendliness, affordability and tree preservation.
  • Restrict historically narrow lots from being developed in the R5 zone.
  • Revise the development standards for houses on R2.5-zoned narrow lots.

How did the public influence the development of the concepts?

Beginning in fall 2015, project staff worked with a Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) to develop initial ideas. The SAC included representatives from the building community, neighborhood groups, and people with knowledge and expertise in the areas of affordable housing, architecture, historic preservation, accessibility for people with disabilities and older adults, real estate and financing, social and housing services, and sustainable development. See more about the SAC’s roles and responsibilities and their final report here.

The initial concepts were shared with the public online and through a series of open houses across the city over the summer of 2016. Staff refined the draft concepts based on public input and published recommended concepts for the City Council’s consideration. Council held two public hearings and, with some amendments, accepted the concepts on December 7, 2016.

The public weighed in during another round of outreach when the draft zoning code and map amendments were released in the fall of 2017. In total, since the project began in 2015, BPS has engaged Portlanders in the development of the proposed changes to our residential zoning rules in a variety of ways:

  • Online questionnaires about the project garnered more than 9,800 responses.
  • Portlanders submitted 5,272 comments about the policy proposals on paper or by email.
  • 656 people attended 12 open houses across the city.
  • 311 people attended other meetings where staff presented.
  • Responses from 46 organizations and over 700 individuals to the policy discussion draft (Fall 2017).
  • Two public hearings at City Council, with testimony from over 100 Portlanders.
  • Over 1,200 people have signed up to receive project updates via email.
  • A project website.

In the coming months, Portlanders will have additional opportunities to share their feedback through testimony to the Planning and Sustainability Commission and City Council.


How can I provide my feedback to decision-makers?

You may testify to the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) about proposed changes in the following ways:

Testify in person at the PSC public hearing Testify in writing between now and May 15, 2018

Speak up.
You may speak for up to two minutes at only one of the following hearings (Time allotment may be changed at the PSC Chair's discretion based on number of people who wish to testify.). Your testimony will be added to the public record. You must provide your full name and mailing address.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018, at 5 p.m.
1900 SW 4th Avenue, Room 2500, Portland, Oregon

Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at 5 p.m.
1900 SW 4th Avenue, Room 2500, Portland, Oregon

To confirm the date, time and location, check the PSC calendar.
If you need special accommodation, translation or interpretation, please call 503-823-7700 at least five business days before the hearing date.

Online.
Visit the Map App.
Click on the "Testify" button.
Testifying in the Map App is as easy as sending an email. Once your testimony is submitted, you can read it in real time.

screen capture

Send a letter.
Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission
Residential Infill Testimony
1900 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 7100
Portland, OR 97201

If I provide testimony, will my contact information be made public?
All testimony to the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) is considered public record, and testifiers' name, address and any other information provided in the testimony may be included on the website.


Will the Residential Infill Project rezone most of Portland’s eastside from single-dwelling residential to multi-dwelling residential?

No, the single-dwelling base zones will remain with established lot size requirements. In single-dwelling zones, the Additional Housing Options Overlay Zone (the ‘a’ overlay) provides an option for buildings (no larger than what would be allowed for a single house) to contain two units, or three units if located on a corner lot. As an alternative to duplexes or corner lot triplexes, the overlay would permit one Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) inside a house and one outside of the house, whereas a house is allowed one ADU today. Another way to think of these proposed changes is that they essentially allow one additional unit to what is already allowed under today’s rules, but within a smaller building “envelope.”

Two key differences between a single-dwelling zone within the RIP overlay and multi-dwelling zones are:

  • Multiple units are allowed but not required, as they are in multi-dwelling zones.
  • Multi-dwelling residential zones allow taller building heights and greater lot coverages, and they allow land to be consolidated into larger sites for multi-story apartments. Buildings in single-dwelling areas of the overlay will be limited to the same size as a house.

Will the Residential Infill Project make houses larger?

No. The proposals impose new, stricter limits on house size beyond what is presently allowed in R2.5, R5 and R7 zones. Houses would be limited to 2-1/2 stories. Minimum front setbacks would be increased in the R5 zone, unless a house on either side sits closer to the street. Methods for measuring height would be improved to minimize the ability to circumvent maximum height restrictions.

House bulk will be controlled through the introduction of a floor area ratio (FAR) limit, a common technique used to control building bulk in Portland’s non-residential zones and in residential areas in other U.S. cities. The FAR limit would be tied to the size of a lot, better ensuring that a house’s mass is proportional to its lot size. Moreover, the FAR limit represents a significant reduction in the maximum size a house could be from what is allowed today.


What is “floor area ratio” or FAR?

Floor area ratio measures the square footage of a building on each floor and compares that to the size of the lot. For example, a two-story house that is 1,250 feet on both the first and second floor has a total of 2,500 square feet of floor area. If this house were on a 10,000 square foot lot, it would have a floor area-to-site area ratio of 0.25:1 (10,000 ÷ 2,500 = 0.25). If this same size house were on a 5,000 square foot lot, it would have floor-area-to-site area ratio of 0.5:1 (5,000 ÷ 2,500 = 0.5)

The proposed FAR tool would control the visible bulk of a house while providing flexibility in house design. Most of the floor area of covered and enclosed areas within a house are included. A basement would not count toward a house’s FAR because the majority of a basement’s bulk is below ground. Similarly, only attic space that significantly contributes to a building’s visible bulk would be counted toward a house’s FAR.

Because FAR is intended to reduce the bulk of the primary house, internal garages, internal accessory dwelling units and enclosed porches that contribute bulk would be counted toward a house’s FAR. However, when such features are detached from the primary house and located elsewhere onsite — thereby reducing the bulk of the primary house by distributing it over the whole lot — these detached structures would not count toward a house’s FAR (but would be subject to other size restrictions).


I’ve heard there is plenty of land available to meet our 20-year housing need. Why do we need to fit more families into my neighborhood?

As part of the Comprehensive Plan Update, the City of Portland identified adequate land supply to meet its 20-year need for housing. The challenge is to provide a diverse range of unit types and prices in locations that help meet the needs of all, including low-income populations, communities of color, and people of all ages and abilities. Housing preference is usually shaped by the size and needs of a household. However, the actual choice and location of where to live is significantly influenced by household income.

One of the Residential Infill Project objectives is to provide people with a wider range of choices for where to live. As a city and community, we’re committed to giving more Portlanders an opportunity to live in and enjoy our vibrant residential neighborhoods, while expanding economic opportunities for families and reducing our impact on the environment. More options will help families have access to schools, parks, and employment opportunities. They will help enable teachers to live near the schools where they teach, grandparents to live near their grandchildren, and the next generation of Portlanders to live in the city where they grew up.

Duplexes, triplexes and accessory dwelling units can offer smaller, relatively less expensive units, that can be added to the overall housing supply at a scale that is compatible with nearby single-dwelling houses. These units can help neighborhoods remain vibrant and inclusive, and provide housing options to meet the needs of people of all ages, incomes and abilities.

This approach acknowledges that the average household size is shrinking. A century ago, there were on average 4.5 people living in a house. Today, that number is around 2.5 and is projected to drop to 2.1 over the next 20 years.

The Comprehensive Plan prioritizes centers and corridors for future growth, as these areas generally have the existing infrastructure and facilities such as transit, jobs, shops, parks and other services to meet daily needs.


Will single-dwelling houses still be allowed if the Residential Infill Project is adopted?

Yes, single-dwelling houses will continue to be allowed on all standard lots zoned R5 or R7. In the R2.5 zone the Residential Infill Project would require at least two units (duplex or house with ADU) when building new housing on a vacant, “double”-sized lot (at least 5,000 square feet).


Will the Residential Infill Project result in more demolitions?

The purpose of this project is not to encourage more house demolitions. Rather, it aims to address infill and redevelopment sites. When houses are demolished, the City believes that in areas well-served by transit or located close to jobs and other daily household needs, replacing a single house to accommodate more than one household (a duplex, for example) is a better outcome than replacing the old house with a very large single new house. And while the ability to use a lot where a house sits for a duplex may be financially attractive, the Residential Infill Project also reduces the size of house that can replace one that is demolished. Analysis from Johnson Economics suggests that the proposed reduction in house size will do more to discourage demolitions than the ability to build more units will encourage redevelopment, while still resulting a net increase in our housing stock over time (Read more in Appendix B: Economic Analysis of Proposed Changes to the Single-Dwelling Zone Development Standards.).


What is the Residential Infill Project doing to encourage the preservation of existing houses?

Staff is proposing incentives to encourage retention and conversions of existing houses and historic resources. These proposals include:  

  • Increased floor area limits for additions and remodels compared to new construction
  • More flexibility in the configuration of housing units and allocation of allowed floor area when an existing historic resource is adapted.
  • New flag lot provisions for narrow lots that require a house to be retained while creating a separate lot for a new backyard house.
  • Conversions of basements to Accessory Dwelling Units in existing houses will not be subject to the unit size cap.

What effect will the Residential Infill Project have on the affordability of housing?

Alone, a zoning change won’t solve our housing crisis. But the rules that govern what types of housing are allowed in our neighborhoods affect not just how they look and feel – but who can live in them as well. Together, these new rules will help to restore diversity to our residential neighborhoods by allowing more families and households to live in them, while at the same time limiting the construction of massive new homes.

This project will allow for more housing choices and slight increases in the number of housing units in Portland’s most complete neighborhoods. Since the recession, the price of homes has increased significantly while the supply of new houses has not kept pace with demand. This has been more problematic for single-family than multi-family housing, as the number of people moving to Portland continues to grow.

One way to curb the sharp rise in housing prices is to add more supply. Another way is to add smaller houses that are proportionately less expensive than their larger counterparts.

The idea that the homes being demolished offer smaller, less expensive home choices is true, in some cases. However, preserving older, smaller homes is not a long-term solution to housing affordability for two reasons. The first is supply, and the second is demand.

The available supply of existing homes is fixed (meaning no one is building “old” homes today), and the supply of land for new homes without removing older ones is very limited. Meanwhile, on the demand side, Portland and the region are increasingly attractive, and more people are moving here — often with incomes or savings higher than those of many long-term residents. As demand continues to grow and supply remains fixed, even the smaller, less expensive homes will increase in value and become out of reach for more people. Over the long term, the implications are that single-dwelling neighborhoods will become more exclusive and less diverse.

By allowing more opportunities to add smaller units in single-dwelling zones, the diversity of housing types, sizes and price points increases, offering residents greater flexibility in where they live. For example, someone who can afford to pay more than their apartment rent but less than the cost of a house, could afford to live in a duplex unit, an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) or a small unit in a cottage cluster. Likewise, an aging adult who wants to downsize may find it helpful to have these options in their current and familiar neighborhood.


Will Residential Infill Project increase or decrease displacement?

Some people are concerned that allowing more housing types will lead to the demolition of single-family homes occupied by renters. Citywide, only 20 percent of single-family homes are occupied by renters; 80 percent are occupied by homeowners. Also, the share of renters in single-family homes has decreased over time. On the other hand, 80 percent of duplexes and triplexes are occupied by renters. To the extent that the proposed changes increase the supply of duplexes and triplexes, both rental and ownership, increased housing supply and housing choice could relieve rent increase and home price pressures.  

Broader economic forces and housing market trends have contributed to displacement of lower-income residents in Portland and in cities across the country, regardless of this project. However, the project evaluated the potential displacement impacts that vulnerable communities could experience and proposed strategies to mitigate those impacts, consistent with policy objectives in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Areas that were identified as home to the highest concentrations of communities vulnerable to displacement – considering race/ethnicity, education level, housing tenure and income – were removed from the proposed ‘a’ overlay in order to avoid potential displacement in the short term caused by redevelopment. If/when mitigation programs are developed and funded, those areas could be added into the overlay. Staff has presented ideas for programmatic support for both renters and homeowners in Section 5 of the Proposed Draft Staff Report and Map Amendments.


Will the Residential Infill Project help renters and/or homeowners?

The City doesn’t regulate whether a housing unit can be rented or owned. Units on their own lot can be sold to a buyer, who can either reside in that unit or rent it. Units that are shared on a lot (like a duplex) can be rented out separately or sold as condominium units. Needless to say, there are benefits to increasing the supply of both rental and homeownership units.

Many renters cannot afford to own a home in the current market or qualify for a mortgage, so rental units are an important housing option. However, relying solely on apartments to accommodate renters exacerbates income disparities by concentrating lower wage earners in multi-dwelling areas. Increasing the number of rental units in single-dwelling zones slows the increase in rents (as supply keeps pace with demand). And middle housing options like duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs offer renters intermediary choices to enjoy the benefits of neighborhoods.

Creating more ownership options also has benefits. Owning a home puts a person at a relatively lower risk of displacement compared to renting, adding stability to his or her living situation. Moreover, owning a home is a principle means of building wealth, which translates into intergenerational wealth creation and greater prosperity. Allowing more middle housing in single-family neighborhoods provides more affordable options for entry level homebuyers.

As a result of the displacement risk analysis staff performed (see Question 15), staff presented a series of ideas for programs that could support both renters and homeowners vulnerable to displacement in Section 5 of the Proposed Draft Staff Report and Map Amendments. These programs could operate citywide to help residents remain in their homes as broad housing market trends and national economic forces threaten to displace lower-income renters and homeowners from their homes. 


Will additional smaller units encourage more accessory short-term rentals (ASTR)?

It is possible that some of the new units allowed through the Residential Infill Project may be used as ASTRs (ASTRs are Airbnb- or VRBO-type rentals with relatively short stays—under a month—by the visitor.). However, the ASTR regulations require that each unit be the primary residence of a long-term occupant. So living in one triplex unit and renting out the other two on a short-term basis would not be allowed. The permit process allows only one or two bedrooms to be used for short-term rentals (renting more rooms requires a more expensive “Conditional Use Review”). Visit the BDS website for more information about ASTR rules.


How is the Residential Infill Project addressing K-12 school capacity?

The Comprehensive Plan  considers school district capacity when changes to land use designations are proposed. Of the six school districts that serve Portland, only David Douglas School District has a district-wide capacity shortfall. However, the Residential Infill Project affects a small portion of the school district area, and represents low number of additional households for the district. have capacity to accommodate the growth anticipated in the next 20 years. As the city grows the districts may need to change catchment area boundaries, update facilities or re-open closed schools to meet the needs of these new students.


How is the Residential Infill Project addressing services and infrastructure?

In addition to the benefits of added housing choice, providing for more people in complete neighborhoods offers more efficient delivery of services, reduces costs for related system and infrastructure upgrades as well as transportation system impacts.

Project staff coordinated with the City’s transportation, stormwater and sewer, water, fire, police, parks and housing bureaus to evaluate infrastructure and service capacity and availability as we considered increasing households in these areas. In addition, staff coordinated with TriMet (the regional transit agency) and school districts to ensure additional housing units can be supported. Staff received letters of support from Metro and TriMet in response to the project’s Discussion Draft.


How will Residential Infill rules be applied in historic districts?

Portland has four National Register historic districts and six local conservation districts that are primarily zoned single-dwelling. These districts range from Ladd’s Addition to Woodlawn, Irvington to Kenton. The Residential Infill Project’s provisions for reducing the scale of houses and increasing the allowed range of housing types in single-dwelling zones will be integrated into the rules affecting these designated historic districts.

Properties listed in the National Register, either individually or as contributors to a historic district, are subject to demolition review, which requires a vote of City Council. Properties and districts listed in the National Register prior to February 2017 are subject to historic resource review for alteration, addition and new construction projects. Properties and districts listed in the National Register after February 2017 may be subject to historic resource review in the future, following a hearing and adoption process.

Because units in historic districts are subject to existing applicable demolition and historic resource review criteria, second Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), internal conversions of existing houses and new middle housing units would be allowed if the properties are within the new overlay zone only if they meet the appropriate review requirements. For a historic contributing building in a historic district, alternative housing types might look like one ADU in the basement and one in the backyard. For a noncontributing building, alternative housing types might look like a new duplex or triplex designed to fit the architectural vocabulary of the district.


Who can answer questions about how the Residential Infill Project may affect my property or neighborhood?

Project staff are available to discuss how the proposed changes may affect your property. Be aware that prior to any adopted code or mapping amendments, staff will only be able to share draft proposals. It is quite possible that there will be changes to the proposals at each step of the decision-making process.

Call the helpline at 503-823-0195 during business hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can also send an email to residential.infill@portlandoregon.gov.

For information about the zoning rules that apply to your property today, please contact the Bureau of Development Services at (503) 823-7526.