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Residential Infill Project Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Note about the FAQs: The purpose of the FAQ page is to answer frequently asked questions. These answers (dated May 2017) are tentative given that the development of code and map provisions to carry out the concepts in the Residential Infill Project are currently in process. So these answers are subject to change and will be updated when staff’s proposals are shared with the public.

General Questions

1. What is the Residential Infill Project about?
2. What is the Residential Infill Project NOT addressing?
3. Has the Residential Infill Project already been adopted?
4. Specifically, what did City Council direct staff to do?
5. How did the public influence the development of the concepts during Phase I: Concept Development of the Residential Infill Project?
6. Will staff be bringing options for the overlay zone map back to City Council?

Topic-Related Questions

7. Will the Residential Infill Project rezone most of Portland’s eastside from single-dwelling residential to multi-dwelling residential?
8. Will the Residential Infill Project make houses larger?
9. What is “floor area ratio” or FAR?
10. 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?
11. Will single-dwelling houses still be allowed if the Residential Infill Project is adopted?
12. Will the Residential Infill Project result in more demolitions?
13. What is the Residential Infill Project doing to encourage the preservation of existing housing?
14. What effect will the Residential Infill Project have on the affordability of housing?
15. Will the Residential Infill Project increase or decrease displacement?
16. Will the Residential Infill Project help renters and/or homeowners?
17. Will additional smaller units encourage more accessory short-term rentals?
18. How is the Residential Infill Project addressing K-12 school capacity?
19. How is the Residential Infill Project addressing services and infrastructure?
20. How will the Residential Infill rules apply to historic districts?
21. Who can answer questions about how Residential Infill proposals may affect my property or neighborhood?

General Questions

1. What is the Residential Infill Project about?

A: The goal of the Residential Infill Project is to adapt Portland’s single-dwelling zoning rules to meet the needs of current and future generations. 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. See a summary sheet of the project here.

2. What is the Residential Infill Project NOT addressing?

A: This project doesn’t affect properties in multi-dwelling zones 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 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. 

In addition, the Portland Housing Bureau oversees a number of programs to increase the availability of affordable housing, including:

Finally, the existing waiver of system development charges for accessory dwelling units is set to expire in July 2018, when City Council will decide on the future of the waiver.

3. Has the Residential Infill Project already been adopted?

A: 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 provide 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, followed by public hearings at the Planning and Sustainability Commission, and ultimately a decision from City Council in 2018. See the timeline below for the steps in each phase.

4. Specifically, what did City Council direct staff to do? 

A. 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.

5. How did the public influence the development of the concepts during the Phase I: Concept Development of the Residential Infill Project?

A: 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.

6. Will staff be bringing options for the overlay zone map back to City Council?

A: City Council will NOT be holding more hearings on the conceptual boundary of the Housing Opportunity Overlay zone. We understand that this is confusing, given that last December City Council asked staff to return with options for the map. However, when staff met with newly elected Mayor Ted Wheeler to discuss the overlay concept boundary and mapping approaches, he decided, rather than go back to Council, he wanted the PSC to hold hearings on a refined overlay zone boundary and forward their recommendations to Council. The PSC typically provides recommendations to the Council on land use proposals, but this step was missing in Phase I, during which the PSC was briefed on the concepts but did not hold public hearings.

The Mayor also directed staff to use the conceptual boundary on page 14 of staff’s Concept Report to Council as a starting place to begin further refinement of the boundary. He wanted the broader early public notification that this larger study area would require (each property owner affected by the proposed changes will receive a written notice prior to the PSC hearing).

To accomplish the boundary refinement staff has established a Technical Advisory Group with representatives from PBOT, Tri-Met, Water, Fire, Police, BES, BDS, Metro, and Housing Bureau. Potential boundary refinements will be based on infrastructure capacity, physical barriers, natural features and potential equity impacts. Portlanders will have a chance to comment on a draft boundary this fall before a proposed boundary goes to the PSC.

Topic Related Questions

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

A: No, the single-dwelling base zones will remain with established lot size requirements. In single-dwelling zones, the RIP 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, where a house is allowed one 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 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.

8. Will the Residential Infill Project make houses larger?

A: 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, unless a house on either side is 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.

9. What is “floor area ratio” or FAR?

A. 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 but 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 their size would likewise be limited).

10. 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?

A:  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. 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.

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

A: 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).

12. Will the Residential Infill Project result in more demolitions?

A: 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 house for a duplex may be financially attractive, the Residential Infill Project also reduces the size of house that can replace one that is demolished.

The Residential Infill Project will not necessarily increase the likelihood of demolitions. Demolitions occur in residential neighborhoods primarily because the value of the replacement house is great enough to cover the cost of demo, land and development and provide a profit to the homebuilder.

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

A: Staff is considering adding recommendations to encourage retention and conversions of existing houses. Ideas under consideration include:  

  • increased floor area limits for additions and remodels compared to new construction.
  • Allowing an extra unit to be created either inside the existing house, in a separate detached structure or as part of a cottage cluster development when an existing house is being retained.

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

A: 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 met 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 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 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 neighborhood.

15. Will Residential Infill Project increase or decrease displacement?

A: 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.  The project will be evaluating displacement impacts of the proposal and identifying possible mitigation strategies consistent with 2035 Comprehensive Plan anti-displacement policies.

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

A: 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.

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

A: 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.

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

A: The Comprehensive Plan Update considered school district capacity when proposing land use designations across the city. Of the six school districts that serve Portland, only David Douglas School District has a district-wide capacity shortfall and that is why the area is being considered for removal from the housing opportunity overlay zone. The other districts have capacity to accommodate the growth anticipated in the next twenty-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.

This spring project staff will be briefing school district staff on the Residential Infill Project and discussing possible impacts on their school districts.

19. How is the Residential Infill Project addressing services and infrastructure?

A: 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 are coordinating 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 look at increasing households in some of these higher efficiency areas. In addition, staff will be coordinating with TriMet (the regional transit agency) and school districts to ensure additional housing units can be supported.

20. How will Residential Infill rules be applied in historic districts?

A: 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 ADUs, internal conversions of existing houses and new middle housing units would be allowed if the properties are within the new overlay zone – 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.

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

A: Project staff are available to walk you through the most current proposals and discuss how they may affect your property or neighborhood. Be aware that prior to any adopted code or mapping amendments, staff will only be able to share concepts and draft proposals. It is quite possible that there will be changes to the proposals at each step of the approval process.

Morgan Tracy, Project Manager
503-823-6879, morgan.tracy@portlandoregon.gov

Julia Gisler, City Planner II
503-823-7624, julia.gisler@portlandoregon.gov