Back in 2019, I wrote a blog post discussing how allowing so-called “middle housing” – duplexes, triplexes, and quadruplexes – could help alleviate Portland’s affordable housing crisis. The more units you have on a piece of land, the more you can spread around land acquisition costs, so the more units, the more affordable the housing. Back then, the Portland City Council was poised to adopt the Residential Infill Project or RIP, which would have re-legalized such middle housing in neighborhoods currently zoned exclusively for single family homes. At the same time, the Oregon Legislature was considering HB 2001, which would have a similar effect in cities with populations over 10,000 statewide.
While HB 2001 passed in the Spring of 2019, the RIP was sent back for re-working to address concerns that it might result in inadvertently displacing low income residents. On Wednesday, August 12, 2020, four years after the city began working on the RIP, Portland City Council passed it by a 3-1 vote. It exceeds the requirements of HB 2001.
The RIP amends the zoning code to reduce the maximum size of a single family home from 6,750 square feet to 2,500 square feet on a typical lot. On that same lot, a developer could instead choose to build a 3000 square foot duplex or a 3,500 square foot triplex or quadruplex – thereby incentivizing a developer to get more bang from their development buck by building more units. The same unit size limits for each unit number apply to cottage clusters.
Other features include: allowing one attached accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and one detached ADU (meaning up to two ADUs) on most lots, and eliminating off-street parking requirements from more than 60% of Portland’s residential land.
The most significant change from prior iterations of the law is the addition of the “Deeper Affordability Bonus” which allows sixplexes of up to 6,000 square feet if half of the units are reserved as rental units for families making no more than 60% of the median income, or for-sale units for families making no more than 80% of the median income. This makes it easier for Community Development Corporations and other nonprofits using public dollars for affordable housing to make such projects pencil out.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz was the lone “No” vote on the RIP. She voiced concerns the RIP will be a climate change disaster, her reasoning being that building infill housing in areas that do not have alternative transportation infrastructure will lead to more people dependent on cars. However, if the RIP did not pass, developers would have no option but to build farther out from the city, which also lacks alternative transportation infrastructure. It’s important to note that the dozens of organizations advocating for RIP over the years included many environmental groups, in addition to housing advocates, neighborhood associations, transportation advocacy groups, governmental agencies, and community nonprofits.
While Portland still has a long way to go to fix its housing crisis, it took a major step forward last week.