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About the Better Housing by Design project

Purpose, background, timeline, and contact information for the BHD project.

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Project purpose

The Better Housing by Design project is revising development and design standards in Portland’s multi-dwelling zones outside the Central City. The types of housing allowed in these areas include apartment buildings of varying sizes, fourplexes, townhouses and rowhouses.

Project background

As Portland grows and more people need places to live, the demand for more housing will continue to increase. Greater numbers of people will be living in apartment buildings and other higher density residential units, such as fourplexes, townhouses and rowhouses in Portland’s multi-dwelling zones throughout the city.

But not all multi-dwelling development is created equal. Some apartment complexes, for instance, have very little open space for children to play and people to gather outside. Accessibility may be difficult for people with disabilities or older adults. And safe and convenient connections to local destinations may be nonexistent. 

In response, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability launched the Better Housing by Design (BHD) project to improve the design of new multi-family development for current and future residents. While the project covers all multi-dwelling zones (R3, R2, R1 and RH) outside the Central City, BHD pays closer attention to neighborhoods in East Portland, where a large number of families live in multi-family housing, and the area lacks good street connectivity and access to outdoor spaces. 

The Better Housing by Design amendments will:

  • Expand housing options by providing more flexibility for numbers of units, with new incentives for affordable housing. City Council added a new bonus option for ownership housing and expanded affordable housing parking exemptions in both the multi-dwelling and mixed-use zones.
  • Address needs for residential outdoor space with new requirements for outdoor areas in higher density zones and common areas for large sites. Council exempted indoor common areas from building floor area limits, which means no net loss of space for residential units.
  • Ensure new development contributes to pedestrian-friendly streets and relates to the context of the neighborhood.
  • Provide development standards specific to East Portland and help create needed street connections, in partnership with the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Connected Centers Street Plan.
  • Change the Zoning Map and higher density zoning in historic districts to balance historic preservation goals with incentives for affordable housing. Amendments allow for development bonuses, primarily for affordable housing, to be used in historic districts in both the multi-dwelling and mixed-use zones. To discourage demolition of older buildings, Council added limitations to bonuses on sites where historic buildings have been demolished.

Project steps and timeline

On Wednesday, Dec. 18, City Council voted to adopt the Better Housing by Design proposals. With this vote, Commissioners approved new zoning code and map amendments to multi-dwelling zones, ensuring that new apartment buildings and multi-family development will meet the needs of Portlanders now and in the future. 

The adopted BHD code and map amendments will become effective on March 1, 2020. Development applications submitted prior to that date will be subject to existing zoning code regulations. Prior to the effective date, the Bureau of Development Services will be able to provide early assistance meetings for projects seeking to use the new BHD regulations.