Portland’s neighborhoods have always been places of change. In our city, it’s important to work together as a community to make sure that change is for the better and includes all of us. By 2035, Portland will grow by more than 100,000 households. The city’s popularity, changes in housing demand and other factors have resulted in a housing shortage that has driven up housing costs. Also, housing market changes have made it more attractive to construct large, expensive new houses in older residential neighborhoods — even as the number of people per household is getting smaller.
To address these issues around growth and change, the City of Portland is taking a fresh look at the rules that govern the types of housing permitted in our neighborhoods. The changes proposed by this project would allow more housing options in Portland’s neighborhoods, including duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, but only if they follow new limits on size and scale.
The idea of expanding the types of housing available in residential neighborhoods is nothing new. Some of Portland’s best-known neighborhoods offer a wide variety of housing types, including duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes mixed in amongst single dwelling homes.
Over the past few decades, City rules for types of housing in residential neighborhoods have become more flexible by allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and duplexes on corners. The rule changes the City has been studying over the past two years build on these early ideas to meet today’s greater housing needs.
Smaller houses, more choices
The rule changes would address concerns about rising housing costs and large new structures in three significant ways:
- Requiring smaller houses that better fit existing neighborhoods.
- Creating more housing choices for people’s changing needs.
- Establishing clear and fair rules for narrow lot development.
One piece of the larger housing affordability puzzle
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.
Project steps and timeline
Over the past few years, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has engaged Portlanders in the development of the proposed changes to our residential zoning rules through online surveys, open houses, public hearings, and e-mail updates, resulting in more than 15,000 comments and responses.
As part of our public engagement efforts, project staff convened a Stakeholder Advisory Committee comprised of community members, architects, developers and other affected Portlanders. Over the course of 18 months, they discussed issues and opportunities, ultimately helping to form a Concept Report that was presented to City Council. Council held public hearings and, with some amendments, approved the Concept Report in December of 2016.
Staff began developing the Zoning Code and map amendments needed to make the Council’s concepts rules for residential neighborhoods. In October of 2017 a Discussion Draft was published and the public had a 2-month window of opportunity to comment on the proposals. Comments received informed the proposals in the Proposed Draft, which then went before the Planning and Sustainability Commission for public hearings, discussions and deliberations before they voted to recommend the plan to the City Council.
In March 2019, the Planning and Sustainability Commission made a few final amendments to their Revised Proposed Draft and voted 5-4 to recommend the proposed changes to City Council.
On January 15 and 16, 2020, City Council held public hearings and heard from over 100 people in addition to receiving over 500 written pieces of testimony. In response to this testimony, Staff held work sessions with Council On January 29 and February 12 to identify possible revisions to the proposals.
City Council voted to include several technical amendments, as well as add provisions for a “deep affordability bonus” to allow up to 6 units on a site when half of those units are affordable to households earning up to 60% of the median family income, as well as density restrictions on sites in historic conservation districts where demolition had not been approved through a land use review. On August 12, 2020, Council voted 3-1 to pass the Residential Infill Project. The changes go into effect on August 1, 2021.