Portland City Council adopts the Residential Infill Project

News article

Landmark zoning reforms will open Portland’s residential neighborhoods to more – and less expensive – housing types for Portlanders today and those to come.

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This morning, the Portland City Council voted 3-1 to adopt the Residential Infill Project, a landmark piece of land use legislation that will increase housing opportunities for Portlanders across the city over the next several decades.

Watch the voting and speeches:

What will RIP do?

The Residential Infill Project reopens Portland’s residential neighborhoods to more housing types (triplexes, fourplexes, sixplexes and cottage clusters), thus ensuring our city can meet the future housing needs of all our residents. Because of RIP, over the next 20 years up to 24,000 more households will be able to live in one of Portland’s “complete” walkable neighborhoods, close to transit, parks, shops and other amenities.

“The Residential Infill Project and deeper affordability bonus will open up the market to start providing homes that have not existed for a while in Portland,” said Steve Messinetti, CEO, Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro East. The new American dream is a stable home that you can afford. This will help make that dream possible for more people in our community."

Brian Hoop, Housing Oregon’s executive director, concurred: “Passage of the Residential Infill Project – and the deeper affordability amendments – is a key long-term strategy to resolving Portland’s housing crisis. RIP will ensure an expanded range of housing options throughout Portland neighborhoods, making them accessible across the income continuum and creating a pathway to homeownership that would otherwise be unattainable for many Black, Indigenous, People of Color communities.”

Going big

This is the biggest rewrite of Portland’s zoning code since 1991. The City opened up residential neighborhoods to accessory dwelling units (ADU) in 1981, and in 1991 allowed duplexes on corners. The first-of-its-kind policy in the U.S. (going even further than Minneapolis), RIP inspired state-initiated HB2001 and goes further than that groundbreaking legislation. The project also allows development on most historically narrow lots, bringing Portland into conformance with SB534.

Explained Sightline Institute’s Senior Researcher Michael Andersen, "This is the most progressive reform to low-density urban zoning in American history. Portland is going above and beyond Oregon's mandate for re-legalizing middle housing. Nonprofits will now be able to add below-market housing to any neighborhood. Middle-income Portlanders will be able to afford newly built, energy-efficient homes in walkable areas essentially by teaming up with each other to split the land costs.”

Getting smaller

The Residential Infill Project “right sizes” Portland’s single-family homes by resetting the maximum square footage from 6,500 to 2,500 sq. ft. And because it reduces the allowed size and scale of new units, more housing will be available to Portlanders at a lower – and relatively more modest – price.

Furthermore, these new units will be more energy efficient (with lower energy bills) and would allow more people to live in town, cutting freeway traffic from the suburbs and shrinking our carbon footprint.

Stated the Oregon Environmental Council, “RIP will shape residential redevelopment over time to be more supportive of transit, biking and walking, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.”

Historical significance

By returning single-dwelling zones to more middle housing types, the Residential Infill Project starts to undo the exclusionary zoning practices of the past, which encouraged segregation and denied people of color access to complete neighborhoods.

1000 Friends of Oregon said that, “The passage of the Residential Infill Project sets the tone for cities all over America to acknowledge long-codified racist zoning practices, end exclusive single-dwelling zoning and provide the missing middle housing so many need, especially preventing and mitigating displacement.”

The zoning update also promotes housing preservation by discouraging demolitions and encouraging ADUs and cottages on flag lots, as well as providing flexibility and bonuses to preserve more older housing (ala the Albina Community Plan).

“Housing options should be as diverse as the people in our community,” said Catholic Charities of Oregon about the reforms. “With adoption of RIP, even more opportunities will exist for nonprofits and other socially minded developers to provide affordable homes – for rent and homeownership, for families and individuals, across Portland’s diverse neighborhoods.”

Planning for the ages

The Residential Infill Project also includes important changes to accommodate people of all ages and abilities in new residential development by requiring at least one of the homes in a triplex to be ADA-compliant.

“We’re excited that the final RIP policy package addresses these AARP priorities and applaud the city for listening deeply,” said AARP Oregon. “The Residential Infill Project will help make Portland a more age-friendly place where people of all ages, abilities, races, family size, and incomes can thrive.”

Power of partnership

The Residential Infill Project evolved over five years. It began as a response to the rise of demolitions of single-family homes and evolved into a comprehensive approach to eliminating exclusionary zoning practices. During the process, a coalition formed between housing advocates, homebuilders, climate activists, environmentalists and others to increase middle housing throughout the city. Together we worked to ensure building fourplexes and sixplexes would pencil out for affordable housing developers, thus creating more possibilities for affordable housing stock in residential neighborhoods.

“We are thrilled at the passage of the Residential Infill Project,” said Business for a Better Portland. “The policy change will allow more people to access jobs and opportunity in the city and, over time, help add housing options in neighborhoods across the city. We thank the many advocates and city leaders who worked for years to end an exclusionary zoning policy that was designed with the intent and outcome to discriminate against non-white Portlanders.”

What’s next?

The adoption of the Residential Infill Project must now be acknowledged by the State and implementation is expected in 2021.

The Residential Infill Project is the third and final leg of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s housing “stool,” which started with the update of Portland’s mixed use zones followed by the city’s multi-family zones (Better Housing by Design). For RIP, the bureau conducted a displacement analysis, which was the first of its kind in the nation. It showed that, while displacement would still occur with RIP, the impact on vulnerable populations would be far less than doing nothing. It also allows us to target neighborhoods that are particularly vulnerable and develop interventions.

So, BPS is now positioned to build on this great work with the Anti-displacement Action Plan, the Shelter to Housing Continuum Project and others to come.