Portland City Council today unanimously passed a pair of ordinances introduced by Commissioner Carmen Rubio that aim to advance housing production in response to ongoing challenges in the housing market.
The ordinances include a housing regulatory relief package and changes to the Inclusionary Housing program, adding to a list of more than a dozen accomplishments since Rubio was appointed as Commissioner in Charge of the City’s Community & Economic Development bureaus in January 2023.
“Today’s actions are a clear demonstration that Portland is serious about building more housing,” Rubio said. “I want to thank the industry professionals, our Planning Commission volunteers and other work group members, and my Council colleagues who helped shape this impactful legislation.”
The regulatory relief package makes strategic changes to zoning code to help reduce the cost of building housing in Portland. The legislation covers 15 issues that will help move the needle on housing production, including bike parking, ground floor active use/height, non-conforming upgrades, ecoroof standards, and design review.
“Last spring, I asked our development community stakeholders what local codes and rules were making it more expensive and challenging to build housing in Portland,” Rubio said. “Changing development rules is not easy business, and I’m proud of the end result, which will spur housing production without sacrificing environmental sustainability.”
The other ordinance makes key changes to the Inclusionary Housing program, which was designed to create sustainable mixed-income communities by requiring affordable housing to be included in new developments. Council voted to balance the program by offering a deeper property tax exemption for projects located in certain areas outside of Central City, as well as providing more flexibility and clarity for how the program functions. Multnomah County will also need to approve the property tax changes before they can go into effect.
“The Inclusionary Housing program is doing what it was meant to do: expanding access for low- and moderate-income families to live in some of the most desirable areas of Portland,” Rubio said. “At a time when development activity has dropped off, these changes will ensure that the City is providing enough financial incentives to adequately cover the costs of complying with the program.”
Both ordinances are scheduled to go into effect March 1.
These new ordinances cap off a year of accomplishments from Commissioner Rubio to advance housing production. In addition to those before Council today, the others include:
- Expanding the Homebuyer Opportunity Limited Tax Exemption (HOLTE) to increase the number of homes built and sold to low and moderate-income families each year
- Providing temporary flexibility for homeownership incentive programs in response to current challenging market conditions
- Incentivizing office-to-housing conversion by addressing costs of seismic improvements
- Reaching consensus on City Council via a resolution to end decades of debate and unify the City’s permitting functions within one entity
- Freezing System Development Charges for one year
- Updating Central City floodplain regulations to balance the protection of habitat for fish and building the housing we need in the existing areas that allow for residential development
- Launching exploration processes for potential new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts in Central City and East Portland
- Offering $5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to nonprofits for land acquisition for affordable housing
- Working with Multnomah County and Metro to provide $40 million in “last gap” funding for new affordable housing
- Extending the Multiple-Unit Limited Tax Exemption (MULTE) program to preserve existing affordable units
- Awarding $5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to renovate and preserve existing affordable housing operated by nonprofits
- Proposing $100 million to support the production of green affordable housing over the next five years through unanticipated revenue from the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF)
- Completing a construction cost study, a housing needs analysis, and a public land inventory
- Sharing a draft framework for the Housing Production Strategy with Council and launching community engagement as staff prepare a proposal for consideration this summer
All of Commissioner Rubio’s actions over the past year collectively represent her effort to identify every lever that City government can pull to increase housing production. Additional and complementary actions can be taken at the state level, such as the historical level of investments in affordable housing approved during the 2023 legislative session. The state is also looking at other regulatory changes and investments, such as potential funding for local infrastructure that would support housing production at district-scale sites in Central City such as Broadway Corridor and the OMSI district.
“Portland can’t do this alone, and it’s why I appreciate Multnomah County’s partnership on supporting the expansion of inclusionary housing and the Governor making housing one of her top priorities,” Rubio added. “It certainly feels like the alignment between the City and our government partners grows every day. I value the collaboration, and together we can shape a future Portland that works for everyone.”