For more than four years, Portland city planners have been hammering out a mammoth overhaul of the city’s zoning rules to increase density in residential neighborhoods. That plan would effectively end single-family zoning in Portland, freeing up developers to build two- three- and four-unit homes across most of the city.
Having moved through multiple council work sessions and advisory committees, that plan — officially called the Residential Infill Project — is headed for public hearings at the end of this week.
The contentious proposal is expected to draw a big crowd. The Portland City Council has set aside a total of five hours on Wednesday and Thursday to hear from residents, who will each be given two minutes to testify.
Based on the written testimony that has poured in, commissioners will likely be hearing many of the arguments that have been simmering since the project began. Opponents say such a code update would encourage developers to demolish old homes, irreversibly changing the neighborhoods’ character and causing overcrowding. Others worry that the project’s passage would displace low-income residents, as developers start buying up the cheap land they’re living on.
Commissioners will also hear from supporters who see the project as a desperately needed antidote to the city’s housing shortage.
Some of these housing advocates are expected to ask the City Council to go even further Wednesday in creating affordable housing options. They argue that while the current project will fuel the creation of homes for middle-class Portlanders, it offers little to low-income residents.
To that end, advocates are drafting an amendment to present to the City Council that would allow for six-plexes and eight-plexes, reserved for the city’s poorest residents.
“If people are concerned about affordability when it comes to residential infill, then we should be talking about ways we can get there, practical ways we can get there,” said Diane Linn, who leads affordable housing non-profit Proud Ground. “And this is what we think may be a path forward.”
Linn said that while private developers were unlikely to build these smaller units, affordable housing developers would be eager for the opportunity.
The city’s on the clock to get the residential infill project passed. Last year, the state passed House Bill 2001, which ended single-family zoning in most Oregon cities. Portland has until June 2022 to comply.
Linn said she didn’t want to speculate on whether broadening the scope of the residential infill project could delay an already slow-moving process.
“I don’t know that anybody knows for sure,” she said. “We’re just doing our best to make sure that public policy is as thoughtful and ambitious as we think it can be.”