By Nancy Tannler

At the recent Buckman Neighborhood Association meeting, Tom Armstrong from the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability (BPS) gave a brief presentation about the Inclusionary Housing Zoning Code Project with a special focus on the exemption from minimum parking standards. Buckman requested BPS staff come to explain the Inclusionary Housing proposal.

Inclusionary housing is the result of the State’s adoption of SB 1533 bill in February of 2016 which allows the city to adopt land use regulations that require developers to assign building with 20 or more housing units to set aside up to 20 percent of new units as affordable for households earning 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), currently about $58,650 for a family of four.

As a part of the program, developments may be eligible for density bonuses, fee waivers, and/or tax abatements. As an alternative, developers will be able to provide affordable units off-site, but nearby, or pay a fee into an affordable housing fund. This is done by applying Housing Overlay Zones (HOZs).

“Overlay” zones layer on top of established base zoning regulations, leaving in place opportunities for property owners to develop within these existing rules.

HOZ incentives may include increased density, relaxed height limits, reduced parking requirements, fast-tracked permitting, and exemptions from mixed-use requirements. This supposedly gives developers more financial bonuses by offering additional benefits to projects that increase the supply of homes that people can afford.

Developers and planners are still negotiating 34 amendment requests to the current Inclusionary Housing Code draft.

“The exemption from minimum parking standards first came up as part of the proposed zoning code changes to implement the new 2035 Comp Plan and are currently under consideration by the City Council. In picking up that discussion, the PSC recommended that the exemption be included in the Inclusionary Housing code changes”, said Tom Armstrong.

There is no set formula for what a  minimum requirement for parking would look like. There is a group of people called Portland for Parking Reform that believes that the minimum parking requirements are ineffective, raise the cost of housing, and are contrary to our climate action and transportation goals. This group has made their presence known at many of the public hearings on the issue.

According to Armstrong, the exemption would apply citywide for development projects that are close to transit – within 1,500 feet of a MAX station or 500 feet of a bus line with 20-minute peak hour service.

The Buckman Neighborhood Association is concerned that this is just another giveaway to the developers – especially in a neighborhood that has taken more than their share of infill development over the past fifty years, making livability increasingly more difficult.

Mary Ann Schwab also went on to defend the required parking requirements in new development stating that many people need to drive because there are not that many grocery stores that an elderly or disabled person can get to in inner SE and people with children need their cars for transport.

On another front, Buckman residents are frustrated that new apartments buildings do not require any retail space on the lower floors.

“Since they are packing us in here the least they could offer is some amenities, like local coffeeshops or restaurants,” said Rick Johnson, the Land Use Committee Co-Chair.

Most of the apartments being built are studios and one bedrooms. All that is required to be considered a rental unit is for there to be a bathroom and some kind of cooking facility. Schwab is frustrated by this new formula for apartments, because none of them are being built for families.

“We will have lots of places for single people to move to, but we are doing nothing for families and this makes me angry, ” Schwab said.

With housing prices skyrocketing in inner SE, the concern is only wealthier people with children will be able to live here in the future.

“Unless the inclusionary housing code includes two and three bedrooms apartments, we will lose our middle income families,” Schwab said.

Armstrong confirmed that including larger apartments hasn’t been part of the equation. The term “prescriptive segregation” was the way one person described their take on how new planning rules will end up by removing lower and middle income people from the inner eastside.

It was suggested that the next best step for this issue would be to form a group known as Portland for Apartment Size Reform.

The first hearing on the recommended Inclusionary Housing Zoning Code Project by City Council will be December 8 at 2 pm.

For more information, visit the Inclusionary Housing program website portlandoregon.gov/phb/70578 to read the Inclusionary Housing Zoning Code Project Proposed Draft.