By Midge Pierce
Portland’s biggest story continuing into 2018 is its housing emergency. Homelessness remains rampant despite shelters such as the 100-bed facility planned for a vacant store at 62nd and Foster.
Barely a dent has been made in affordable housing despite a $258 million bond and 300 affordable units planned on a former Powell strip club site.
A growing chorus of residents now claims that the City’s controversial Residential Infill Project (RIP) may actually make the affordability situation worse by disrupting stable neighborhoods, increasing housing insecurity and displacing vulnerable longtime residents to accommodate densification and newcomers.
RIP encourages demolition of affordable housing stock, according to groups like United Neighborhoods for Reform, Stop Demolishing Portland and neighborhood associations that believe developers build to reap profits, not fix housing problems.
Doubts about RIP are growing, even among supporters of concepts like housing scale reductions, as citizens realize it is built on market rate – typically translated as price-hiked, not affordable housing.
Calls are being heard for a public vote on the Infill proposal by those who consider it a developer’s scam ill-designed to meet City affordability needs or address failing infrastructure and congestion problems.
“Portland voters should decide the fate of their own city,” according to a petition being circulating by the grassroots Stop Demolishing Portland. Its mantra, “No Vote, No RIP”, aims to “bring democracy back” to housing processes. The group’s multifaceted mission discourages demolition and gentrification while supporting both subsidized housing and preservation.
Project pushbacks are delaying timelines. The January schedules for implementation of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, of which RIP is part, will wait until May. Along with criticism that RIP was slipped into the Comp Plan at the 11th hour, the state has received formal complaint about violations of state planning requirements.
On December 26, the Multnomah Neighborhood Association (MNA) filed an appeal of objections, previously denied by a state agency. The appeal includes objections to multi-use middle housing in single-family neighborhoods, and will be reviewed by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission prior to Comp Plan implementation.
Earlier in December, the state approved the Plan on the assumption that Portland has “little opportunity to grow anywhere but up” even as developable land in outer East Portland goes begging for attention.
Determined to block rezoning of some 85,000 residential properties, MNA says it will go to the Oregon Court of Appeals if necessary. To help cover expenses, they launched a fund-raising campaign at swni.org/multnomah.
While the Westside has taken the lead on fighting RIP, the bulk of residential rezoning will hit the inner eastside. Eastsiders, increasingly a mix of new arrivals, social activists and special interest groups squaring off against homeowners and longtimers, are split on whether Infill is a solution to the housing crisis.
“RIP is for the rich. RIP is for people who don’t live here yet,” frequent critic Michael Molinaro wrote to The Portland Tribune, which, like The Oregonian, has generally supported the project.
Few publications have covered concerns about RIP’s impact on neighborhoods. The Willamette Weekly devoted an issue to “smart” megalopolises Portland should emulate, like Tokyo and Singapore.
Advocates 1000 Friends of Oregon and its lobbying arm Portland for Everyone, supported by deep-pockets, position RIP as a way to avoid sprawl and add density that stems rising house and rental costs. As vacancy signs sprout, argument that supply is not keeping up with demand is a harder sell.
United Neighborhoods for Reform posts a quote on its website from a city planner that indicates RIP was never intended to address affordable housing, preservation or demolition. If RIP is not intended to address these issues, it posts, then “what problem is it trying to solve”?
New concerns mount. In comments about plan highlights, the state lauds a section focusing on the inclusion of “less traditional communities” in decision making. Longtimers question whether it is equitable to disregard those who have invested time and resources in the City.
Objectors point to outside investors, like those who chopped up Seattle, San Jose and San Francisco, as coveting Portland properties for development. Newbuilds featuring pricey micro-units are so small they demand off-site storage. As a result, large lots such as the former Seven Dees property on Powell, turn what might have been affordable housing into massive storage complexes. Additional, some say avoidable, construction undermines claims of so-called green benefits of newbuilds.
As RIP proponents heckle objectors as NIMBYs, a Next Door writer asks what happened to the time-honored concept of moving up over time? “It seems to me…that Portland believes they need to provide [everyone] an affordable, trendy apartment in the central city core. I don’t think that’s the mission of municipal government.”
Regardless of resident’s positions, one thing is certain: RIP will forever change the look and feel of Portland as single family homes are replaced by duplexes, triplexes, cluster houses and other multi-unit options.