By David Krogh

Note: The conference identity was inadvertently edited out.  It was the annual conference of the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association held the first week in October and was attended by planners and government officials from all over Oregon.

Oregon Housing staff indicated there might be a “missing middle” legislation coming out of the next state legislature as there are strong concerns that many jurisdictions are not adequately addressing housing choice at moderate and middle density levels.

The missing middle refers to types of units between the range of houses and apartment buildings, including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, courtyard apartments and cottage clusters.

Gordon Howard from the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) stated cities are supposed to do a Housing Needs Analysis which identifies a twenty year supply of housing per State Goal 10 (Housing).

The lack of missing middle planning has been a sore spot with Portland’s planning considering the City’s Residential Infill Project (RIP) and its proposal to inject middle density housing types directly into most SE Portland single family neighborhoods rather than to use middle densities as a transition between high density and low density uses, following the concentric circle theory of zoning.

For RIP, the City is mainly focusing on adding duplex, triplex, and accessory dwelling units or ADU’s into existing single family areas.

Howard stated that DLCD has not had the budget or staffing necessary to maintain a thorough oversight of Goal 10 implementation by cities. However, the obligation is still there.

This has also been a problem facing Metro, responsible for oversight of State Goal compliance within the Metro UGB area. Howard states DLCD is trying to avoid an adversarial role for Goal 10 compliance while still encouraging proper implementation. One type of missing middle housing discussed at the conference was “tiny homes;” small fully livable units that on wheels, function like a travel trailer, but on a foundation, are the equivalent of a tiny house. The City of Bend approved a cottage cluster code in 2015, which allows the use of tiny homes as “cottages.”

A tiny home cluster development now in progress called The Hiatus was showcased as part of this discussion.

Planning Consultant, John Morgan, stated that although Portland allows tiny homes to be used as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), it does not yet have a cottage code that will allow tiny homes as permanent dwellings. He hopes that will be remedied soon so as to provide more housing choice.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Cat Goughnour, a North Portland sociologist, who spoke about the gentrification of North Portland and its resulting forced displacement of so many of the African American community.

Many of those displaced have moved away from North Portland to East Portland and even Gresham where there is apparently affordable housing available.

The City tried to implement a relocation program aptly named “Right to Return” with the intent of bringing back 2,000 out of the 16,000 displaced by gentrification. PBS did a special report on Right to Return.

After the first year of a two-year program, only six of those displaced were able to return. Mayor Wheeler was reported by PBS to have called the relocation program “an abject failure.”  Portland has already been labeled by The Atlantic (in 2017) and CNN (in 2018) as the “whitest large city in America”.

Between a history of racism and gentrification, the Black community in Portland has declined to only 6% of the white population, behind even the Asian community (at 7%) per Metro demographics data.