By Midge Pierce

Sweeping land use reform that would eliminate single family housing is all the rage in entering 2019 as Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek proffers a statewide mirror of Portland’s revised Residential Infill Proposal (RIP) to allow multi-plexes in single-family zoned neighborhoods.

Eager planners, likely chagrined that Minneapolis beat them to the elimination of single-family neighborhoods, claim upzoning is “housing choice for people across a broader range of the income spectrum…”

They admit, however, that Portland’s RIP proposal, recently expanded to include 96% of residential neighborhoods, was never tasked with addressing affordability. Instead, the City (and going forward, perhaps the State) assumes affordability will happen automatically as for-profit builders market  “missing middle” housing at affordable prices.

A pro-density Johnson Economics Study reported at year’s end that by rezoning parcels from R5 – R2.5, Portland’s RIP would be a boon in increased housing production. The City, in turn, posted assurances for the anti-demolition crowd that unit increases of 24,000 over twenty years would require only modest teardowns.

Government has powerful voices behind its plans – The Oregonian recently endorsed four-plexes in single-family zones as a “game changer.”

Critics didn’t buy it. Citing erroneous assumptions, architect Rod Merrick countered that costs would run much higher than the Johnson study indicates and RIP-allowed structures could exceed 10,000 sq. feet on a small single-family lot. Plus, he said, the report does not account for existing regulations that already allow for ADUs and corner lot duplexes.

In a letter to the mayor and planning officials, Merrick charged the City with misrepresentation. “Concerns for context and scale have been taken off the table in favor of driving density… Planning with plenty of ideology, little analysis, and no accountability is a recipe for failure.”

The project has split the city, pitting pro-densification groups who call themselves YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard) against NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard). At least one lawsuit has been filed and numerous websites have sprouted in opposition to the plan.

“We all want affordability and sustainability,” says a critic. “This project fails to deliver either one. It will displace lower incomes to build expensive housing for high income buyers and investors.”

A prolific data analyst predicts RIP will cause thousands of renters to be displaced as pricey rebuilds replace low-cost housing. “There is no housing crisis, only an affordable housing crisis,” claims the blogger who uses the pseudonym Nerdletta. Rather, Portland is experiencing a glut of housing priced beyond Portlander’s means, she indicates.

She continues “If you read only the utopian prognostications written by development lobbyists like (1000 Friends) Portland for Everyone or YIMBY “think tanks” like Sightline and CityLab, then the false-narrative leads you to believe that there is a shortage of housing supply and that rents and housing prices will fall if we further deregulate the housing market and build even more market-rate new construction.”

A site called Portland is Not for Sale calls development’s combination of demolition, displacement and deforestation an environmental disaster. Posts blast the political pollution from pro-density, deep-pocketed builders sponsoring legislators and lobbyists like 1000 Friends, which a critic charges is masquerading as an environmental steward.

Lamenting the loss of protections for affordable, single family neighborhoods, Merrick warns, “The middle class family with children will increasingly migrate out of the city.”

A Portland Sustainability Commission briefing on the revised proposal draft is scheduled for February 12, 12:30 – 3:30 pm, 1900 SW 4th Avenue, Room 2500 (2nd floor).