Housing: Is Bigger Better?

By Midge Pierce

Despite massive construction and a reported 16,000 empty units, more housing has yet to move the needle significantly on affordability.

Now, with state legislation on the docket like HB 2001 reflective of RIP, Portland’s controversial Residential Infill Proposal that would eliminate single family neighborhoods to make way for multi-units, planners promote “housing flexibility and choice” while critics cry foul over densification they claim is driven by corporate hacks.

Pushback on RIP, which would rezone 96% of residential neighborhoods, may propel a lower profile zone change before Council first. The innocuous-sounding Better Housing By Design Project (BHD) focuses on mid and high-level multi-dwelling zones that impact only 8% of city land. (An observer points out that RIP’s proposed allowance of 4-plexes on virtually every residential lot adds far more density than multi-dwelling zones.)

During a SE Uplift presentation, project contact Bill Cunningham said amended recommendations were designed to honor affordability concerns and discourage construction of pricey $600,000 duplexes on lots that would allow more units. He calls it “unit efficiency”.

For Southeast residents on corridors like Belmont with both Mixed Use and Multi-Dwelling Zones, one notable change would be more side-by-side building with the elimination of 10-foot gap requirements.  In addition, amendments were made to improve design, livability and streetscape appeal by following existing building setback and scale patterns. Parking requirements were also reduced.

To offset potential teardowns, Cunningham says Multi-Dwelling Zones would incentivize preservation of existing affordable housing and trees through transfers of development rights. BHD also proposes density bonuses of 50% – 100% for deeply low income housing, despite charges that inclusionary policies slow growth.

Cunningham adds that the greatest impact is likely East Portland where 10,000 square foot tracts of underutilized land are more available.

For the status of pending Bureau of Development Services projects including Historic Resources, Design Overlays and Neighborhood Contact Requirements go to: portlandoregon.gov/bds/article/595609

Housing: Is Bigger Better?

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