What Densification Means to Portland

By Midge Pierce

The June walkout of state Senators gave critics of pending legislation like statewide upzoning in HB 2001 time to amp up objections before a final vote was taken.

At this writing, the Bill was still stalled and might need to be reintroduced at a special session.

Opponents said that public sentiment in the House, heavily influenced by paid lobbyists and deep pockets declaring the bill’s elimination of single family neighborhoods a cure for affordability, fairness, inclusivity and choice), gave short shrift to objections that it could actually push up  housing costs.

A sampling of what they say passage could mean follows:

Portland could close the debate on its Residential Infill Project (RIP) by adopting HB 2001-allowed quadplexes everywhere, or it could opt to fight for even greater density.

While the City would likely retain the right to regulate size, height, setbacks and design, dismantling existing zoning at the state level sets powerful precedent for eradicating local zoning controls, according to United Neighborhoods for Reform’s Janet Baker.

She adds it will increase landgrabs and bidding wars, overburden infrastructure, push out vulnerable populations and reduce affordable housing.

Passage would harm the environment because “an existing house is the greenest house”, says Baker, and new construction takes its own toxic toll.

It sets the stage for expensive legal challenges. Concerns that HB 2001 may violate, rather than support, the Fair Housing Act have been expressed by Portland Planning Commissioner Andre Baugh, who dissented from PPC approval of RIP.

If real estate becomes “commodified” in the search for affordability, urbanist Michael Mehaffy warns of gentrification, displacement and increasing homelessness.

Follow the money he urges. “Advocates of progressive planning should take a hard look at interests behind current pro-growth movements, their mixed motives and doubtful outcomes.”

With no guarantees of affordability or regulatory countermeasures, HB 2001 (and its RIP mirror image) would aid, not remedy, “oppressive and discriminatory” interests, adds M. K. Hanson.

She claims billion-dollar private equity corporations have purchased $6.1 billion in Portland area multifamily units in roughly four years. “The impact on the local housing market is disastrous.”

Progressive alignments with conservative Wall Street investors like the Holland Partners (and its investment partner Blackstone, according to Hanson), would signal that powerful financial and international interests control market rate projects that profit from the affordability crisis.

The League of Oregon Cities does not support this bill because it undermines the values and process of Oregon’s land use laws, according to architect Rod Merrick.

He adds it would hurt the economy by giving businesses another reason not to locate here.

Significant questions remain unanswered. RIP advisory committee member and critic Michael Molinaro wonders what density would be allowed.

“Is it like Sunnyside, with existing density of 19.2 people per acre, or Irvington with 15.4? King at 15.1? Northwest at 14.3?  Or as little as Cully (when industrial land is removed) at 10.0? Or Lents at 8.7?

What Densification Means to Portland

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