By Midge Pierce

Public testimony on the controversial Residential Infill Project (RIP) that split the City into divisive camps is yet another casualty, at least temporarily, of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mere hours before consideration and likely passage, a final RIP hearing was cancelled as the virus’ grip on the world grew tighter and Governor Kate Brown shut down large gatherings.

The RIP hearing had been considered the final chance to speak out for or against the project that has been five years in the making.

The original plan allowed duplexes and quadplexes in formerly single family neighborhoods. During various iterations, denser options emerged.

Before the postponed hearing, planners had readied a Deep Affordability Bonus Amendment to potentially allow six or more units when at least half are deemed affordable. To accommodate the added density, greater height and square footage would be allowed.

Incentives were included to make access, known as “visit-ability,” easier for disabled individuals.

The City and its proponents, many from the construction industry, see the Bonus Amendment as a way to increase per unit affordability, allow more housing choices and encourage more income mix in buildings.

RIP’s widespread implementation in virtually all residential neighborhoods would add diversity and provide a social justice solution that remedies a history of racist housing practices, according to renter rights and special interest groups. Proponents say building more units means less cost per unit.

Critics claim RIP is an untested, unproven policy that has not solved the housing crisis elsewhere, encourages speculative development and contains no guarantees of affordability, even with the Bonus Amendment.

They also claim it will cause environmental degradation and goes far beyond density allocations in the City Comprehensive Plan.

Based on a majority of Commissioner comments, the bonus amendments were virtually guaranteed, but how an era of social turmoil with an uncontained virus on the loose will impact construction and density is unknown. A project that started out to address population growth landed in the midst of multiple crises–housing, health and climate.

Environmentalist Paul Majkut warned that RIP will increase global warming, not just through the loss of mature, CO2 absorbing trees, but in the loss of embodied energy that will take 50 years to recover from climate change impact of demolition.

Majkut cited data to reinforce the familiar refrain that the greenest house is an existing house. He claims that demolition and construction emit thousands more pounds of CO2 than repurposing older buildings for multi-units, with the cost of rehabbing and adding ADUs to existing homes just 15 percent of a new build.

The City’s position is that densification keeps people, jobs and services close to the City center, thereby reducing pollution.

RIP supporters cite the Mayor’s Climate Change Declaration draft that states “…compact development can have the greatest impact on carbon reduction…”

Confusingly, the Declaration also states that carbon emissions from the building and transportation sectors are the “largest contributors to local carbon emissions.”

Disillusioned RIP stakeholder advisor member and architect Rod Merrick says, “Clearly RIP is in conflict with the Climate Emergency Declaration. RIP is a handout to developers that increase underlying land and taxes.

“Imagine that the corner houses of your block are demolished. Instead of four, single family houses (as RIP originally proposed) with five to eight cars and 10-12 residents, they are replaced with three, four-plexes and an eight-plex. Now there are 40 residents and likely 30-40 cars.”

The cancelled RIP hearing has yet to be rescheduled. To testify online go to portlandmaps.com/bps/testify/#/rip.