By Midge Pierce

A year ago, six-plexes in SE’s single-family neighborhoods would have been unimaginable. Now, love the idea or hate it, Portland’s City Council has expressed unanimous support for them.

Last month’s Residential Infill Project (RIP) vote to pass all amendments to the original RIP plan ensures that allowance of six-plexes will be part of Council’s upcoming vote on the entire package.

A vote is expected August 5 and city planners project that RIP will go into effect in August 2021.

The most notable amendment was the Deeper Affordability Bonus to allow six units on formerly single-family residential lots providing they meet at least some affordability criteria.

While last summer’s statewide legislative mandate eliminating single-family zones preceded the expected passage of Portland’s RIP, the allowance of six units per lot goes significantly farther than state requirements for a minimum of two units to replace a single family home.

What Portland’s RIP means to SE residential neighborhoods is that one-to-one house replacements will be disallowed. When a single-family home is torn down, in its stead, a minimum of two and maximum of six units must be built on virtually every paved, residential street in SE.

The Council session began with Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Director Andrea Durbin’s call for more units per lot as essential to meet City equity, inclusivity and compact development goals.

The key benefits of densification, she said, would be removal of housing barriers and opening up more options for more people.

Despite opposition claims that RIP will cause displacement of vulnerable families from modestly-priced homes demolished and replaced with multi-units, the project was embraced by Commissioners as a way to provide affordable housing and resolve inequities and racial discrimination.

The Deeper Affordability Bonus grants more floor space and greater height allowances for six-plexes that provide half of the units at 60 percent median family income (MFI)–a fluid number based on family size and worker incomes. Five-plexes would require three affordable units and four-plexes would require two.

Mayor Ted Wheeler praised champions of inclusivity like Portland Neighbors Welcome for backing the Bonus. Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said upzoning could make housing more competitive.

Jo Ann Hardesty expressed initial skepticism that the proposal would meet low income needs, then applauded those who pushed for the Bonus as a way to ensure affordability.

Amanda Fritz, considered a possible no vote, expressed appreciation that the Bonus offered incentives for builders to provide affordability.

The Historic Resources amendment was the most complex of all for Mayor Wheeler who said it offered protections for sites of historic significance, but cautioned it could limit densification goals.

After all six amendments passed, 1000 Friends of Oregon took an online victory lap declaring RIP just a step away after its four years of advocacy, saying “If passed (as expected in mid-August), it would end decades of exclusionary zoning and open up housing opportunities for a whole generation.”

For those convinced that RIP threatens Portland’s older affordable housing stock with demolition, and that passing RIP means trees, open spaces, yards, gardens, parking spaces, neighbors and families with children will vanish, the amendment approvals are disheartening.

Reflecting concerns of groups like Portland is Not 4 Sale, RIP observer John Liu expressed fears that developers will swoop in with a wave of evictions and displacements that will dwarf those of 2008–2009.

“I’m resigned to RIP passage, and to eventually working to mitigate some of its problems with the next Council,” Liu said.

“At this point, with the present Council, the best we can hope for is to require BPS/BDS to track and publicly report RIP redevelopment activity including price/rent of demolished and replacement housing, demographics of those displaced and those who move in, and impact on gentrification and community. So far we haven’t been able to get Council to do that.”

He went on to say the current economic collapse and eviction moratorium might slow redevelopment activity in the short term and added, “A mountain of investor cash [is] waiting for the right moment to take advantage, just as private equity funds scooped up distressed houses in 2009–2011 to become the largest institutional landlords in the US.”