By Nancy Tannler
City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Residential Infill Project – Part 2 (RIP2) zoning code amendments, going into effect on June 30, 2022. RIP2 addresses several outstanding mandates in the State’s middle housing bill HB 2001.
In 2015, city planners and neighborhood activists began work on the Residential Infill Project (RIP1), which was adopted on August 12, 2020. The recent approval of RIP2 marks the culmination of this extensive planning project that promises more affordable housing in our city.
The biggest change is removing the practice of exclusionary zoning–a restrictive policy that allows for single-family dwellings only in residential neighborhoods. Portland first enacted exclusionary zoning in 1924 when it stopped allowing what was then referred to as “gentle density.” This was the practice of interspersing duplexes, courtyard apartments and mother-in-law additions in established residential neighborhoods.
President Biden’s infrastructure bill is encouraging cities to incorporate more residential infill by awarding communities $5 million to remove and rework exclusionary zoning policies. This is the first time a government program has ever intervened in city planning policy.
Millennials and middle-income earners are potential homeowners who are most affected by these old statutes. Millennials are the largest generation to date and have increased the demand for housing by 20 percent. Others simply can’t afford to buy a home in a neighborhood they would like to live in.
There were 40 percent fewer entry-level homes built between 2009 and 2019 than in previous decades. One reason is that zoning regulations in residential neighborhoods limited the amount of property available for development.
RIP2 hopes to create middle housing in Portland’s residential neighborhoods. The intention is to give more people the opportunity to live, work, play, go to school and enjoy the amenities of these neighborhoods without being priced out.
Inner SE is predominantly zoned R2.5 and R5. These lots range from 1,500 sf to 5,000 sf. Middle housing land division allows the 5,000 sf properties to be divided into ADUs, detached duplexes and cluster housing.
The detached duplex allows the existing home to be kept while adding a second single family home. Cluster housing allows for multiple detached homes (3+) on a single-family lot. The lots can be divided for individual ownership.
The city’s permitting bureau will determine what is needed to upgrade the sewer, storm water, water and access to meet service capacity for these projects. The developer is responsible for upgrade costs, if they are needed.
RIP2 also permits condo development on these same neighborhood properties. The condo separates ownership without dividing the land. An example would be a house with a detached duplex. This arrangement could mean single ownership or owned separately as condos. A condo designation allows for multiple units on a shared utility line providing the system can meet the service capacity.
There are also bonuses for developers who build affordable housing. This comes about due to a change in the Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) allotment. FAR is a measurement that considers the building’s floor area in relation to the size of the lot/parcel. RIP2 will allow the measurement to increase if more housing density is built.
RIP2 allows additional infill housing density for lots zoned R7: 4,200 sf; R10: 6,000 sf; and R20: 12,000 sf. This zoning is rare in The Southeast Examiner’s distribution area.
Heather Flint Chatto, Planner + Urban Designer, LEED AP, is a community activist who spent five years involved in the Division Design initiative. Chatto said there are a lot of good, progressive ideas in the RIP2 policy, but she is concerned that the outcome will turn out differently than the intention.
In Chatto’s testimonial before City Council on RIP2, she said infill should be something the people can participate in. Her concern is that regular homeowners don’t have the money to build or the technical knowledge or time to navigate codes. The tendency will be to sell to a developer who is more likely to do a tear down, losing even more of the naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH).
Chatto is a proponent of hidden density, meaning building more duplexes and ADU’s in attics, garages or basements. This is a climate-progressive approach that keeps the aesthetics of the primary structure intact. RIP2 permits more of this type of housing development.
“Where the rubber hits the road,” Chatto said, “is the budget.” She said the one thing she has learned after nine years of community advocacy here in SE is that unless we add a financial toolbox of incentives to make the policy really work as intended we won’t get the outcome intended.
Chatto hopes to see incentives that will promote adaptive reuse over demolition, technical assistance to help lay people do it themselves, low-interest loans and fee waivers to make hidden density more attractive. She believes there needs to be even more innovative solutions to open up affordable and sustainable housing alternatives.
The RIP2 document is detailed and technical, but the table of contents makes it easy to navigate for any specific information. It can be read in its entirety at portland.gov/bps/rip2.