What Will Portland’s ‘Residential Infill’ Plan Do? We Asked the People Behind It

“I embrace progress. I’m not a curmudgeon. I understand the city needs to increase revenues and all that to function. I just think the city could do it a little more kindly. To me, it looks like the city is doing a money grab and giving developers carte blanche.”

That’s how reader Patti McCann responded to our story last month on Portland’s Residential Infill Project, and she wasn’t alone. Here’s some of the other feedback we received from readers:

“Portland has been called the Rose City, because homeowners grew more rose bushes per capita than in any other US city. We were also called the City of Homes, because there were way more private homes than apartment buildings. It’s a pity, to this old timer, that both are now history. We have traded charm for crowding.” —Ric Zittenfield

“There is a point where the density close in becomes a negative when our neighborhoods lose their identity with the construction of big boring box like apartments. Where are the neighborhood shops and people gathering places?  Yes, we probably need to grow, but we must also keep in mind the stress on water, sewer, traffic, etc., and most importantly not destroying communities but adding to them.” —Laurie Vail

The hard part about debating the Residential Infill Project is that there’s still so much uncertainty and confusion about what exactly it would do, and where. So we asked two of the plan’s architects, Tom Armstrong and Love Jonson from the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, to weigh in.

Here’s what they told us:

The Residential Infill Project team is preparing materials to answer the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s (PSC) questions about the very things your readers want to know: What is the economic feasibility of the proposal? How much more housing will be created under these new rules? What will these units cost? Who will benefit? What will be the effect of these proposals on vulnerable populations? Will more or fewer households be displaced?

The PSC is scheduled to vote on the revised proposals in March. Then the Commission will forward their recommendations (the “Recommended Draft”) to City Council for public hearings and a vote. That’s when we’ll get the word out, so people can review the proposals and prepare to testify at Council in the summer.

The Residential Infill Project was initiated several years ago in response to an alarming number of demolitions in Portland’s single-family neighborhoods. Older, smaller homes were being torn down and replaced with large expensive houses that were out of scale with other homes nearby. At the same time, housing costs and rents were rising rapidly, and people were increasingly being priced out of the places they wanted to live.

So, the Residential Infill Project was convened to improve the outcomes from infill development and create more housing choices at a lower price point. The proposals staff and PSC are refining will:

  • Address the cost of housing by encouraging smaller – and more – housing units within a smaller building “envelope.” Currently, only a single house per parcel is allowed in nearly ¾ of the land zoned for housing. With the proposal, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and additional ADUs would be allowed in most – but not all – of these areas.
  • Reduce the allowed size of new houses. Currently, a 6,750-square-foot home is allowed on a typical 5,000 square foot lot. The proposed new regulations would reduce the size of a new home to roughly 2,500 square feet (not counting basements), with more square feet allowed for each additional unit within the structure. This encourages a greater variety of housing types while keeping individual unit sizes smaller, and thus much less expensive than their larger counterparts. Note: These proposals do NOT allow apartments.
  • Mitigate displacement by creating more housing in more locations at a wider range of price points. The proposal would apply the new regulations across most of the city’s single-family neighborhoods. The ability to create more units instead of demolishing one house to build an even bigger one also adds more housing units while reducing demolition pressure.
  • Prioritize a wide range of housing types over single-family residences, internal conversions over demolition, the environment over increased consumption of land, and inclusive neighborhoods for people of all ages, incomes and abilities.

Ultimately, we want more people to enjoy the benefits of Portland’s wonderful neighborhoods. So they can:

  • Have affordable housing choices throughout the city.
  • Live near amenities, transit, parks and services.
  • Accrue equity and wealth through homeownership.
  • Age in place/community.
  • Enjoy trees, parks and natural resources that will be preserved through more compact development.

For more information about the Residential Infill Project and a recently released economic analysis of the proposals, please visit our site.

Got questions about the Residential Infill Project? Or feedback for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability? Shoot us a note at [email protected] to let us know.