PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two new ordinances approved by the Portland City Council are seeking to get more people to live full-time downtown as well as make the transition from office to housing more viable.
According to a release by the city, vacancy in Portland’s central business district is up almost 26%, and that rise is expected to continue.
“The challenges we are trying to address are a critical shortage of housing supply and our central business district that lacks sufficient residential occupancy,” said Andrew Fitzpatrick, director of economic development for the city.
Many made their pleas to the Portland City Council as leaders look to solve two major city problems: A demand for housing and overwhelming vacancies in downtown office buildings.
“If we want to be relevant going forward, this is the kind of strategy we need to pursue and think about,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler.
During the council meeting, the city approved two ordinances that would incentivize office-to-housing conversions while keeping those structures earthquake-safe for residents.
The first would cover costs of a seismic retrofit – or cover $3 million of it, whichever is less – as long as they comply with housing requirements.
The other would lower or adjust the city’s residential seismic standard for the converted buildings, which are currently higher than the national standard. It would adjust them to levels of safety that are required in other major cities in seismic zones like San Francisco.
“We’re hoping this is a positive tool to overcome some structural and financial barriers in order to reinvest in these buildings and neighborhoods,” Comm. Carmen Rubio told KOIN 6.
City leaders hope that by allowing some of these vacant buildings to be converted into apartments and condos, that’ll also boost foot traffic and get shops to move back downtown.
“We need housing along the continuum, so we need it for every level of income, particularly and especially affordable housing and workforce housing,” said Rubio. “We do believe if we revitalize the central core with residential, that’s going to bring all the ancillary businesses.”
The process is still very expensive with a lot of hurdles beyond seismic upgrades to make those spaces livable. Developers tell KOIN 6 that not every building will be eligible for conversion, though city officials say they have identified some smaller buildings that may be converted.
Comm. Rubio added that this is just one of the first steps as the city works to tackle the housing crisis and ramp up production.