Portland City Council approves controversial infill plan

Civic Affairs

Council OK'd Residential Infill Project recommendations on a 3-to-1 vote

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — As expected, the City Council approved the controversial plan to increase density in single-family Portland neighborhoods on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

The council approved the final version of the Residential Infill Project recommendations on a 3-to-1 vote. Only Commissioner Amanda Fritz voted against them, saying she believes they will increase the demolition of smaller, affordable homes.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said the changes would increase the availability of more affordable housing in single-family neighborhoods.

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“Our current ‘one size fits all’ policy reinforces neighborhoods of increasingly unaffordable single homes,” Eudaly said. “RIP creates more opportunity for different types of housing that will meet our current and future needs.”

The most controversial provision would allow up to six units on virtually every residential lot, provided that at least half the units are affordable for households earning no more than 60% of the median family income. That’s known as the Deeper Housing Affordability FAR Density Program.

Otherwise, the Residential Infill Project, or RIP, would still allow up to four units on every lot.

The goal is to increase the amount and variety of housing to accommodate both existing residents and the 260,000 additional people expected to move to Portland by 2035.

Residential Infill Project

Reaction ranges greatly

(KOIN) — Commissioner Amanda Fritz said this may be the saddest vote she’s ever cast in her 12 years on the City Council.

“Putting new homes where they will never have transit, never have sidewalks, never be close to jobs and services, will mean we won’t be able to meet the climate emergency goals we all voted for just a few weeks ago,” Fritz said.

But Ann Kemper with Sunrise PDX said this is a win for Portland.

“It’s not just for affordable housing but it’s also a win for climate because if we are creating more affordable housing, that’s not just racial justice, it’s climate justice,” Kemper said. “We’re able to create more options for more people to live closer to more walkable areas, which helps reduce our carbon emissions overall, which just makes Portland a safer and more accessible place to live.”

Multiple neighborhood associations submitted letters to the council over their concern this will lead to demolishing single-family homes and instead open the door for “big box” apartments.

Tamara DeRidder with the Rose City Park Neighborhood Association isn’t sold.

“There is a loophole in the system right now where folks can demolish up to one-quarter of a façade for the house and then they don’t even have to put in affordability. So they can build up to 4 units without any affordability if they do that,” DeRidder said.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly thinks otherwise.

“I think people are imagining bulldozers coming in and razing entire neighborhoods and replacing them with skinny houses or whatever your worst nightmare is,” Eudaly said, “And that is not likely to happen.”

“I think at the end of the day that affordability piece is the key, like, if you’re having to have half of those units that are being built made for affordable housing, that is a win for housing in Portland I think,” Kemper said.

KOIN 6 News reporter Lindsay Nadrich contributed to this report.

Project began in 2015

The project, which first started under former Mayor Charlie Hales in 2015, has divided the city. Supporters argue it will reverse decades of discriminatory zoning restrictions by allowing the construction of lower-priced housing in neighborhoods where lower-income residents, especially people of color, cannot afford to live. Opponents say it will encourage the demolition of existing homes without guaranteeing that many families can afford the replacement housing.

Since Hales first directed the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to undertake the project, the Oregon Legislature changed state zoning laws to require most cities — including Portland — to allow more housing in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes, without requiring a minimum number for every lot. The plan before the council allows up to four units on virtually every lot, which is more than is now required by the state.

Hearings on the plan were repeatedly rescheduled earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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