This article was originally published on our sister publication The Portland Mercury's blog Blogtown.
After years of debate, Portland City Council has passed a policy overhauling the city’s residential zoning rules to allow more housing within city limits.
The Residential Infill Project (RIP) will lift Portland’s decades-old ban on building "middle housing"—duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes—in the vast majority of the city’s neighborhoods, where current city rules only allow the construction of single-family homes. The final policy, four years in the making, is meant to improve housing affordability by increasing the sheer number of homes within Portland city limits—and begin to reverse the lasting impacts of local zoning laws created to exclude people of color from buying property.
"We cannot deny the impacts that exclusionary zoning have had and their racist origins," said City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, before casting her vote. "That is a vitally important piece of the conversation."
The vote comes a year after the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2001, a law requiring cities with a population over 25,000 to allow construction of middle housing on land exclusively reserved for a single home.
Yet Portland's new policy goes beyond the state law by requiring a "deeper affordability" option, which allows up to six homes on a lot if at least half are considered affordable to low-income renters. This policy is expected to uniquely benefit nonprofits that specialize in low-income rentals, organizations that are currently limited in the number of homes they can build on a piece of property. RIP will also eliminate some of the city's current parking requirements for new residential construction.
Eudaly noted that RIP is estimated to add up to 5,000 units to the Portland's current housing stock over the next 20 years. She said this estimate should assuage the fears of critics who believe RIP will spark a much higher number of new developments.
"Our current 'one size fits all' policy reinforces neighborhoods of increasingly unaffordable single homes," said Eudaly. "RIP creates more opportunity for different types of housing that will meet our current and future needs."
The vote passed 3-1 Wednesday morning.
As expected, Commissioner Amanda Fritz cast the sole dissenting vote, arguing that increased density will increase Portland's carbon emissions.
"Our planet is on fire, and this action will make it burn faster," said Fritz, a longtime opponent to RIP. "This may be the saddest vote I have cast in 12 years on the council."