Are the Political Winds Changing in Portland for New Housing?

By David J. Petersen

On January 31, the Portland City Council passed its Housing Regulatory Relief package. This package, which had been approved by the City Planning Commission on a 7-1 vote in November, follows years of lobbying from the development industry and public testimony on the significant roadblocks to developing new housing in the City. Over 30 people testified in person and over 220 written comments were received.

The package originally proposed 16 changes to the Portland Zoning Code intended to reduce housing development costs and encourage housing production, in response to the perceived housing crisis in the City.

Notable elements of the final package include:

  • Reducing bicycle parking and ground floor use requirements (thereby allowing for more apartments in the same amount of space)
  • Waiving architectural design standards in certain districts
  • Allowing solar panels instead of ecoroofs in the central City
  • Eliminating on-street parking impacts as a potential roadblock to projects
  • Eliminating or reducing neighborhood meeting requirements for developers
  • Streamlining some design review processes; and
  • Extending the timelines for some land use reviews.

Some of these changes are temporary, such as the reduced bicycle parking and ground floor use requirements, the waiver of design standards, the changes to neighborhood meetings and the streamlined design review processing. Others are permanent. Most of the temporary changes expire January 1, 2029.

Two additional proposals were rejected by the City Council, to temporarily waive green roof requirements and to remove a requirement for special window coatings near the Willamette River to reduce bird crashes. Environmental and climate groups lobbied hard in favor of keeping these requirements.

The package also has important consequences for affordable housing, by deepening property tax exemptions to developers to build affordable housing in certain areas outside the central City. The goal is to eliminate imbalances that exist across the City in the incentives available for affordable housing development.

Several councilors who voted for the package commented that it did not go far enough, so further measures may be forthcoming. All updates go into effect March 1.