Here is a detailed update on the current status of RIP – called here “Revised RIP” – written by an attorney and expert on real estate law and financing.
RIP Update, September 2018
by Dean Gisvold, ICA Land Use Chair
(To the extent opinions are expressed below, they are mine and not those of the ICA.)
The drum roll for the “residential infill project” or RIP continues. Work sessions for the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) have been ongoing and will extend into the fall. These work sessions have produced several breath taking ideas for more density and development in single family zones than the original RIP document sent to PSC. To date, PSC has not scheduled any public hearings on its changes to RIP or Revised RIP. The City Council will take up Revised RIP in the spring of 2019, but no schedule is presently available.
Additional Density Ideas from Revised RIP.
These comments are based on the PSC summary materials posted on line for the Sept 11 work session. Here are the additional density ideas given a preliminary green light by PSC during its work sessions – without any public hearings.
First: The designated A overlay zone for this additional density in Revised RIP has been expanded to cover almost all of the single family zones on the east side, and about half of the single family zones on the west side of the City.
Second: Zoning that protects single family residential zoning will be substantially altered. In the designated areas, every single-family lot will be up‑zoned for multifamily structures. It appears that a four-plex will be allowed, or a stacked or side-by-side duplex will be allowed. Each duplex will be given bonus size to include an ADU, so that every single family lot could have a total of 4 housing units. Plus 3 or 4 units with bonus FAR could have up to 4,000 square feet of building area, which does notinclude basements and attics. PSC commissioner Eli Spivak, a local housing developer very familiar with the existing City code and with RIP changes, noted during a recent work session that under Revised RIP there is really no difference between R5 (the predominant single family zone in Portland, and R2.5, a multifamily zone, except the size of the building(s) you can build.
Third: Minimum lot widths will be reduced from 50 or 36 feet to 21 feet for R5/R7, and 16 feet for R2.5 lots.
Fourth: Off-street parking requirements will be removed where additional density is provided.
To summarize Revised RIP, on a standard 5000 sq. ft. lot, RIP structures with proposed density incentives can be up 4000 square feet of building, and the 4000 sq. ft. amount does not include attics or basements. The RIP structures can be 2.5 stories on a raised basement. The setback from the street will be 10 feet where in most of Portland the setback is 20 feet. Backyards and the amenities they provide will shrink or be shared. Mature trees will be lost to the RIP structures. And who knows what the real traffic impacts will be?
(The September 11 work session produced a split PSC over the number of units (3 vs. 4) and no decision. It appears that more economic analysis and displacement analysis will be undertaken before a final decision is made by PSC. My reading of the discussion at the end of the 9/11 meeting regarding demolitions and displacement shows that support for Revised RIP is based in large measure on the adoption by City Council of robust anti‑displacement strategies and funding, none of which has occurred.)
Questions for PSC, BPS staffers, elected officials, and those running for office:
Who is RIP for?
Do we need RIP to meet the goals of the 2035 Comp Plan?
What are the consequences of adopting Revised RIP and up zoning single family areas across much of the City?
Who is RIP for?
During the work sessions, PSC commissioner Andre Baugh has commented thoughtfully on his concerns about RIP and has asked the question — “Who is this for?” His answer is that RIP is not for low income folks and communities of color. Claims that Revised RIP meets a desirable public purpose are no longer credible.
Revised RIP does not include meaningful affordable housing requirements. This helps explain why the pro‑RIP crowd has changed its motto from increasing affordable housing to increasing housing availability. Indeed, for the last six years of the most intense building boom in Portland since World War II, most for profit developers have avoided participation in (i) projects subject to the new inclusionary zoning requirements and the possibility of producing real affordable housing and (ii) the development of missing middle housing.
Eric Engstrom, the lead planner for the Comp Plan, including RIP, told a KBOO reporter that RIP was not meant to provide affordable housing, but rather to increase housing types/options, such as duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes, accessory dwelling units (ADU), the so-called “missing middle” housing options, for the households moving here. Current zoning already allows one ADU per lot in single family zones, detached or interior, and many ADUs have been built. Most overlook the fact that “missing middle” housing types are included in the multi-family zoning code — only there has been little market acceptance and consequently very little being built. Look for more work sessions on density, FAR, and building scale and massing when PSC takes up the Better Housing by Design project, which is designed to add density to all multi-family zones.
Do we need RIP to meet the 2035 Comp Plan requirements?
Portland has twice the development capacity needed for a 20‑year supply of property available for infill for a variety of housing types without any changes to current zoning. The economic analysis paid for by the City and used to justify its 2016 RIP proposal concluded that RIP would produce less than 1800 new units over the next 20 years. We all know that thousands of new housing units have been built in Portland since 2012 without RIP. There have been almost 2000 new units in and near the Lloyd District alone, with another 2000 in the Lloyd area on the drawing boards.
The City’s Buildable Lands Inventory, the foundation of the 2035 Plan, and a 2014 staff memo to PSC both concluded that existing zoning has more capacity for growth than the likely market demand for housing and existing capacity and zoning within the UGB is sufficient to meet projected housing needs.
During his KBOO interview, Eric Engstrom said that Comp Plan without RIP will produce the projected 123,000 housing units needed for the next 20 years.
What are the consequences of Revised RIP?
Revised RIP will up-zone single family zones in much of the City. The term “single dwelling unit” will be rendered meaningless by Revised RIP. Three or four units on a lot is, by any definition, a multi-family land use.
A “single dwelling zone” will mean that a single family house could be built, but the upper limit in terms of unit density and scale will be determined by the market and the developer. ADUs in this context are no longer accessory to a residence but just another mid-sized apartment.
Revised RIP seems to say that you can densify your way to affordability. That somehow, without affordability requirements, if you build enough housing, affordability will “filter” down to the lower end of the spectrum, which sounds much like the “trickle down” economic theories that have been discredited. Irvington may have some affordable apartment rentals that were built in the 1960s and 70s. If so, 40 or 50 years of filtering will not help the folks moving here in the next 20 years. Most believe that density in existing neighborhoods drives up land values, raises taxes, and causes demolitions and displacement, especially for renters. There is no trickle down in a hot housing market as the bottom is under constant pressure even as the top stabilizes with new product. Recent studies show that the rents at the lower end continue to rise, while rents at the upper end are coming down.
The housing market in Portland is cooling, in part, because costs have reached beyond most family’s income stream. There is a shortage of single family houses for under $500,000. Subsidized (supported) housing for those at 60% of MFI and under is needed, but will not benefit from Revised RIP. Revised RIP will lead immediately to more demolitions and renter displacement. Protecting viable older and more affordable existing housing from demolition is a much more effective and broadly beneficial way to maintain existing affordable housing. And that was supposed to be the purpose of the RIP.
Do we need RIP?
All of this raises the ultimate question, does the City need RIP for any credible public purpose. From what I can gather the only benefit, if the so called missing middle housing is actually built, a big if, would be to increase housing options for those newcomers projected to arrive between now and 2035, but at what expense. With thousands of units on the drawing boards across the City, are these “RIP units” worth introducing chaos into neighborhood zoning code? Are these RIP units worth thousands of dollars of staff time, the expenses of further economic and displacement analysis, and countless hours of volunteer time for public comment and testimony? My answer is no — we don’t need RIP to produce another 1800 new units. The market has and will take care of that.
Let me know if you want more information on RIP as it works through PSC and City Council — send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.