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Portland councilors, staff seek affordable housing solutions

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Portland councilors, staff seek affordable housing solutions

PORTLAND — A proposed requirement that affordable housing be included in new developments is likely to face additional City Council review later this month.

On Feb. 25, city Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine renewed the discussion of "inclusionary zoning" with the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee as part of a wider presentation on creating more "workforce" housing in the city.

"We are trying to be deliberative and address what people think is a real issue," Levine said Monday of the draft requiring developments of at least 10 units to set aside 10 percent of the project as affordable housing, or pay a fee of $100,000 per unbuilt affordable unit to the city Housing Trust Fund.

Developments of 20 units or more would be required to have 10 percent affordable housing set aside without the option of in-lieu payments.

The intent is to build more housing for people and families living on 80 to 100 percent of the area median income. Depending on family size, the median income ranges from $62,000 to $92,000, and the intent is homeowners and renters will not pay more than 30 percent of their annual income for housing.

Inclusionary zoning is not new; it was part of the India Street Neighborhood Plan almost until the plan was forwarded to the City Council. It was removed because city staff, including Planning Division Director Alex Jaegerman, thought it should be considered on a citywide basis.

Levine said he presented the draft to the HCDC, chaired by Councilor Kevin Donoghue, to reopen the discussion of ways to make city housing more available to individuals and families making 100 percent or less of the area median income.

"That was intentional, it is because we could get all the feedback before we put pen to paper again," Levine said. "It is not an indication this would be the final submitted draft." 

Levine is part of a task force created by the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce looking for ways to increase housing for middle-income earners. The task force includes former City Councilors Cheryl Leeman and Nathan Smith, developers, business owners, architects and neighborhood leaders.

"For the last couple of years, and particularly as the Midtown project got stalled, the chamber has identified housing as a critical policy issue, not merely for the business community, but for the (entire) community," chamber government liaison Chris O'Neil said Monday.

O'Neil said the task force understands middle-income housing has not seen much growth.

"This has major ramifications for our schools, our tax base, property values, employers – our community's future," he said.

O'Neil added there are reservations about inclusionary zoning.

"We have concerns about that approach, especially if deployed as a stand-alone mandate, rather than as one component in a multi-faceted suite of incentives, and most especially if it were adopted prior to empirical Portland-specific economic analysis," he said.

Levine noted zoning changes, particularly to allow "density bonuses," or more housing units if income guidelines are met, have already been enacted on and off the city peninsula. Zoning changes along Forest Avenue from Woodford's to Morrill's corners will double the number of housing units that can be built.

The dearth of housing for middle-income earners was also noted in a report by the Greater Portland Council of Governments that councilors reviewed in January. The report noted only 29 percent of the 1,130 housing units permitted or built from 2010 to 2014 were affordable to median income earners.

The study concluded the gap between income and housing availability could reach 33 percent by 2030, noting 62 percent of the city households now earn less than the area median income, an increase of 10 percent in the last decade.

Levine said addressing the gap will not be done by the government alone.

"Closing that gap would be difficult if not impossible," he said. "But whatever we do in the first step will be reasonable. Everyone sort of focuses on inclusionary zoning, but it is part of the package."

Levine and O'Neil agreed on the need and vibrancy of the housing discussion, even if results will not be immediate.

"This is incredibly exciting," O'Neil said. "Portland is having a fruitful public discussion about multiple ways of enhancing a housing stock that will be more plentiful and more affordable for all income levels."

The next HCDC meeting is scheduled for March 11, but no agenda was available Monday.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.