Portland eyes set-asides to boost affordable housing

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PORTLAND — Developers of housing projects with more than 10 units could soon be required to set aside 10 percent of the units as affordable housing.

On Monday, Oct. 19, city councilors will hear public comments and vote on a set of zoning amendments that include the so-called “inclusionary zoning” provisions.

The amendments were taken without comment as a first reading Oct. 5, following a council workshop where Planning & Urban Development Director Jeff Levine outlined the need for inclusionary zoning.

Levine was working from a 2002 city housing plan that had a goal of keeping the city population at 25 percent of the population of Cumberland County, and 20 percent of new housing at 80 percent of the area median income.

He also presented a Greater Portland Council of Governments study completed earlier this year showing a projected gap of 24 percent to 33 percent in affordable housing construction compared to need by 2030.

“It was not a policy statement there was a gap, it was an empirical statement,” Levine said.

If passed, the ordinance amendments would allow greater building heights and “density bonuses” to create city housing stock.

For projects with 10 or more units, developers would have to set aside 10 percent to meet the needs of people earning between 100 percent and 120 percent of the area median income, which ranges between $62,000 and $77,000, depending on family size.

Developers who do not set aside housing to meet those income levels would have to pay $100,000 per unit to the city housing trust fund. The fund is used to help pay construction or remediation costs for affordable, workforce and low-income housing projects.

The Planning Board recommended inclusionary zoning not be adopted at its Sept. 15 meeting. Levine said board members were concerned about a lack of data on how similar ordinances work, and whether inclusionary zoning is compatible with the city Comprehensive Plan.

While councilors did not take comments on the ordinance amendments Oct. 5, the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce has spoken out against the plan.

Chamber spokesman Chris O’Neil provided a 25-point list of reasons not to enact inclusionary zoning, while referring councilors to the Chamber task force housing report completed earlier this year.

Included in the list of objections was a call to update the Comprehensive Plan, use of municipal bonding for more housing, and using more tax increment finance zones geared to create housing that matches area median income levels.

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

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.