Portland City Council Undertakes Efforts to Help with Housing

In case you missed it, the Portland City Council has recently taken significant steps to address the city’s housing development challenges through the Housing Regulatory Relief Project. While the impact remains to be seen, it’s a positive step to streamline the commercial project development process.

This initiative seeks to reduce the financial and procedural hurdles associated with housing development in Portland by implementing temporary adjustments to various development and process standards. The overarching goal is to make housing development more feasible and cost-effective, thereby encouraging the production of more housing units in the City.

Among the key adjustments are temporary suspensions or modifications to requirements related to bicycle parking, eco-roofs, design reviews, and ground-floor active uses. These changes are slated to remain in effect until January 1, 2029, marking a substantial period during which developers can benefit from the eased regulations.

The project introduces specific directives aimed at supporting commercial real estate projects that are struggling to move from the planning phase to construction. These include allowing projects in the pipeline to utilize new code provisions for aspects such as waivers for nonconforming upgrades and reductions in bicycle parking and loading space requirements. Additionally, there’s a provision to extend land use approvals for certain commercial real estate projects, provided that permits are issued by a specified future date.

This initiative has undergone a thorough vetting process, including multiple discussions by the Portland Planning Commission and adjustments based on feedback. City Commissioner Carmen Rubio has successfully proposed three amendments focused on aligning regulations with state laws, updating outdated language, and simplifying design review procedures for affordable housing projects. These amendments aim to streamline the approval process for housing projects, particularly those offering affordable options, by providing alternative review options that could expedite development timelines.

While some proposed amendments by City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez did not pass, the council remains committed to exploring incentives for environmentally friendly development. This includes potential discussions on how to promote eco-conscious construction practices within the framework of the Housing Regulatory Relief Project.

The council’s actions reflect a strategic effort to tackle Portland’s housing crisis by removing barriers to development and fostering an environment conducive to creating more living spaces. 

On January 31, City Council voted unanimously and approved the Housing Regulatory Relief zoning code amendments. It includes temporary suspensions and reductions to zoning code standards and processes, as well as code clarifications. 

The code changes take effect March 1, 2024, but a directive in the ordinance allows projects currently in the development pipeline to take advantage of some of the relief items ― if they are providing housing.