What's The Real Reason For RIP? Part 1. (Hint: Its Not To Accommodate Portland's Growth.)

The Residential Infill Project ("RIP") proposal, if adopted by the city council in December, will bring huge and permanent changes to most of Portland's close-in neighborhoods, including Laurelhurst.

Perhaps some neighborhoods will welcome a surge in demolition of older homes and construction of duplexes, triplexes, and clusters of small apartments. In own neighborhood, RIP will lead to the demolition of historic older homes both large and small, affordable and otherwise, and is definitely not welcome.

Different neighborhoods can reasonably hold different views. But the RIP proposal doesn't make any allowance for the different character, history, or desires of Portland's different neighborhoods. The RIP proposal will force a "one size fits all" policy on all of these neighborhoods. More about that here.

Why are the city and its Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC) trying to force the RIP changes on our neighborhoods?

Could the financial interests of developers, amply represented on the SAC, have something to do with it? We'll look into that in a future article.

For now, consider the claimed reason for forcing increased density on neighborhoods.

The SAC says "Portland is growing and our housing needs are changing. Nearly 123,000 new households are projected by 2035."

Therefore, they say, zoning changes, demolitions, and density should be forced onto almost every neighborhood, even those which are - and want to remain - neighborhoods of beautiful, historic single family houses.

Portland is indeed growing. Over the last five years, from 2010 to 2015, the city's population grew from 583,800 to 632,309, which is a growth rate of +1.6%/yr (percent per year).

Does this growth require the RIP changes? No. And the city's own report proves it.

The city's Bureau of Planning And Sustainability conducted a detailed study of Portland's housing capacity - essentially, how many more housing units the city has room for, under existing zoning and land use rules, without RIP.

This was the 2012 Buildable Lands Inventory (BLI) project - here is a link to the BLI's website. Here are some key points from the BLI summary report. NOTE: this link used to go to the BLI report on the city's website, but for some reason the city removed the report from its BLI website, breaking the link. However, we saved a copy of the report, so we were able to fix the link.

BLI report, page 8: "The Buildable Lands Inventory (BLI) is an estimate of how much development potential is possible under current city plans and zoning."

BLI report, page 18. "Zoned capacity in Portland is sufficient to meet projected housing need; that is, enough land in Portland is currently zoned to accommodate the projected number of new households. There are approximately 250,000 households in Portland today. The total estimated residential capacity of the city, with the existing Comprehensive Plan designations and evaluating the degree of impact from the constraints is 231,500 [new] units."

BLI report, page 19: "there is a remaining capacity of approximately 231,500 potential new dwellings."

In other words, Portland already has room for 231,500 additional housing units, which is enough for the city's growth.

Portland currently has about 250,000 households. See BLI report, page 18. So the city's own report shows:

Portland can already accommodate a +92% increase in households - nearly a doubling of the city's population - without RIP.

Where would those additional 231.500 housing units be built?

A small amount - about 15% of them - could be via currently permitted development in single family house neighborhoods. That isn't the rampant duplexes, triplexes, and apartment clusters that RIP proposes. That simply means building ADUs, putting houses on unused lots, and other development that is already allowed in neighborhoods like Laurelhurst. See BLI report, page 18: "About 15 percent of that capacity is in land available for single dwelling residential development."

About 85% of the 231,500 additional housing units will be in areas currently zoned for multi-family dwellings (large and small apartment buildings).

In other words, the city already has room to add 196,775 new housing units simply by building more apartment buildings on commercial corridors (think SE Division, NE Sandy, N Williams, SE Powell, SE Foster, etc) and in commercial centers (think Lloyd District, Gateway, etc). 85% of 231,500 = 196,775.

You can examine the exact numbers on page 22, table 9 of the BLI report. We've reproduced that table 9 below, but it will be more readable if you go to the link and read it in the report.

(By the way, we realize that in some places the BLI says Portland has room for 231,500 more units and in other places it says 233,635. No, we don't know why the report's proofreaders didn't catch this.)

Put another way, Portland can accommodate a +78 percent increase in households without demolishing our existing historic houses. That is because 196,775 is +78% growth on 250,000.

Do we really want or expect Portland to grow +78 percent, which would make us a city of over 1 million, even larger than San Francisco is today? Maybe that's a discussion for another time.

What is very clear, from the city's own reports, is that even if we did want Portland to grow so hugely, the city has enough buildable land to add all the housing necessary without RIP-ing down its historic single family residential neighborhoods.

So, we come back to: since RIP isn't required to accommodate Portland's growth, why exactly is it being forced on us? Stay tuned for part 2.

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