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Council to consider removing obstacles to affordable housing Wednesday

The City Council will consider two resolutions Wednesday to reduce the time required to build new shelters, transitional housing, and affordable housing projects.

Both resolutions are introduced by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau. They are in response to the council's acknowledgement of an affordable housing crisis with the declaration of a housing state of emergency last October.

"Portland Housing Bureau data indicates that on any given night about 4,000 people sleep on the streets or in shelters across Portland, and the number of affordable housing units, mass shelter beds, and short-term housing options are far from meeting the demand for shelter," reads one of the resolutions.

"There is a current need for 23,845 units of housing affordable to households earning below 60 of Median Family Income (MFI). An adequate supply of this housing is necessary to address these housing needs, particularly for persons experiencing homelessness, persons transitioning from homelessness to more stable housing, and for persons at risk of being displaced from existing rental housing through significant rent increases or conversion of housing to other uses," reads the other.

One of the resolutions would waive reviews by the Design Review Commission and Portland Historic Landmarks Commission for city-subsidized affordable housing projects in the Central City and Gateway Plan districts. The resolution says these reviews are the lengthiest and most costly of the city's construction review processes, slowing down and increasing the cost of affordable housing projects.

"This Council declares that an emergency exists because there is a critical need to facilitate approval and development of City Subsidized Affordable Housing projects as quickly as possible to respond to the Council's declared Housing Emergency," says the resolution, which can be read at http://www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/article/567634.

The other resolution direct the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to develop a proposal to simplify regulations, remove regulatory obstacles and expedite processes for land use reviews and permits for affordable housing projects, mass shelters and short-term housing. It says the proposal is to be developed in coordination with the housing bureau and the Bureau of Development Services, and presented to the council for approval.

"[I]t is in the public interest to facilitate the review and permitting of development offering affordable housing units, mass shelters, and short-term housing projects in Portland and to consider needed changes to the city code to accomplish this objective," says the resolution, which can be read at http://www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/article/567635.

The council has approved millions of dollars for new affordable housing and housing preservation projects. The funds include an additional $20 million in urban renewal funds for North and Northeast Portland, an increase in the amount of urban renewal funds dedicated to affordable housing from 30 to 45 percent, and a pledge of $20 million more for shelters, transitional housing and affordable housing, to be matched by $10 million from Multnomah County.

The resolutions are separate from the process Saltzman has promised to create to adopt new policies requiring housing projects to include a certain amount of affordable housing, now that that the 2016 Oregon Legislature removed the prohibition against so-called inclusionary zoning.

The bill approved by the Legislature authorizes cities to pass ordinances to require up to 20 percent of new units to be offered at below market rates. The requirement applies only to developments with 20 or more units, and the developer must receive at least one incentive from the city in exchange for the affordable units, such as tax exemptions or density variances. The units must be offered at rates affordable to people earning 80 percent or less of median income.

Capital Bureau reporter Paris Achen contributed to this story.