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Council approves measures to create more affordable housing

The Portland City Council took two more steps to support the construction of more affordable housing Wednesday. Both are in response to the Housing State of Emergency the council declared last October in recognition of the regional affordable housing crisis.

After a lengthy discussion, the council approved two measure submitted by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB).

One would slightly speed up the design review process for PHB-backed affordable housing projects in the Central City and Gateway Plan districts. It would eliminate the need for the Design Review Commission and Portland Historic Landmarks Commission to hold public hearings on such projects, although their approval could still be appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

The other measure directs the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to work with the PHB and the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) 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.

According to Saltzman, the proposal to reduce regulator obstacles will involve a review of all city requirements on affordable housing projects to see if they increase costs and completion times. That includes reviewing the impact of the city's Green Building Standards that Saltzman sponsored to help reduce greenhouse gas emission.

"Everything is on the table," Saltzman said during the hearing.

Paul Grove, the lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, proposed two other areas of review to help nonprofit organizations with limited resources. One was waiving construction-related city fees and the other was creating a "one stop center" for organization with limited staff who have trouble navigating the bureaucracy.

Grove was testifying on behalf of the Home Builders Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the HBAMP, which has a program that helps nonprofit shelter providers.

"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," read one of the measures.

"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," read the other.

The council approved both measures. They 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.