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TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEVE LAW - Are small scale multi-family housing projects an answer to the affordable housing crisis?Portlanders are split over whether the City Council should rezone single-family neighborhoods to allow the construction of more duplexes, triplexes, row houses and small apartments.


Last week, the City Club of Portland adopted a report that called for such rezoning to accommodate more so called “missing middle” housing. The report approved by a majority of the longtime civic organization said such housing could help reduce skyrocketing rents and home prices.

“Duplexes, triplexes, small apartment buildings and courtyard projects could provide affordable housing dispersed throughout established neighborhoods,” the report reads.

But several neighborhood organizations oppose a recent effort by a majority of the council to encourage such housing in designated urban centers. An amendment to accomplish that was introduced to the recommended Comprehensive Plan update last week by Mayor Charlie Hales and commissioners Steve Novick and Dan Saltzman.

Novick has been especially vocal in arguing for an increase in such housing, saying it would provide needed options in today’s overheated housing market.

The Comp Plan — as it is commonly called — is a state-required land use planning document intended to guide development over the next 20 years. The council was scheduled to hold its final hearing on proposed amendments to the update Wednesday evening. Votes on the amendments are scheduled for April 28 and May 5. The final vote is set for June 15.

A few days after the amendment was introduced, the board of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association sent a letter to the council opposing both the proposal and its introduction so late in the planning process.

“If passed, this spurious proposed amendment will allow the single-family zoned property in Multnomah Village to be changed to multifamily zoning without the legally required opportunity for the adequate and timely public review and comment in due process. This proposed amendment is a radical, last-minute change to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan that is too far reaching to be incorporated into the plan with a very short time of approximately one month for citizen evaluation to provide reasoned public comment,” the letter said.

The grassroots United Neighborhoods for Reform also called the amendment premature. They want the issue to be studied by the ongoing Residential Infill Project Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which was appointed last year by Hales to consider such issues.

“Before such a large area of the city is re-zoned, ‘middle housing’ and the goals around middle housing must be clearly and carefully defined. What is an ‘appropriate’ designated center? What size and price is ‘middle housing’?” Barbara Strunk, UNR’s representative to the committee, wrote in testimony submitted to the council.

An online survey conducted by the project found that “missing middle” housing is more popular than large apartment buildings. But the survey also found many Portlanders oppose demolishing existing single-family homes for any reason.

“Opening this change to wide areas of the city will make thousands of smaller, viable, older, relatively affordable homes vulnerable to demolition. We question whether even smaller new houses will be as affordable, or as well built, as many currently existing houses,” Strunk wrote.

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