Housing for All
In a city with such wealth, we must ensure every Portlander their fundamental right to a safe, accessible, secure home.
Portland has a housing problem. For too long, we have allowed the whims of the market and the drive for corporate profits to outweigh the public’s interest in promoting diversity, equity, and opportunity in our city. We’ve had our heads in the sand about what housing is “affordable” to whom. This has left us with a shortage of the housing that our people actually need.
The taxpayer costs of this laissez-faire approach are staggering: the City of Portland is spending record amounts responding to homelessness without making a dent in the problem. We must come together as a city at this critical time to combat the gentrification, exclusionary zoning, segregation, disinvestment, and speculation that harms our communities.
In 2016, Portland voters agreed to tax ourselves $258.4 million dollars to build or buy 1300 units of deeply affordable housing with a priority on seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities. Despite some gains, project timelines are sluggish, only a fraction of the units are move-in ready, and our most vulnerable people are being left behind. A lack of effective bureau oversight and coordination has our current mayor spending city resources convincing the public we’re “succeeding” when in actuality, as a city, we’re barely keeping up. And in a crisis, barely keeping up means we are failing.
We are treading water instead of learning to swim. Too many of our city’s residents remain rent burdened and insecure; a few hundred new units is a drop in the bucket when we need more than 23,000. At our current rate of production, it would take us decades to catch up to today’s need.
This status quo is unsustainable and Portlanders deserve better: our crisis demands a more collaborative, community-based approach to housing all Portlanders.
While we must continue pushing for increased state and federal investments in affordable housing and homeless shelters and services, and while we’re optimistic that housing has moved to the fore in national and state elections in 2020, we’ve learned that we must keep expectations low and be prepared to go it alone as a city in the face of ongoing retrenchment from higher levels of government. In our region, there has been a lack of coordinated effort across jurisdictions to ensure our neighboring cities are doing their fair share. As Portlanders, we must get creative and activate our communities so we can ensure successful outcomes for our most vulnerable neighbors, regardless of what is happening elsewhere.
In 2015, Portland City Council passed a housing state of emergency, allowing us to waive zoning codes and convert city-owned buildings into shelters while also expediting the building of new, permanent supportive housing. This declaration supposedly enabled our city to work more closely with Multnomah County and also with the State of Oregon, which could help by waiving portions of the state building codes. Yet what we’ve witnessed is people being moved into permanent housing that they can’t afford via short-term assistance, only to end up on the streets again. In addition to a shared burden model which includes community safety hubs and emergency shelter in every neighborhood to protect people while they are experiencing homelessness, we need to invest in neighborhood-based housing stabilization services and after-care to prevent re-entry to shelter and enable success in permanent housing.
Portland’s current shortage of housing that the average wage-earner can afford is certainly more symptom than cause. In Portland today, many families are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing while Wall Street banks rake in record-breaking billions in profits. Portland families are struggling to pay for food, transportation, health care, and childcare on top of their rent or mortgage. While many of our neighbors are barely making ends meet, many others tip into homelessness when they cannot. At the root of our housing crisis are the same set of policy decisions that cause poverty, segregation, displacement, inadequate infrastructure, unsafe living conditions, and insecurity for renters. We need to rethink our priorities as a community to focus on raising household incomes, reducing racial and economic segregation, and ending rampant speculation without benefit to local residents.
To solve the climate crisis, we must solve the housing crisis. Half a century after implementing a regional “smart growth” strategy to mitigate sprawl, our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been stymied by rising housing costs and the suburbanization of poverty. We must fight the affordable housing crisis as part of a larger effort to mitigate and prepare our communities for the effects of climate change. Portland needs a wider range of housing options for working people regardless of their income or zip code. We need to make it easier for people to live near where they work with access to affordable, reliable public transportation. This begins with making it legal for ample, affordable housing to be built in and near our job and education centers and near transit hubs.
Ultimately, we need more UNITY and less fear (i.e. “not in MY backyard!”) around urban development. No matter how much a policy shift or infrastructure investment is needed by the community at large, a group of people with a vested interest in the status quo are bound to object. When these groups hold institutional, economic, or political power, their opposition can derail, delay, or increase project costs exponentially while reinforcing systems of oppression. As Portlanders, we need to rethink and refine our civic engagement processes to ensure we are meeting our primary goals of affordability, equity, and combating climate change. We need to come together as a community to ensure we are building the housing we need in every single neighborhood in this city for working families, students, renters, and people of color at risk of being displaced.
We have everything we need to begin solving our most pressing problems today by harnessing our resources and organizing our communities into a formidable force for change. Despite the scale of the challenges we face, Sarah has the knowledge, networks, priorities, values, and vision we need to accomplish a lot very quickly. Together, with her bold leadership, we can create the change that Portland desperately needs.
- Treat our emergency with urgency: Five-Year Strategic Plan for Ending Portland’s Housing State of Emergency (2021-2025) led by the Progressive Task Force for Housing All Portlanders. This multi-stakeholder, cross-sector, cross-bureau task force will convene to assess housing inventory and needs of Portlanders across the income spectrum; evaluate existing and explore new revenue streams; and propose a coordinated plan to close Portland’s housing gap by 2025 through a combination of good governance, political courage, and fiscal clarity. This task force will oversee three deliverables concurrently in the first year of Sarah's administration:
- Community-led strategic planning process Following a lengthy, state-mandated comprehensive plan update, Portland’s world-class planning bureau is in need of re-orientation toward neighborhood-sensitive, community-led planning processes to identify opportunities to house people experiencing homelessness and keep people emplaced while integrating economic development, job creation, quality of life, and larger land-use patterns into our housing strategy.
- Strategic governance re-alignment process We need better communication and coordination among City bureaus, private-sector and community-based partners. Agencies that prevent displacement and connect residents to affordable and supportive housing are essential to a successful housing strategy.
- Progressive revenue process There is a significant amount of money available across the spectrum of housing options flowing into the city from various pipelines, but these monies are not being strategically coordinated nor leveraged for better outcomes. There is significant tax inequity between property owners in East Portland and the rest of the city that needs to be evaluated and corrected through assessment recalibration and possible implementation of a land value tax (LVT). We are also leaving revenue on the table that we could be capturing for public investments in shelters and permanent housing, including but not limited to lobbying in Salem for a local exemption to Oregon Real Estate Transfer Tax, as they have in Washington County (Amendment, Measure 79, also known as Initiative 5); a surcharge on luxury housing sales; a tax on vacant luxury real estate developments; scale- and carbon- impact fees; and a real-estate speculation tax.
- Renters rights are consumer protections and our last line of defense against homelessness. Nearly half (47%) of Portland households are occupied by renters. Even as our economy expands, people at the lowest end of the economic spectrum are facing rising rents alongside stagnant wages; many continue to move out of Portland to more affordable rental housing in East Multnomah County, increasing commute times counter to our climate action goals. We must foreground the fight for increased stability and protections for renters as a matter of local prosperity and resilience. Portland Housing Bureau's Rental Services Office (RSO) and Rental Services Commissions (RSC) are first steps, but we must do more to ensure these protections are robust, transparent, accountable, and fully-funded.
- Ongoing commitment to a “Tenants’ Bill of Rights” which Sarah has consistently backed as a member of the local tenants union and supporter of local tenants advocacy non-profits.
- Ensure the rental registration platform currently being explored by the Portland Housing Bureau is open, effective, accountable, and fully funded.
- Support tenants’ right to organize. Housing insecurity can breed fear and anxiety. Tenants who share an address or landlord can organize to protect themselves while cultivating a greater sense of community and security in the face of uncertainty. The City of Portland should bring the necessary resources to bear to ensure that HUD regulations on this front are enforced.
- Prevent evictions whenever possible. Portland’s Mandatory Renter Relocation Assistance policy (also known as RELO), led by Commissioner Eudaly and tenants’ rights advocates, was a good start but we must do more. Eviction fuels expensive problems, such as homelessness, truancy, and poverty. We must actively track and reduce the number of evictions in public and subsidized housing as well as in the private rental market. In addition, we should explore funding mechanisms to provide low-income people the right to counsel in housing disputes.
- Create a Rental Subsidy Reserve Fund. In addition to stricter short-term rental (e.g. AirBnB) regulation enforcement, City of Portland will revise city code Ch. 6.05.06 and 6.05.120 ‘Tourism Improvement District’ increasing rate from .02 to .04 with the additional .02 revenue going to renter protections programs and a rental subsidy reserve fund managed by the RSO and overseen by the RSC. Keeping rent (move-in and monthly) within reach for eligible families without a waitlist helps people evade homelessness and keeps our city in compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
- Age-Friendly, Inclusive Housing means ensuring adequate supply of housing for students, seniors, people with disabilities, multi-generational, and non-standard households. There are an estimated 3000 homeless students in Portland (high school and college). Each year, 9000 people in Multnomah County reach retirement age; half of them have no savings. Two out of three people experiencing homelessness have a disabling condition. Clearly, current demand for subsidized housing for students, seniors, and people with disabilities outstrips our supply. We must take action to secure housing for these vulnerable populations through increased production of accessible housing alongside housing support and services. We must work to preserve senior housing, to make homes more accessible to seniors and people with disabilities, and to develop new senior and accessible housing in partnership with nonprofit service providers.
- Senior homeshare program will help us match older home providers with individuals seeking a place to live, giving priority to local students. In exchange for providing a private room in their home, seniors may receive household assistance, rent from their housemate, or a combination thereof.
- Preserve naturally occurring ‘retirement communities.’ As communities age, housing developments and neighborhoods may be majority seniors. In others, there are existing senior centers or resources where we should build new affordable senior housing. Where these opportunities exist and/or emerge, we must seize opportunities for ensuring healthy aging-in-place.
- Transfer one of two City of Portland FTE (1.0) “ADA Title II Manager” positions to serve as “ADA Coordinator for Urban Development,” ensuring a proactive and coordinated response across the urban development bureaus to address the housing and other needs of Portlanders with disabilities.
- Re-legalize SROs in neighborhoods across the city by reforming city code to allow SROs by right in all residential zones, making student and senior housing development easier and more cost effective.
- Redefine the “single-family household” for a pluralist society. In a dynamic, mobile world, a city committed to equity must be inclusive of a variety of cultures, kinship models, and consensual cohabitation agreements. We need to ensure our city policies and building codes are amenable to congregate housing, co-ops, co-housing, intergenerational, and group living. Reforming the city code by redefining a "household" as any group of people sharing a residence will make it easier to provide inexpensive housing in existing single-family homes for more people of lower incomes.
- Close demolition process loopholes including what qualifies as full-demolitions and ensuring on-site inspections to protect children from exposure to life-altering, toxic lead dust.
- Filling our “Missing Middle” housing gap is essential. Of the roughly 278K housing units in our city, over half are single-family homes (155K). The next most common housing size is complexes of twenty units or more (51K). Although Portland may feel crowded as we grow, our population density is a very modest 4,740 people per square mile. This data suggests that we are not doing everything we can to ensure the equitable distribution of land, resources, and services across our population. Low population density increases the costs of providing public safety, transit, and schools and makes it difficult for us to meet our climate action goals.
- Abundant housing for all. A significant amount of Portland is currently zoned to make it illegal to build duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhouses and/or courtyard apartments. Sarah supports the work of local advocacy groups championing reform to municipal zoning code to allow the construction of more affordable, accessible homes in our walkable, transit-connected neighborhoods.
- In My Backyard Project. Portland has been working hard to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs). We need to continue to push so the benefits of these policy changes accrue to low-income homeowners by helping them with financing, construction, and tax-abatement. We also need to work to ensure that subsidized ADUs remain permanently affordable for renters.
- Promote development of smaller home communities in every neighborhood. Portland should study the financial feasibility and ideal site design of small home communities to create affordable housing, senior housing, workforce housing, and housing for individuals with physical and mental health needs in every neighborhood across this city. This could include tiny houses, cottages, courtyard housing, cooperative housing, ADUs, single story units, and extended family and multi-generational housing, etc.
- To become an inclusive, sustainable city, Portland must prioritize anti-displacement, anti-racism, anti-speculation and climate action ahead of profits in land use decision making from now on. For too long Portland's exclusionary single-family neighborhoods have inhibited our city’s vibrancy and climate action goals. It’s clear that to thrive and prosper, we need to promote socioeconomic diversity in every neighborhood of our city even as we work to maintain the unique characteristics that keep our various neighborhoods appealing, special, and healthy.
- Anti-displacement needs to be a priority rather than afterthought. Portland is making progress re-legalizing a range of affordable, multi-family housing options across the city. Unfortunately, the anti-displacement aspect of these policies (driven by frontline community organizations) was considered too late in the process. If Portland values equity and inclusion, we need to prioritize anti-displacement, putting it at the top of the agenda from the beginning in all public policy discussions and infrastructure investments. (Coordination of anti-displacement across bureaus will be a cornerstone of 1.a Community Planning and 1.b Governance Reforms and 1.c Progressive Financing in the strategic planning process.)
- Exclusionary zoning is racist. Neighborhood associations seeking historic district status to prevent inclusive housing is de facto ‘reverse redlining’ that puts Portland out of compliance with the Fair Housing Act of 1968. If we as Portlanders are committed to inclusivity and sustainability, then we must organize, educate, and direct our resources to dismantle systems of oppression, especially those that uphold white supremacy. As mayor, Sarah will not support exclusionary zoning and will bring the full power of the mayor's office, city bureaus, and legal counsel to bear in opposing any land use designations or policies that discriminate and exclude.
- Community-led development policy helps prevent displacement and promotes environmental justice in high-risk communities. Informed by Minneapolis’ “Green Zones” program, these areas—defined by stakeholders and frontline communities through the planning process in 1.a (above)—would assess equity in public investments, e.g. local tax revenue vs. local tax expenditures; define community benefits for development in those areas; and inform community-based housing stabilization and development priorities and investment needs including but not limited to community land trusts, rent stabilization, co-ops, homeownership programs, and investments to reduce utility costs, food access, and tree canopy. This would be financed, in part, through closing of URAs where they aren’t needed or useful and could be applied linearly (as opposed to by district) for redevelopment of “orphaned highways” such as 82nd Avenue, McLoughlin Boulevard, Macadam Avenue, Lombard Street and Barbur Boulevard (see A Green New Deal for #OurPortland).
- Community Land Trusts are pathways to ownership and prosperity. As families across our city feel the pinch of rising housing costs and are destabilized by housing insecurity, Portlanders who own a home they can afford are more economically resilient and benefit in the long-term from local investment of their tax-dollars. In addition to more traditional home-ownership program models, the Community Land Trust (CLT) model helps us expand home-ownership opportunities to more people across the income spectrum. Locally, we can partner with existing housing and culturally specific organizations to ensure new housing remains permanently affordable.
- We must continue exploring, implementing, and evaluating “right of first refusal” and “right to return” policies to effectively prevent the loss of economic and racial diversity in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.
- We can fight to ensure equitable outcomes in Opportunity Zones (OZs). Currently, there is a Ritz-Carlton Hotel being built where 30+ small businesses once stood in the heart of Portland’s downtown. Its owners will be eligible for huge tax breaks originally intended to stimulate investment in low-income neighborhoods. We need to lobby state lawmakers to decouple Oregon tax-code from the federal code to prevent these giveaways. As with almost everything proffered by the Trump administration, the ultra-rich stand to profit on the backs of working Portlanders and Oregonians. As a city, we must continue to fight against inequitable policies out of Washington and ensure that we stay on track locally with our goals for equity, inclusion, and sustainability.
- We need an immediate moratorium on development of self-storage facilities in mixed-use zones (centers and corridors) pending review by city planning staff, which will evaluate supply and make recommendations driven by housing affordability, climate action, and equity goals.
- Good parking policy is good housing policy and good climate policy. Building parking is expensive and requiring it increases the costs of housing. For too long we have prioritized consumer preference for car storage on valuable land over housing for humans. It’s time to reverse that trend and focus on accurately pricing on-street parking (residential parking districts) and eliminating onerous parking requirements that increase housing costs.
- Create Urban Development Innovation Groups (uDIGs). Through cross-bureau and cross-sector partnerships, we will more rapidly deploy appropriate technologies, innovative design, and emerging land use models to lower the cost of construction and build new housing and climate smart communities faster— all while meeting the needs of the city’s changing demographics. This effort will prioritize innovations that enable us to permanently transform sites in the urban core adjacent to active transportation infrastructure and high capacity transit and/or that help us meet the immediate need for temporary housing, especially for survivors of domestic violence, LGBTQ+ youth and other highly vulnerable community members, including but not limited to emergency shelters such as Right2DreamToo, safe parking plans for car and RV sleepers, and transitional housing such as self-governed tiny house villages.
- Rethink City Code and advocate for necessary changes at state level to (re)legalize low-carbon, affordable construction methods and designs including greywater systems, tiny homes, modular housing, adaptive reuse, etc.
- Buildable Lands Inventory. We must leave no stone unturned in looking for opportunities to establish semi-permanent and permanent infill and other housing on sites long considered too small or irregular, developing affordable housing on vacant land, underused land (e.g. church parking lots), adapting existing city-owned property for highest and best use, including the potential transformation of city-owned golf courses.
- Curbside Canopy. As a matter of public health and environmental justice, tree preservation, green building technology, and housing affordability cannot be pitted against each other. Portland’s renaissance was spurred by the environmental movement; we’ve matured to become a global leader in green city building and design. From here, we need to bring our existing capacity to bear in ensuring that our tree canopy grows along with our population, including making room for more trees in the publicly-owned right-of-way where cars used to sleep.
- Pink Tape Development. Red tape wastes money. Portland needs to reduce the red tape (and costs) for small-scale building projects. The ‘pink tape’ concept hails from Detroit, where the city’s crises of population decline and bankruptcy meant they didn’t have the resources to enforce all of the code all of the time. Portland’s crisis may be different, but reducing the timelines and costs of constructing safe, sustainable, accessible housing in neighborhoods across the city is long overdue. ‘Pink tape’ development combines the streamlining of regulations and inspections as well as local coordination of property owners and residents. Objective criteria for lowered development threshold would be established by a committee of stakeholders and community benefits implications assessed.
- Modular Multifamily Affordable Housing offers many benefits including economic development/jobs creation, bridging the urban/suburban/rural divide, shortening development timelines, lowering construction costs, and reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings. Portland should explore this emerging economic and housing opportunity with enthusiasm and urgency.