By: Leah Fisher, Neighborhood Planning Program Manager
While neighbors in Southeast track and weigh in on local land use and transportation projects and improvements like vision zero safety improvements, residential infill, inclusionary zoning, diesel emission, park bonds and more…. Professional planners across Oregon are thinking about statewide planning adaptations, innovation, and opportunities to address statewide challenges associated with an affordable housing shortage, population growth, and natural disasters. The article below gives a snapshot of the 2018 American Planning Association, Oregon Chapter (OAPA) Conference, held in Bend in October.
So what’s happening statewide in the world of land use and planning? Not surprisingly, many challenges that parallel those faced in Portland and Southeast exist across the state. While Portlanders are getting their own emergency kits ready and volunteering for their local Neighborhood Emergency Team, statewide, planners are thinking about how to increase community resilience to natural hazards and disasters like tsunamis, wildfires, and landslides from a community-wide and policy perspective.
A longstanding planning challenge, that has risen to the top of priorities since the recession: How to accommodate population growth that preserves what people love about their communities, creates economic prosperity, and maintains affordability? On the 45th anniversary of Oregon’s statewide planning program and urban growth boundary (UGB), amidst a development boom, a number of sessions reflected on the statewide system’s benefits. Benefits like combating negative impacts of sprawl, protecting resource lands (e.g. farmland conversion to residential), citizen involvement as a core value, and the protection of hillsides that have now become a booming wine industry. Professionals also discussed challenges, such as the tension between state and local agencies, difficulty expanding buildable land for affordable housing, and the lack of nimbleness for local governments, and financing infrastructure, among others. Benefits and challenges discussion pivoted toward a focus on opportunities for moving forward.
Entwined within the challenge of population growth is affordable housing. It was not a coincidence the conference was held in the state’s fastest growing city in one of the fastest growing states at a time where the entire nation is struggling with rising housing prices. While some sessions focused on the causes, concerns, and solutions for affordable housing, others tested the value and limitations of Oregon’s unique urban growth policies. Other sessions focused specifically on innovative solutions like accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and tiny homes. You may be thinking these strategies are not innovative for Portland, and you would be correct! In fact, Portland leads the way in ADU production trends at 2,686 units thanks in part to system development charge waivers, zoning policy, and our market demand. Washington County comes in second with 60 units. Experts predict that while all communities in Oregon will be required to allow ADUs in their local zoning codes, other factors such as market demand may still prevent them from being built at the rate seen in Portland.
According to a statewide look, Portland again takes the lead when the discussion of tiny homes as an innovative solution to affordable housing comes up. While still technically illegal to live in a recreational vehicle long-term, in October 2017, the city decided to stop enforcing the ordinance, citing the affordability and homeless crisis, with the intention of developing a permanent change to the zoning code. For now, the efforts in Portland demonstrate a first step and just one of a number of barriers these homes without a home in land use policy have to overcome to be an innovative solution. While the conference posed a number of inspiring opportunities to address the affordable housing shortage on the ground Portlanders know there is still a long way to go. We will continue to look to statewide legislation, local measures, and neighbors and policy-makers alike to push the envelope of innovation and creativity to solve Portland’s land use challenges such as the housing crisis, natural disaster planning and mitigation, and population growth.