Update: Take a minute and email Commissioner Eudaly at email@example.com. Ask her to look into this situation in Sellwood. Ask her to work to remove barriers to more housing and let her know you think we need to build affordable housing, not more parking, in Portland. If you can, cc or bcc firstname.lastname@example.org so we know our campaign is working.
In February 2017, new inclusionary housing rules went into effect in Portland and, as of early April, there has been only one qualifying multi-family building submitted for review under the new rules.
As previously reported, the Urban Development Group (UDG) asked for Early Assistance on refiling three permitted developments in Sellwood. If approved, this project could provide 40 units of affordable housing in Sellwood, but the deal is in jeopardy due to minimum parking requirements.
UDG is currently permitted to build three buildings in Sellwood. Combined, the projects would add 187 market rate units, 46 parking stalls, and no units guaranteed affordable for tenants making less than 100% of the median family income (MFI). These permits were filed, along with hundreds more, in the months before February’s inclusionary zoning mandate was enforced.
The request for early assistance affirms much of what proponents of parking reform have been saying for years: Required parking reduces the amount of housing built and makes it more expensive. With the required 46 parking stalls waived, UDG would be able to build 23 more apartments for a new combined total of 210 homes. Of the 210 apartments, 170 would be market rate, 31 would be affordable to tenants making 60% of the MFI, and 9 would be affordable to tenants making 80% MFI.
For every two parking stalls eliminated in the project, we get one more home for Portlanders. Because those additional homes still bring in rents and the project is not burdened with expensive parking, the development pencils out with the affordable housing as well. This is how the system is supposed to work.
But the deal, as proposed, is unlikely to get approval from Commissioner Eudaly’s Bureau of Development Services (BDS).
To qualify for a parking waiver, the building must be “located 1500 feet or less from a transit station, or 500 feet or less from a transit street with 20-minute peak hour service.” That level of service is defined as “service provided by public transit to a site, measured on weekdays between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM and between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM. The service is measured in one direction of travel, and counts bus lines, streetcars and light rail lines.” BDS has some leeway in interpreting the code and according to their response to UDG, they don’t consider the level of service near 1717 SE Tenino Street to be sufficient. The issue seems to be a few points in the “peak hour” where the schedules have a gap of a few minutes beyond the 20 minute requirement.
There are two bus lines nearby 1717 SE Tenino that could be considered north/south routes (although one runs east/west at the location), the 99 and the 70 and the MAX Orange Line Station at Tacoma/Johnson Creek is just over 1/2 mile away (3 minutes by bike or 12 minutes leisurely walk). Combined, the transit options are very good and the location is in the heart of Sellwood, walking distance from restaurants, New Seasons, Sellwood Middle School and much more.
But unless BDS interprets the code favorably, say by considering TriMet’s admitted 3 minute plus/minus for schedules to provide some flexibility, it’s very likely that Sellwood will lose the opportunity to have 40 affordable units built and, in their place, shelter for 46 cars will be provided to the community.
Ultimately, however, the situation highlights the capricious nature of minimum parking requirements. A few minutes on a TriMet schedule can lead to a very walkable apartment building having the same requirements as a building far from transit in the SW hills.
If Portland City Council wants affordable housing to be built, they should remove all parking requirements for projects meeting the inclusionary housing mandate, wherever they are built. This would not only prevent corner-cases from sinking much needed housing projects, but would also help Portland catch up to our critical climate action goals.