The Residential Infill Project was initiated in 2016 as part of the Comp Plan adoption. The Concept Plan Council adopted in December of that year laid out a realistic and attainable to approach in fulfillment of key Comp Plan goals for which anti-displacement and housing affordability activists had worked so hard to advocate.
The current plan strays from those original commitments and contradicts Comprehensive Plan policies around gentrification, equitable development and climate change.
By allowing development far from centers and corridors, we are allowing housing to be developed in areas without safe, immediate access to transit. We are promoting a continued reliance on cars, which is antithetical to our climate goals.
Our planet is on fire. In recent weeks, we saw 100-degree temperatures in the Arctic. We saw the last intact ice field in Canada break off. Our planet is on fire. If we don’t act with urgency, all human life on earth is at risk.
I understand my colleagues’ desire to be seen to do something to provide more housing for Portlanders. There is no recognition in this ordinance that in the eight years previous Councils worked on the Portland Plan and the Comprehensive Plan, the Council added capacity for 49,000 new homes. We have plenty of zoned capacity for new development, all planned lot by lot to add housing where the new residents will have access to transit, services, jobs, sidewalks and other amenities that make urban living joyful. The Comprehensive Plan and Map adopted after work by Mayor Adams and Hales, Commissioner Fish and me with others has capacity for 249,000 new homes. This Council is voting for changes that throw out forty years of land use planning in Portland, by adding more density without regard for access to transit and services.
Our planet is on fire. There is no more important issue at stake in this vote. Putting new homes where they will never have transit, never have sidewalks, never be close to jobs and services, will mean we won’t be able to meet the climate emergency goals we all voted for just a few weeks ago. I live eight miles from downtown. My neighborhood will add capacity for hundreds of new homes in this plan. Absent adequate sidewalk and transportation infrastructure, new residents will have to drive to groceries, jobs, schools and services. While I welcome new neighbors, I don’t welcome infill on these terms.
Even acknowledging the immediate need for affordable housing, this ordinance won’t accomplish that goal. All four of the people of color and East Portland representatives on the Planning and Sustainability Commission voted against it because of its known impact on demolitions and displacement in neighborhoods vulnerable to developers buying up affordable rentals and first-time homebuyers. We heard this from the dissenting Planning and Sustainability Commission members who voted against the plan – which narrowly made it through the PSC on a 5-4 vote with the casting vote at the forwarding motion being made by a developer who had to recuse himself from the votes on details due to his financial interest in the outcome.
I greatly appreciate the work of those who are committed to addressing the challenge of displacement threats. I thank the community leaders who championed the adoption of anti-displacement policies in the Comp Plan as well as the dedicated staff at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability anti-displacement team. I honor the work of Tony Lamb, who we lost just two weeks ago. Tony brought a commitment to racial justice to his work with the City, and his colleagues will continue to carry the torch on the work he valued deeply. Thank you, Andrea Pastor, Kathryn Hartinger, and Ryan Curren. I honor you.
Unfortunately, this vote disrespects the planning policies on anti-displacement we worked so hard to enshrine in the Comprehensive Plan.
Policy 5.15 Gentrification/displacement risk. Evaluate plans and investments, significant new infrastructure, and significant new development for the potential to increase housing costs for, or cause displacement of communities of color, low- and moderate-income households, and renters. Identify and implement strategies to mitigate the anticipated impacts.
Policy 3.3 Equitable development. Guide development, growth, and public facility investment to reduce disparities; encourage equitable access to opportunities, mitigate the impacts of development on income disparity, displacement and housing affordability; and produce positive outcomes for all Portlanders.
Policy 7.4 Climate change. Update and implement strategies to reduce carbon emissions and impacts, and increase resilience through plans and investments and public education.
I believe that all members of this Council share similar values around providing housing and homeownership options that prioritize wealth generation and mitigate displacement risk among Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. In the past, people of color were excluded from home ownership. I reject the allegation that people of color are excluded intentionally now. Zoning is not the problem. In my home town in Yorkshire England, when I grew up there were no people of color living near me. Now, the street of single-family homes where I grew up has majority minority home ownership. I believe that the zone changes proposed in this project do not protect homeownership opportunities and will instead have the adverse impacts of concentrating wealth in the hands of a small group of developers and corporate rental owners. It will promote more rental housing, not more wealth creation through homeownership, and there is no guarantee the new rental housing will be affordable.
Our planet is on fire.
In allowing the development of tri- and four-plexes on gravel and curbless streets, we have offered a dubious solution in the Local Transportation Improvement Charge that will not guarantee that sidewalks will be built wherever new development occurs. In fact, it will ensure that people living in the new homes will never have paved streets or sidewalks in their lifetimes.
By including the previously identified displacement risk areas in the current plan, new infill development may be concentrated in rapidly-gentrifying areas like Lents, Brentwood Darlington, Powellhurst Gilbert, and other parts of East Portland. This vote disproportionately affects and displaces people currently able to live in those affordable neighborhoods.
The plan will further perpetuate displacement among Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. There are no assurances that communities this plan is intended to support will be better off as a result of these code changes.
As I mentioned last week, I am grateful to the careful work of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Staff to include my team, the community and me, in this process as it unfolded. Thank you, Joe Zehnder, Sandra Wood, Morgan Tracy and Julia Giesler for your work over the past many years. I am very sad that this project represents a significant step back in good land use planning and climate action planning for Portland. Our planet is on fire. This action will make it burn faster.
I am grateful to Claire Adamsick, Tim Crail, and Tom Bizeau for all their good work to support good land use planning in Portland, and everyone who participated in the Portland Plan and the 2016 Comprehensive Plan. This may be the saddest vote I have cast in 12 years on the Council.