Portland Is Coming | Urban Living
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Portland Is Coming

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My crystal ball says the future is here. Maybe not in Utah yet, but it's coming. Salt Lake planners and elected officials often look to Portland, Oregon, since it's very much like our capital city in regards to population. They study and use Portland for comparisons when it comes to traffic, mass transit and trends in business relocations and housing. Our northwest neighbor has just opened the floodgates that I believe Salt Lake and other cities along the Wasatch Front will soon feel.

You see, Portland has changed its zoning rules to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in areas previously reserved for single-family homes. The change in density laws will allow for more people to live on a single block where usually only large homes were built and maintained. People from all around the country see this zoning change as one of the biggest shifts in housing rules in decades. And why is it needed? Because there's not enough housing options in Portland anymore, and they aren't building any more land!

Specifics to the new rules allow up to six units on residential lots, with at least half of the units "affordable"—i.e., rentals for families with an area median income of no higher than 60% and homes for purchase by families at 80% or less of the area median income. The size of new homes does not have to be as large as those they are replacing. It's not much of a surprise to homeowners and developers because the Oregon Legislature passed a statewide bill in 2019 to end single family-only zoning in cities larger than 10,000 residents.

Locals are divided in their opinions about the change. NIMBYs ("not in my back yard") don't want rentals in their fancy neighborhoods because it could wreck the character and undermine preservation of historic areas. Meanwhile, affordable housing advocates think this will help Portland grow for many decades to come. I see these changes as preserving what's there and getting parity for all people to have a chance to own throughout the area (my wife is from Portland).

It's interesting that the history of housing discrimination against people of color is relevant again. Portland lenders, like Salt Lake banks, had red-lined neighborhoods where home loans wouldn't be granted. In the 1950s, Portland passed laws to stop zoning for rentals and high density, and this has kept 40% of the town zoned just for single family homes. Grandma or the grandkids can't live in an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) out back of the main home in these neighborhoods of single-family zoning, but now this is going to change. Older homes will get torn down, and multi-units will go up. It's all Portland can do because they are out of housing, especially affordable housing.

This won't happen tomorrow in Salt Lake, but I can guarantee you that many state legislators, local officials and housing advocates consider issues like these as the future of the Wasatch Front.