Residential Infill FAQ

Summary – What’s being proposed?

Here is a one-sheet handout that summarizes the project.


  1. Why was the Residential Infill Project initiated, and what does it do?

The Residential Infill Project was initiated by Mayor Hales and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability in response concerns including demolitions, large replacement houses, unattractive narrow houses, rising costs, and the lack of smaller housing options. In response to these concerns, the Residential Infill Project was tasked with addressing: 1) the maximum size of new houses, 2) increasing housing options and 3) appropriate regulations for building on narrow lots.

The City Council has now adopted a concept plan that would:

In ALL Single-Dwelling zones:

  • Reduce maximum allowed home size.
  • Lower rooflines for new houses.
  • Increase front setbacks to 15 feet, or to match adjacent homes.
  • Allow cottage clusters on lots larger than 10,000 sf, and simplify review.
  • Establish a minimum unit requirement for R2.5 zone lots.
  • Prohibit new houses on historically narrow lots

Only within a “Housing Opportunity Zone” near Centers & Corridors:

  • Allow more units WITHIN THE SAME REDUCED SIZE as a house, including two ADUs per house, duplexes with an ADU.
  • Allow triplexes on corners (compared with duplexes allowed currently)
  • Allow existing houses to be internally converted to two or more units.
  • Allow an additional bonus unit for providing an affordable unit, an accessible unit, or internally converting an old house.


  1. What are the main differences between the current concept plan and what Portland for Everyone coalition members are asking for?

Portland for Everyone thinks this is a good start, and we can do more:

  • ALL Portland neighborhoods should be allowed diverse housing types. The most desirable parts of Portland have many duplexes, triplexes, and internal conversions that were built before they were banned in1959. This “middle housing” is what makes the city’s beloved walkable retail districts and frequent-service bus lines viable. Property owners should be allowed to add these units in all neighborhoods, not just those around centers and corridors.
  • We should incentivize affordable housing and housing that is accessible to seniors and people with disabilities. We should offer a bonus unit if one of them is made permanently affordable AND accessible.
  • We should make it easier to preserve trees. There should be better incentives for flexibility to preserve trees.


  1. What’s next for the Residential Infill Project?

The City Council adopted the concept plan in December. Now City planners are developing the specific code changes to enact the concepts. These changes should be released in draft form by late 2017. The Planning and Sustainability Commission will hold public hearings on the draft and recommend any changes they want to see after taking testimony. Planning staff will then revise the draft and bring it to the City Council for more hearings and adoption in early 2018.


  1. Why are there so many demolitions taking place in Portland right now, and what can we do about it?

People want to live in Portland. This makes land in Portland valuable. When the dirt beneath a house becomes more valuable than the house itself, then someone can make money by knocking it down and building a new one. An economic study done for the City calculates that reducing the size of new houses, as proposed in the concept plan will reduce the number of demolitions.


  1. Why are so many demolitions replacing smaller homes with McMansions?

The only thing that can be built on most residential land in Portland is one single-family home.  Kitchens and bathrooms are expensive to build; other space is relatively cheap. Big houses sell for more, so they maximize profit. This is why reducing the allowed scale of new houses will limit the profitability of demolitions.


  1. How do the proposed changes affect the tree code? Will trees be more or less protected?

The concept plan does not affect tree preservation. Portland for Everyone wants to strengthen tree preservation by allowing flexibility in siting of houses and providing a unit bonus for the preservation of significant trees.


  1. Will the proposed changes actually result in “affordable” housing?
  • By encouraging the development of smaller units, the proposal will allow more market rate housing that will be affordable to schoolteachers, first responders, and other middle-income people who want to live in walkable neighborhoods.
  • Housing that is affordable to people earning 0 to 60% of median income is mostly developed and owned by nonprofit developers who are subsidized. The proposal will offer unit bonuses for affordable housing, allowing nonprofits to compete with for-profit developers for lots in single-family neighborhoods.
  • Read more about what some nonprofit housing organizations have to say, on the Portland for Everyone coalition page.


  1. Will the proposal will create more un-affordable housing, compared to our current codes?

No. If we do nothing and leave the rules as they are, THAT will guarantee us more unaffordable housing: 1:1 replacements resulting in McMansions, or (if we simply ban McMansions but fail to address the underlying housing shortage) current housing options that will be just as expensive as today’s McMansion.


  1. How can the City encourage preservation of existing houses?

Portland for Everyone thinks that the adjustments proposed in the Residential Infill Project are generally a good start, and the plan can be improved:

  • The City of Portland could stop limiting the prescribed number of unrelated adults allowed to live together in one home. That could open up some spare rooms in larger homes for rent.
  • Allow internal conversions of existing homes into multiple units in all neighborhoods.
  • Work with the legislature to simplify the building codes that currently make it unlikely that a home would be converted to more than two units.