Report on some “Missing Middle” infill housing types just published

by | Jul 11, 2016

2510 NE 11th La Bonita - Built 1929

The La Bonita, 2610 NE 11th, built in 1929. These sought-after bungalow apartments are now illegal in most of Portland’s residential areas.

Orange Splot is pleased to share a report entitled: “Character-Compatible, Space-Efficient Housing Options for Single-Dwelling Neighborhoods,” researched and prepared under a contract with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in support of the State of Oregon’s Transportation and Growth Management Program (TGM). Here’s a download link.

Eli and Madeline, report authors, will be presenting highlights of their research at the Equitable Housing Practitioner Lunch & Learn: “Finding The Missing Middle” on Friday, July 22, co-sponsored by Metro and Oregon Opportunity Network. Register ASAP – we are only two days out & remaining seats are filling quickly.

Why is a report on barriers to building more of these “Missing Middle” housing types so timely?

Oregon’s urban populations, new home sizes and housing costs are all growing. At the same time, average household sizes continue their steady decline. Combined, these trends have more than tripled the average square footage of living space constructed per person in new homes, with significant implications for energy efficiency, resource use, affordability, and neighborhood population densities (and hence walkability).

Some quick stats:

  • Deschutes County, Oregon, gained an estimated 4,400 residents between 2013-2014, a growth rate of about 2.7%, or the seventh fastest growth rate in the country. By 2035, the City of Portland alone can expect to add 230,000 new people to its population.
  • In 1960, 53% of Oregon households were composed of three or more people, in 2010, by comparison, 63% of households were composed of one or two people.
  • In 1950, newly constructed homes in Portland averaged 983 square feet, while in 2008 this had grown to 2500 square feet.
4-plex at 713 SE 17

4-plex at 713 SE 17th.

Demographers expect the trend towards smaller households to continue. Many parts of Oregon are experiencing a critical lack of affordable housing. And add to this an oft-expressed concern for any regulatory change that might alter the look or feel of treasured, predominantly single-family neighborhoods.

Enter the wonky world of zoning …

Intended or not, many zoning codes in Oregon encourage the development of large, expensive, detached homes in residential neighborhoods to the exclusion of smaller, more affordable options. These observations motivate research into more space-efficient housing models and zoning regulations that could support them.

This report showcases local development codes that expand housing choices in single-dwelling neighborhoods. Four housing types were specifically selected for their ability to discreetly integrate smaller, more affordable, low-energy use homes within the fabric of existing neighborhoods:

  • Cottage clusters
  • Internal division of larger homes
  • Corner duplexes, and
  • Accessory Dwelling Units
Greenwood Avenue Cottages (Ross Chapin)

Greenwood Avenue Cottages (Ross Chapin)

Each of these four housing types can be built today in most multi-dwelling zones. In fact, many of them were common practice before single-dwelling zoning was widely introduced to Oregon municipalities and counties in the late 1950’s (or, in some communities, before zoning codes were first adopted). However, multi-dwelling zones make up a much smaller portion of zoned areas in most Oregon cities. For example, for the 25 cities in the Portland Metro Urban Growth Boundary, single-dwelling residential zones occupy 48% of all land area and 77% of all land area currently zoned for housing.

For each of the housing types, the report contains:

  • Historical precedent, zoning context and regulatory barriers
  • Best practice recommendations
  • Case studies of completed projects from across the state
  • An extensive appendix codes adopted by Oregon (and some Washington) cities, small and large, supportive of each housing type

Many Oregon and Pacific NW communities are already experimenting with code changes that (re)legalize one or more of these housing types within single-dwelling zones to help meet their housing supply and affordability challenges. Examples include:

  • The city of Salem is in the process of introducing codes to allow ADUs – and perhaps also triplexes on corner lots.
  • Eugene is piloting a Single Family Options Zone as part of a larger area-planning project, which would allow cottage clusters, courtyards, and possibly rowhouses and “narrow houses” in certain areas.
  • Washington County recently simplified its land use process for ADUs, while Bend eliminated its on-site parking requirement and increased the maximum ADU unit size, among other changes.
  • Portland is embarking on a major re-write to its residential zoning code – the “Residential Infill Project” – now in public comment period), through which it proposes to reduce allowed massing and heights of new homes, more clearly demarcate where new homes on “narrow lots” will be allowed, and offer up greater flexibility to provide smaller units within the (reduced) massing limits for what would traditionally contain a single family home. If Portland adopts some version of staff recommendations, this could set precedent for integrating smaller and more affordable homes within existing neighborhoods – either close to transit or, potentially, city-wide.

Our hope is that Oregon communities will find this report helpful in their efforts to foster vibrant, walkable and transit-enabled neighborhoods through zoning reform.

Many thanks to our editors and reviewers for this project: Jordan Palmeri, Laura Buhl, Richard Benner, Dale Van Valkenburg, Alwin Turiel, Sue Geniesse, and Noelle Studer-Spevak.