This week was all about housing—where and how to build it
and how to reduce barriers to building more housing that people can afford.
Monday night’s meeting offered two work sessions: first an overview of the
revised “Clear and Objective” standards that inform housing developments; and
second, an update on the Riverfront Development which will ultimately become a
new neighborhood of mixed housing types and affordability.
Clear and Objective standards are measurable, predictable regulations. They
govern issues like compatibility of new developments with existing structures;
construction on slopes; and tree preservation. The revisions apply to
subdivisions, planned unit developments, and conditional use permits – projects
that encompass multiple or multiunit dwellings. The goal is to make it
easier and more cost effective for development – standards are prohibited by
state law from causing unreasonable cost and delays to housing construction.
This complicated revision is part of a constellation of efforts in the City
to increase our capacity to build housing within our urban growth
boundary. Improvements in the process align with our work to comply with
HB 2001 which requires code changes to allow more duplexes, townhouses and
other “middle housing” to be built in residential areas; and dovetails with the
work delineated in the Housing Tools and Strategies priorities that Council
discussed at the Wednesday meeting.
As a reminder, in 2018 city staff initiated Housing Tools and Strategies to
develop a coordinated plan to increase the availability and affordability of
housing. The plan identified 80 potential actions, including for example,
administrative streamlining, completing the Clear and Objective Standards, and
implementing a Construction Excise Tax. While the City has continued to
move forward on a range of these actions, the staff is now planning to create a
overall strategic plan to coordinate resources, goals and priorities. The
five-year Housing Implementation Pipeline will establish timelines for policies
like developing housing-related goals for reducing racial wealth gaps and
coordinating future incentives related to HB 2001. It will be completed
within the year and it will be a powerful framework encompassing our actions
along the entire continuum of housing needs from sheltering the unhoused, to
publicly subsided affordable housing, moderate income housing and higher income
market rate housing.
And finally, we heard on Monday night about the status of the development of
the Riverfront neighborhood. The new city park is slated to be open to
the public in July. The developers have paid their initial deposit with
the City and are moving forward to invest in their first housing construction.
The Council reviewed the available funds to move forward on other parts of this
project – the Steamplant, urban plaza, parking area, and the affordable housing
All of these discussions are really the machinery moving our response to the
dual challenges of climate change and population growth. We have committed our
city to more compact development throughout the city and particularly downtown
and along transit corridors in order to meet our growing housing needs while
reducing our use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
Coordinated, thoughtful work in development standards and housing priorities,
and investment in a new urban neighborhood are all part of the long game that
will enable us to meet our current and future housing needs in a changing