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Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Mar 12

March 12, 2021

Posted on March 12, 2021 at 1:51 PM by Niyah Ross

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 project.

 

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 climate.