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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Feb 01

January 28, 2021

Posted on February 1, 2022 at 6:49 AM by Niyah Ross

This was a week of big Council decisions and public testimony.  Council reviewed and approved both the Housing Implementation Pipeline and the deal points for the sale and development of EWEB’s former steam plant and hosted a full public forum on Monday night focused on possible ordinance additions or changes to increase protections for tenants. 


As you remember from previous blogs, the Housing Implementation Pipeline is a strategic planning document that integrates all of our planning related to housing and homelessness.  The plan delineates strategies, existing goals and work, opportunities, costs and revenue across the spectrum of housing needs from responses to unsheltered people, homeless but sheltered, income-qualified housing (Affordable Housing directed to specific low-income levels), moderate income, and market rate housing.  In each category, the plan sets forth two- and five-year goals. For example, one of the over-arching goals is to permit the construction for 6,000 new housing units in the five-year timeline of the plan, 2022-2027.  Within that number are all types of housing from Accessory Dwelling Units to apartment complexes, including rentals and ownership. 


The plan references Council’s upcoming decision on HB 2001 that requires the city to adjust code to permit duplexes on all property zoned for single family housing; and triplexes, quads, townhomes and cottage clusters on land zone for residential use that allow detached single family dwellings.  The Planning Commission has unanimously approved their proposed code changes to meet the requirements of the state law.  Council has until June 30th to approve our own code changes or the state’s minimum requirements will automatically be applied here. The City has limited flexibility, and less with respect to duplexes, to create restrictions related to siting and design.  For example, the state limits restrictions pertaining to minimal size or parking requirements; and disallows rules for duplexes that are more restrictive than those applied to single family housing. 


The proposed changes from the Planning Commission for the most part reflect the state’s minimum standards. In response to a broad, multifaceted public engagement process, the code reflects consistent feedback that the City should create code that encourages or incentivizes the construction of these more diverse, smaller, and more affordable housing forms.  The incentives offered to meet that goal include design options like height, reduced lot size, and limited parking. 


The opposition campaign to this important work is divisive and misleading and I encourage everyone to spend time on the city’s website to confirm the facts for yourselves.  Creating a landscape that provides for more housing is a necessity; and these forms already knit into our landscape and will simply become more common gradually as this state law goes into effect.   


Continuing on the housing theme, testimony at the public forum was primarily offered by members of the Rental Owners Association who are concerned about possible ordinance additions or changes to protect renters in this very tight market.  Council heard the first presentation about these recommendations at the end of November and will consider and potentially act on changes in March.  The goal is to reduce the vulnerability of tenants to a range of challenges that are worsened by the tight housing market and the gap in affordability.  Testimony focused on a few objections related to the proposed changes to the credit score, security deposits, and to a preference for state law rather than local code changes, that could be inconsistent with nearby cities.  We know – anecdotally and statistically – that renters are suffering in this market. And we also understand that property owners face legitimate risks to their property if they have irresponsible tenants, or tenants who are unable to reliably pay their rent.  Our goal is not to penalize property owners – we are concerned about displacement at a time when homelessness is deepening.  We’re looking for a balance that will create some certainty and assurance of fair treatment.  The Homeless Implementation Pipeline also includes “Anti-Displacement Policies” as a key step in enabling people to retain stable housing. 


Finally, Council approved the deal points to sell the steam plant for redevelopment into a multi-use gathering space.  This iconic structure has been described as an “industrial cathedral” with a façade of stately windows offering a glistening view of the river.  I am excited to watch the next steps in the redevelopment.  Local developers Mark Miksis and Mark Frohnmayer are committing over $49 million to this project which will create a new community gathering space, provide jobs, and build new tax revenue for the City.  It will anchor the new Riverfront Park.  The alternative – not to move forward – would leave the City with an expensive, hazardous structure that we would be compelled to tear down – losing a piece of our history and costing the taxpayers. It’s an exciting move and along with the Riverfront Park and the new Farmer’s Market, a sign of good things to come.