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 11

March 11, 2022

Posted on March 11, 2022 at 5:30 PM by Niyah Ross

Big conversations are moving toward resolution, and one of those took place at Wednesday’s work session. Councilors unanimously approved ten-year property tax exemptions for the first three apartment buildings to be constructed in the new Riverfront development.

I wrote about this fully last week and won’t repeat the same information here. I am excited that we are moving forward with this work, which has moved deliberatively, step by step for years. As with any housing decision, support for these buildings is not the be-all and end-all solution to our housing needs. But they will add 381 units of housing in our downtown, and that is a boon both for our housing supply and for the vibrancy of the downtown, which is our economic engine.

Following this decision, Council had another discussion about Middle Housing and proposed code changes to comply with state statute. Again, I have often written about the implications of that statute and our city’s efforts to meet our need for a greater supply and diversity of housing types. We are receiving a lot of negative email about this proposal, much of it based on incomplete or incorrect information. I encourage people to look to the City’s website and understand the actual code changes. For the most part, the proposed changes match the minimum required by the state. They endeavor to do just what many opponents are demanding by adding code to encourage or incentivize the construction of more affordable housing in several ways: by reducing requirements for parking for middle housing built along major corridors; increasing building and roof height by 5 feet to allow design flexibility for three stories, reducing lot size to reduce land cost, and increasing lot coverage to support lower income housing development.

Changes to neighborhoods will be incremental. We are moving toward the city we need to be to accommodate more people with a range of affordability and types of housing. We cannot stand still; neighborhoods will experience gradual changes, as they always have.

And while we continue on the topic of housing, next week Council will have another discussion of protections for renters. We have heard a lot of testimony particularly from property owners who oppose any adjustments. Again, broad opposition to all change is not constructive. We know both anecdotally and statistically that too many renters are vulnerable. High application fees and move-in costs are significant barriers to people in accessing housing; and uncertainty about security deposits or potential no-cause eviction create an unclear and insecure landscape for tenants. The upcoming council packet suggests that recommendations might be implemented in phases – with the most readily implemented actions happening quickly and allowing more time to assess and navigate legal and other issues in later phases.

Finally, it has been a busy week for me as Mayor. I joined the Governor’s press conference about the Oregon 22 World Athletics Championships to describe our plans for hosting a fan festival at the new Riverfront Park; I testified before the Oregon Transportation Commission to advocate for federal infrastructure dollars allocated through the State’s ”Great Streets” program to be used for former state highways, like Highway 99, that traverse our city and need safety improvements; and I presented remarks at an Oregon-focused meeting convened by the White House to discuss the administration’s priorities and investments. I testified that we have benefitted already from the Biden Administration’s American Relief Plan (ARPA) funds to support our programs to shelter our unhoused population and the infrastructure dollars to enhance Franklin Boulevard, and we are hopeful that Congress will approve requested funds for HUD that would expand housing vouchers and funds for affordable housing.