Portland’s BLM protests may capture the news, but the Sightline Institute summarizes what their city council is likely to approve today: “the most pro-housing reform to low-density zones in US history.”

Portland’s new rules will also offer a “deeper affordability” option: four to six homes on any lot if at least half are available to low-income Portlanders at regulated, affordable prices. The measure will make it viable for nonprofits to intersperse below-market housing anywhere in the city for the first time in a century.

And among other things it will remove all parking mandates from three quarters of the city’s residential land, combining with a recent reform of apartment zones to essentially make home driveways optional citywide for the first time since 1973.

Portland’s reform will build on similar actions in Vancouver and Minneapolis, whose leaders voted in 2018 to re-legalize duplexes and triplexes, respectively; in Seattle, where a 2019 reform to accessory cottages resulted in something very close to citywide triplex legalization; and in Austin, whose council passed a very similar sixplex-with-affordability proposal in 2019.

But Portland’s changes are likely to gradually result in more actual homes than any of those milestone reforms.

Full story here.


  1. I’ve done some site planning on missing middle homes, and I can report that they are missing because of parking. For detached, duplex and triplex, parking on the street will work. And for four+ story apartment buildings, underground parking is possible. But for the missing middle housing types of four-plexes, rowhouses with basement suites, three-story walk-ups, you have too many units to accommodate parking on the surface but too few to justify underground parking. Parking is the reason that the middle is missing in the first place.

    We still have some examples middle density housing, but it is expensive and the expense justifies underground parking. But middle density housing with surface parking has a tendency to be awful, just drowning in asphalt. One type that you see in Surrey and the Valley is townhouses built over garages that completely line the street. One example I just pulled up now is “Manhattan Skye” in the Clayton area of Surrey, and it is hardly the worst.

    So with this in mind, I looked at the Portland reports to see what they had come up with to address parking and site planning for missing middle housing. (https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/exhibit_b_volume_1_staff_report_as_amended_draft.pdf page 36.) The best thing is the elimination of parking minimums entirely for the rezoned areas. There is also a ban on putting garages at the front of houses that dominate the house and for surface parking in front of the house – no paved front lawns. But unfortunately there is no magic way out of the simple geometry of parking. Most of the lots in the diagrams show two spots off the alley in the back and two street parking spots at the front. Any more and it just starts to get crammed. Looking at the proposal, it actually looks much more plausible for Vancouver where single and no car households are more realistic with the better transit system.

    There are other good things in this report about massing and design, and we ought to consider copying some of them. The report recognizes that steeper roofs can maintain the same building area but without the bulk, so the area calculations are to be modified to avoid penalizing that roof type. This is one thing that I’ve longed for in Vancouver. For bedrooms on upper floors, there is nothing wrong with a lower ceiling against the wall where you put furniture anyway. Actually makes for a cozy bedroom. But under our rules, there is no reason to do this, so the whole top floor has the same 8 or 9 foot ceilings under a flat or shallow roof. Actually to do this right, we ought to adopt a regulation that regulates building bulk directly by controlling the cubic area above ground and not just the floor area. Obviously the total floor area needs to be controlled too to avoid too many areas of low ceiling, but a total bulk control would push developers toward less clunky designs.

    For Vancouver to get out of its missing middle problem, we need to get serious about reducing parking requirements at the higher density end of the gap: three-story walk-ups and courtyard apartment buildings, and five and six story apartment buildings that are built here but made much more expensive by the parking requirements. Areas close to transit lines and neighbourhood centres, especially flat areas where biking is easier, ought to be ripe for parking reform.

    1. In Vancouver, in certain zones and for certain building types like laneway houses, sloped ceilings between 4′ and 7′ in height are exempt from floor area limits. They should expand this to all zones.

      We should definitely be restricting parking further. Car sharing and ride hailing will greatly reduce the need for parking. Eventually autonomous driving will take that even further. Vancouver has been pretty good – with just one off-street space required even when there are three dwelling units on the property. (North Vancouver District requires three spaces for two units,) But we could do better, removing street parking over time and replacing it with planting/bioswales etc.

      I’ve said for at least a decade that any parking required for any new development should be designed so as to be useful for other things in future. Even if it was just for storage we could free up all the spaces occupied by U-Store buildings. But we should do even better as we encourage owning less junk. It seems to me we’ve encouraged a society of building a U-Store right beside Walmart so you wouldn’t even have to bother bringing the junk home in the first place.

  2. A thing that would be good in the short term would be to allow a parking spot to be used for other things. I know several people who don’t have a car (and not interested or able to get one) yet they have a parking spot included when they bought the condo. They are not allowed to do anything else with it but store a car. (Some allow car related things like tires.)
    They would really like to cage it in and have more storage or make it their own little bike room but are not allowed to.

  3. I think for new buildings they should be required to sell any parking separately from the unit so everyone understands the cost and does not end up with more than they will use.

  4. The idea of separating the parking and attaching a separate price is a good one. One can envision Vancouver eventually embracing fee simple rowhousing (oh, that could still be a long wait) most without parking. The city could help keep the prices from reaching the stratosphere in a couple of ways:

    1. Reward a developer / builder for innovative design, preserving heritage buildings and for recycling the materials from existing structures in place of demolition by allowing additional units. Even the old concrete foundations can be crushed and reused as aggregate.

    2. For, say, every 12 units of rowhousing allow on average six on-street numbered parking stalls with cars assigned exclusively to those units via car share and under strict permit enforcement. Make them electric with the appropriate charging infrastructure. Rent the spaces and cars to the participating car share members on that block for a reasonable annual charge included in the car share membership fees, with rental revenue going to the city. Increase the average number of on-street spaces and cars for sites farther from transit to a max of eight per 12 housing units. Decrease them to a max of four per 12 when closer to transit.

    The city currently runs a permit street parking system on blocks close to commercial zones or where older apartments are located without on-site parking. The city often assigns permit parking per block by issuing a survey where the restrictions are not applied unless the majority of residents on a block vote for it. The results are a mixed bag and can be frustrating in denser inner city neighbourhoods. Non-residents can park for days and block direct access to resident’s homes. Multiple car owners dominate the majority of street space and crowd out everyone else. The city should instead apply mandatory permit parking wherever it is technically justified, charge a lot more than the nominal $3 / mo, and assign a limit of one permit per detached small-lot housing unit, small commercial vehicles excepted, and apartments with less than one space per unit. This would be a fairer solution in medium-dense neighbourhoods where transit is not bad, but still leaves the elderly and people with some mobility constraints short.

    1. street parking permits or rent should be market driven like all other real estate _____ with exceptions for disabled people ____ if people believe owning car is worth the cost they will buy a permit _______ if not they will buy a transit pass______same goes for private parking stalls on separate titles

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