Portland extended the city’s housing state of emergency for one more year Wednesday — but postponed an expected vote on a zoning code update that will make it easier to open shelters citywide.
City Council was originally anticipated to make a final vote on the proposal Wednesday, the culmination of two years of work from city planners to change the zoning code to create more shelter and housing options for people at risk of houselessness or already living on the street. The project, officially called the Shelter to Housing Continuum project, has been in the city pipeline since February 2019, when the council voted to extend the city’s housing state of emergency. The extension eased zoning code restrictions for shelter providers and was set to expire this April.
Because the state of emergency will now expire before the city votes on the permanent code change, the city said it needed to be extended one more time.
“This extension gives council time to adopt those tweaks and changes,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Among those tweaks and changes is a new amendment that would make it clear that temporary outdoor shelters will not be allowed in natural areas. After many residents expressed concern that relaxing the zoning code citywide would lead to more campsites in public parks, city staff proposed an amendment that would clarify that these areas — including parks, forests, wetlands and golf courses — were not available to site short-term shelters (those open up to 180 days). These managed campsites would still be allowed if the city’s under a state of emergency.
The council formally voted Wednesday to incorporate these changes into the broader code changes under review, though adopting those code changes will require a future vote.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, said the changes made the proposal a “sharper and more focused policy, better designed to achieve its truest and clearest intention.”
City Council is waiting to vote on the final Shelter to Housing Continuum project until there’s more input on two of the proposed concepts for cheaper housing: RVs and tiny homes. Wheeler said these two housing options were later additions to the project and the council wanted to carve out more time for discussion.
Under the current rules, Portlanders are not allowed to live in RVs and tiny homes, though the city hasn’t been enforcing the rule for the last few years. The rule change would allow these options in residential areas — one per lot. (Tiny houses without wheels are already allowed.)
The proposal would require a utility hookup to ensure residents have electricity and are connected to the city’s water and sewer system. Some have said that this requirement would place too large a burden on residents as sewer connections can be costly and could make these vehicles prohibitively expensive for residents to live in.
The next hearing on the proposal will take place at 2 p.m. April 14. There is no date scheduled yet for a final vote on the proposal.