Single-family zoning and affordable housing prompt concerns over new light-rail line


Affordable housing that is largely “naturally occurring” (i.e. market rate) and single-family zoning that covers half of the land near proposed stations is sparking concerns on Portland’s potential Southwest Corridor light rail line. (Image: Oregon Metro)

The board of Portland Oregon’s regional transit agency Tri-Met voted last month to support a 12-mile light rail line between Portland and the Southwest suburbs. The line, which is expected to cost between $2.6-$2.9 billion and transport 43,000 riders a day, will be part of a regional bond package voters will decide on in 2020.

While the line has support of the board, local groups are concerned about the potential displacement of the 12,000 low income residents that live in the corridor today. To address that issue, the cities of Portland and Tigard developed an equitable housing strategy for the corridor that calls for over 4,100 affordable homes to be constructed by 2028 at a cost of $1.5 billion. Some of that money could come from an affordable housing measure on the November ballot (if passed), and there is talk of creating an urban renewal area that could generate some modest funds as well.

Additionally, a study by Portland State found that 93 percent of the apartments in the corridor are “naturally occurring affordable housing,” where costs are likely to rise unless they are protected by the city. The equitable housing strategy calls for some of these affordable housing buildings to be purchased by the city and preserved.

But there’s another potential problem. Almost half of the land near the new line’s stations is zoned exclusively for single-family homes, prompting some to suggest foregoing the new line unless the zoning is amended to allow more housing options. For advocates of good transit and affordable housing, the minting of future luxury homes protected by existing zoning means that future residents might be left out of an opportunity to live affordably with access to good transportation.

For more information on affordable housing near transit, visit the to find reports such as A Guide to Community Driven Transit Oriented Development Planning, the FTA’s TOD 201: Mixed-Income Housing Near Transit report, and Preserving Affordability and Access in Livable Communities from AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

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