Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said Wednesday he will ask the City Council to increase the number of affordable housing units required in larger development proposals.

Under Mayor Michael Brennan in 2015, the council adopted an inclusionary zoning ordinance that required at least 10 percent of the dwelling units in developments with 10 units or more be made affordable to middle-income earners. That ordinance allows developers to avoid the requirement by paying the city $100,000 for every affordable unit not built. That money goes into the city’s housing trust fund, which is used to help build affordable housing.

“We still have a housing crisis in this city,” Strimling said. “We’re just not seeing enough housing that regular everyday folks can afford.”

Strimling said Wednesday that he will ask the council to double the requirement to 20 percent of the dwelling units and lower the prices on those units.

The current ordinance requires those units to be affordable to people earning up to 120 percent of area median income for owner-occupied units and 100 percent of median income for rentals — thresholds commonly referred to as workforce housing. He’s proposing that those units should be affordable to people earning 100 percent of median income for owner-occupied units and 80 percent of median income for for rentals.

The city said in a statement that the new standards would lower the maximum annual income for a family of four purchasing workforce units to $83,400 from $98,500. Income limits for families renting workforce units would drop to $65,700 from $82,125. The proposal would lower the sales price for a qualified family of four by almost $50,000, from approximately $273,000 to $225,000 and drop the rent on a rental unit for the same family by more than $400 a month from $2,053 to $1,643.

Strimling said the proposal will appear on Monday’s council agenda so it can be referred to the Housing Committee for further review.

“Now it’s time to take this to the next level and get much more aggressive about trying to build housing,” he said.

The move comes as Portland continues to see an influx of apartments and condominium units catering to those with higher incomes, exacerbating concerns for low- to middle-income residents who feel like they’re being priced out of the city. It also comes as a group calling itself, Fair Rent Portland, is collecting signatures for a November ballot question for a rent stabilization ordinance in Portland, which would control the amount rent increases in occupied units of larger apartment buildings.

The 2015 ordinance was adopted over the objections of local developers, who argued that the new requirements would stunt housing development. Instead, developers encouraged the city to offer more incentives for affordable housing units.

Studies have suggested that inclusionary zoning ordinances that provide some flexibility for developers do not necessarily hamper housing construction. A study by the Lincoln Institute also recommended zoning incentives to encourage affordable housing. “Inclusionary programs need to be designed with care to ensure that their requirements are economically feasible,” the study said.

Portland’s ordinance does not seem to have stifled development.

So far, the city ordinance has applied to 12 projects, totaling 362 units, not including the planned redevelopment of the former Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore St., which is expected to include 600 housing units, according to data released by the city in June. The ordinance requires 36 of the units to meet its workforce requirements. Six of those units have been built, while an additional six units have been approved. Sixteen workforce units are under review.

Several projects have taken advantage of the buyout provision. If all of those projects move forward, the city could receive $850,000 from developers.

The city is also considering new zoning incentives for projects in most business zones and a few residential zones.

The Planning Board recently voted in support of allowing developers to increase housing density, reduce setbacks from neighboring properties and increase building heights. That proposal still needs to be approved by the council.

And some residents are looking for other ways to tackle the affordable housing issue.

The rent stabilization ordinance being pushed by Fair Rent Portland would limit rent increases to the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for the Greater Portland region. The proposal would allow tenants to automatically renew their lease and would eliminate so-called no-cause evictions of tenants.

Landlords would be able to increase rents beyond the rate of inflation after an existing tenant moves out.

Owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes would be exempt from the proposed rules.

Strimling said he plans to focus more on housing issues in the coming year.

“In my first year and a half, I am honestly disappointed we haven’t been able to do more to deal with the housing crisis,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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