In 2021, residential real estate prices in Portland jumped 30 percent and sales volume 53 percent. At the same time, 82 percent fewer multifamily units were submitted to planning for construction. An influx of new residents, coupled with a drop in new home construction, has left Portland with a housing crisis.

In 2021, residential real estate prices in Portland jumped 30 percent and sales volume 53 percent. At the same time, 82 percent fewer multifamily units were submitted to planning for construction. ADragan/

The high cost of real estate and building has driven both locals and developers out of the city, resulting in increased traffic and rural land replaced by suburban house lots. Unless we seek immediate action, housing affordability and urban sprawl will only get worse. To build housing of all types and prices, some solutions are surprisingly simple.

• One: Change zoning to allow for more multifamily, higher and denser housing. Only 10 percent of Portland’s landmass is zoned for multifamily or mixed-use properties. Rezone areas like Bayside, where single-level warehouses could be topped with housing, and Riverside, where acres of empty industrial land could house new communities. Allow for taller buildings, more lot coverage, smaller setbacks and less parking to add homes along Portland’s commercial corridors. Converting all industrial and business-only zones to B5 (mixed-use urban commercial) would allow development of a mix of higher, denser residential and commercial buildings. All of this wouldn’t put pressure on current residential zones and would add density where it should be.

• Two: Establish development districts within newly rezoned areas, existing B (mixed-use) zones and along major city thoroughfares. These could be modeled after Federal Opportunity Zones and target areas identified as most desirable for new housing. Within these areas, reductions on permitting and impact fees could offset the increased cost of the city’s Green New Deal, and incentives could increase proportional to the number of residential units added.

• Three: Create financial incentives to build. Site purchase, construction, labor, permitting and inclusionary housing costs are very high. To make it possible to build non-luxury priced housing, provide low-interest loans, grants or tax increment financing. Doing this could increase the impact of Portland’s Housing Trust Fund, relying on private capital to pay project costs and public funding to lower prices. The city could also make additional funds available for homeowners building accessory dwelling units.

• Four: Simplify and reduce the cost of permitting. Multifamily housing developers shouldn’t pay more in permitting fees than those building commercial or single-family buildings. And the city should streamline the currently very lengthy permitting process. For example, projects that do not require a zoning change are subject to the same public comment process as those that do. Additionally, those commenting at these meetings are rarely representative of the community at large. Notably absent are those who could most benefit from these projects, like renters, first-time homebuyers, employers or new Mainers.


• Five: Establish a blue-ribbon commission charged with generating a list of short- and long-term recommendations in three months or less. This group should have representatives from a variety of stakeholders versed in the development process and facilitated by an organization like Build Maine. Most of the suggestions above could be implemented rather swiftly and easily with the right people guiding the process.

Our children can’t afford to move back home after college, employees of small businesses can’t live close to work and our environment is being hurt by urban sprawl. We simply can’t wait to begin to solve for this. The time is now.




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