Portland council agrees on plan to turn vacant offices downtown into apartments

Portland skyline
Portland skyline(KPTV)
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 10:01 AM PDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - The Portland City Council on Thursday approved a pair of ordinances meant to incentivize owners of vacant office buildings downtown to convert their properties into housing.

The move is a reaction to an ongoing vacancy problem downtown, which is up nearly 26% and is expected to continue to rise if nothing changes. In a news release the council admitted that Portland’s central city recovery has been slower than peer cities.

“Recognizing the enormous cost of office conversions, the City is acting to create greater financial feasibility for conversions that produce additional housing in the central city, and drive investment into empty offices for more vibrant neighborhoods in safer and more sustainable buildings,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “While this isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a positive tool to overcome structural and financial barriers to reinvestment into buildings and neighborhoods. We continue to seek more state-level financial support in order to achieve scale.”

The two ordinances that passed Council include:

• Exemptions for System Development Charges: Exempts qualifying conversion projects from all

System Development Charges up to the amount of the actual cost of the seismic retrofit or $3

million, whichever is lesser. Eligible conversions still must comply with Inclusionary Housing

requirements. This exemption will expire and be re-evaluated in July 2027.

• Adjustment for Seismic Standard: Adjusts the seismic improvement standard for R-2 classified

buildings, which is consistent with the level of safety required by other major cities in seismic

areas, like San Francisco.

Mayor Wheeler’s office said this comes after several months of policy development and consultation

with stakeholders including City Council offices, the Portland Housing Bureau, the Bureau of

Development Services, infrastructure bureaus, building owners, architects, designers, developers,

construction firms, and real estate brokers.

“These new steps will support greater activation in public spaces and increased foot traffic for small businesses to help revitalize the Central District,” City Commissioner Carmen Rubio says. “It will also help achieve our goals for sustainability by increasing density and repurposing buildings in the central city and connecting people with transit to reduce commuting.”