Today’s episode comes to you thanks to Wayne in Austin Texas. His keen eye noticed that there might be some changes coming to the building code in Portland Oregon. In reference to the new initiative in Portland, Wayne asks, “Victor, will this kill commercial and residential investment in Portland?”

Portland is not immune to a growing homelessness problem. Like San Francisco, Los Angles, Miami, New York, and Seattle, Portland is overrun with people sleeping in public spaces and on private property, many of whom suffer from drug addiction and mental illness.

It’s a large and growing social problem that many of these people who desperately need help are not getting the help that they need.

The state’s one mental hospital, Dammasch, which opened in the 1960’s was overcrowded and closed its doors in 1995, and released its patients with no follow up care, turning hundreds out on to the streets, ill-equipped to handle living on their own.

Portland has the dubious honour of having the worst homelessness problem in the nation.

The city estimates its homeless population in excess of 14,000.

Now the City’s Planning and Sustainability Commission has accepted language into its recommendation to City council that would have new construction be required to incorporate mandatory “rest spaces” where the homeless can get safe shelter.

Every city has the right to have their design guidelines. These define the character of the city. The preamble for the design guideline says that proposals that meet all the applicable guidelines will be approved, and those that don’t will be denied. The fact is, the design guidelines contain terms that are in fact at odds. Design is always a tradeoff of conflicting requirements. An absolute statement that says all guidelines must be met is a mathematical impossibility. In practice, it means that the approval will be at the discretion of the review board.

The commission which writes and enforces the city’s building codes, approved a change to building guidelines last month that would require new construction to feature “opportunities to rest and be welcoming” for those who do not number among that building’s residents or customers. This does not apply to all new construction. It applies only to projects of a certain size. It applies for buildings taller than 55 feet, or more than 40,000 SF in buildable area.

A review of the minutes of the meeting shows the motion from Commissioner Magnera where he says that wants to propose a change to the language to say that spaces should “Provide opportunities to rest and be welcome, pause, sit, and interact”.

During the exchange in the meeting, Chair Schultz said: “I’m supportive but am a little concerned about what it means to “rest”… does this relate to sitting or sleeping or both?“

Commission members were asked for clarification on what the new recommendation meant. All of them refused to clarify the language.

After the meeting, the chair of the commission, did offer a written statement. He said, “how private development can provide places for people to feel welcome and safe, as well as allow space for people to rest, especially in light of our current housing shortage.”

Design guidelines like these are not the worst we’ve seen. California has become much more onerous by requiring solar power generation for all new construction, they’ve outlawed gas stoves for new construction, and they are requiring a long list of additional items to comply with the new regulations. The short answer is yes, this increase in requirements will deter some new construction. Will it eliminate it? No, but it’s becoming death by 1,000 paper cuts. It’s no surprise that Texas is leading the nation’s growth and is not burdened by many of these initiatives.