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Posted on: February 4, 2021

Report: substantial barriers to new multifamily housing in Greater Portland

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Multifamily housing is allowed with few limiting factors on just over five percent of the land area in Portland and six adjacent communities, according to a new report funded by the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

Even though many communities’ land-use codes allow for multifamily housing in theory, substantial barriers to multifamily development exist in reality, resulting in little or no production, according to the report.

The report found that multifamily housing is permitted with significant but surmountable limiting factors on just over 10 percent of the land area in Metro Regional Coalition communities, which includes Portland, Westbrook, Falmouth, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough and Gorham.

The report was written by Jeff Levine, Portland’s former director of planning and urban development. Levine lectures in planning and economic development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. 

The report found that:

• Multifamily housing is not permitted in just under 40 percent of the land area in the region;

• The communities in the Metro Regional Coalition are all taking at least some efforts to promote multifamily housing;

• Different communities have taken different approaches to how and where to permit multifamily housing;

• In many cases, zones that allow multifamily housing are located in growth nodes or along growth corridors, though this varies a great deal by specific locations; and

• Regional planning and coordination would increase multifamily housing production in the region and better coordinate it with other planning goals.

While there are excellent planning reasons to limit multifamily housing in some areas, such as sensitive wetlands, many of the limits imposed on such development exceed these rationales, the report concludes.

Concerns about traffic, community character, and impacts on public facilities are legitimate. However, those conerns should be balanced with the costs imposed on potential multifamily developments in terms of uncertainty, time, and the effects of limiting available land supply on the price of that land.

These limits also have negative impacts that may not be intended: Requiring single-family housing on large lots may detract from community character and increase transportation and fiscal impacts on host communities. Thoughtful multifamily development can contribute to the traditional New England feel of municipalities and also save them money in public infrastructure needs. If placed in growth areas, they will also provide transportation benefits by allowing residents to walk and bike to services.



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