Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Pace University
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 29 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Author: Gabriella Mickel [*]
Addressing the Four Pandemics – A Case Study

Through our blogs so far, we have highlighted many local-level strategies for combating the four pandemics – climate change, COVID-19, housing insecurity, and racial equity. These strategies have come from municipalities across the country and are collected in our Gaining Ground Database. While these strategies show how municipalities have taken steps towards addressing one or two of the pandemics, none so far have shown how a municipality could take a comprehensive approach to addressing all of them. Enter Portland, Oregon, a city taking action in all four categories.

Starting with the Comprehensive Plan

A municipality looking to address all four pandemics should start with its comprehensive plan. Comprehensive plans identify the goals, objectives, principles, guidelines, policies, standards, and strategies for the growth and development of a community. They guide land use development and investment decisions. In 2018, Portland updated its comprehensive plan. The Portland 2035 Comprehensive Plan includes five Guiding Principles: Economic Prosperity, Human Health, Environmental Health, Equity, and Resilience. These five guiding principles, the overarching themes of the comprehensive plan, directly address the four pandemics focused on in our project.

By identifying the four pandemics through guiding principles at the beginning of its plan, Portland is committed to mitigating the negative effects of the pandemics through the implementation of specific policies, strategies, and projects.

Actions Addressing the Four Pandemics

The examples that come from Portland are illustrative of what we hope our project will encourage because, guided by the values laid out in their comprehensive plan, Portland addresses more than one pandemic in the land use strategies discussed below.

In an attempt to address equity and affordable housing, Portland offers incentives to developers and created a right to return policy. Chapter 30.01 of the City Code offers a waiver of infrastructure fees and the provision of valuable density bonuses to developers willing to build affordable housing. The city’s “Right to Return” policy allows tenants, mainly minorities, to move back to communities that forced them out due to gentrification with the help of an affordable rent program. It gives priority to people who were forced to move via a point system that considers three generations of potential displacement.

Portland made many changes to become extremely ADU friendly. To learn more about ADUs, read our blogs “ADU Introduction” and “NIMBY Restrictions Poison the Prospects of Accessory Dwelling Units to Address Housing Insecurity.” Portland passed a law to waive the System Development Charge (SDC), a “buy in” fee for infrastructure. This law provides a financial incentive to homeowners so they will elect to add an ADU onto their property. Portland also allows ADUs by right, removing the requirement for a conditional use permit. The city allows ADUs to be up to 75% the size of the primary dwelling and allows for two stories providing livable space for larger households than normally accommodated by ADUs. Portland also modified its Accessory Structures Zoning Code to reduce ADU design requirements. Portland further removed ADU owner occupancy and parking requirements.

Portland also enacted an ordinance that requires the destruction, repair, rehabilitation, or removal of any dangerous or derelict structure. To see how addressing distressed properties is an action addressing all four pandemics, read our blog on the topic.

There are many examples of Portland acting to mitigate the effects of climate change. One example of climate action is found in its Community Design Standards. The city eliminated discretionary review of solar energy systems that adhere to community design standards. This made it easier for solar panels to be installed in historic districts. Portland has also taken climate action in Chapter 11 of its City Code, titled “Trees”. This chapter contains tree plan requirements and requires permits for tree removal. Portland dedicated itself to tree preservation and tree canopy expansion to “enhance the quality of the urban forest and optimize the benefits that trees provide,” including “reducing energy demand and urban heat island through shading of buildings and impervious areas.”

Portland is also extremely supportive of green infrastructure, a tool that addresses equity, health, and climate-related issues. Portland has a policy of allowing park development within industrial zones to guarantee adequate park services within one-half mile of every resident. The green spaces benefit the physical and mental health of the community, contribute to and reduce the cost of stormwater management, and reduce CO2 in the surrounding atmosphere. Portland also allows farmers markets and community gardens. Both can help mitigate the negative public health impacts of food swamps and deserts.

Another way Portland addresses health and equity is by creating complete streets. Complete Streets policies have been proven to improve public health and safety while providing more accessible transportation options. To learn more about Complete Streets, read our blog. Portland is currently in the implementation phase of its Streets 2035 Plan.

Solidifying Commitment and Gaining Public Support

Portland’s commitment to addressing issues related to the four pandemics is publicly announced and repeatedly affirmed. For example, in 2020, the Portland City Council issued a Climate Change Resolution that focuses on Climate Justice and acknowledges COVID-19. Steps like these help garner public support for land use laws used to address the four pandemics.



For additional resources, the Gaining Ground Information Database is free and features best practice models used by governments to control the use of land in the public interest. Please direct your search toward the Healthy Communities topic.

[*] Gabriella Mickel is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Land Use Scholar in the Land Use Law Center.

Brooke Mercaldi is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Land Use Scholar in the Land Use Law Center.


The previous blogs in the series are listed here:

  1. Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
  2. Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
  3. The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
  4. Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
  5. State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
  6. COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
  7. Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
  8. Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
  9. Urban Heat Islands and Equity
  10. Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
  11. The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
  12. The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience
  13. Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study
  14. Complete Streets: Protecting Public Health
  15. Zoning and Lease Mediation as a Way to Retain Critical Small Businesses
  16. Segregation by Law and the Racial Inequity Pandemic
  17. Combating Food Swamps to Improve Equity and Public Health
  18. The Pandemic Plan for Healthy Buildings
  19. Remediating Distressed Properties to Improve Public Health
  20. Housing, a Crucial Determinant of Health
  21. ADU Introduction
  22. NIMBY Restrictions to Poison the Prospects of Accessory Dwelling Units to Address Housing Insecurity
  23. Zoning to Fill the Missing Middle Housing Gap
  24. Old Tools to Fight Housing Insecurity: Adaptive Reuse and Infill Development
  25. Racial Impact Analyses
  26. A New Era of Equity-Based Comprehensive Planning…Finally
  27. Equity-Based Comprehensive Plans: Land Use Policies to Correct Past Disparities
  28. Reversing the Legacy of Redlining: Reducing Exposure to Toxins and Pollutants Through Land Use Law Reform


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