print this chapter download report

Healthy Housing
A Handbook for Portland Property Owners

A number of local efforts have recently shined a spotlight on the relationship between the built environment and the health of low-income Portlanders. Poorly designed housing; a lack of sidewalks and safe crossings; and limited access to recreation, schools, nature, places for social interaction, vital services, preventive medical care, and healthy food all contribute to health challenges that disparately affect low-income residents and communities of color.

Food Security

Hunger At Home

Nearly 1 in 4 children in Multnomah County is hungry.

Food security is having good access to affordable, healthy food; it is living free from hunger and fear of hunger. Sadly, many Portlanders don’t know where their next meal will come from. Lack of economic resources is the main cause of food insecurity, but environment also plays a role. In East Portland, people’s homes are often far from markets that sell fresh produce and culturally relevant foods. And for some families, lack of kitchen storage and preparation space makes it difficult to prepare meals at home, which increases their reliance on unhealthy convenience foods.

Food Security Benefits

Resident Health
and Wellbeing

Food security gives kids a better platform for success. Inadequate nutrition significantly impairs children’s health, cognitive development and academic performance.

Food security dramatically improves people’s overall health and wellbeing. Access to healthy food helps prevent physical ailments as well as stress, depression and anxiety.

Food security increases families’ economic stability. Proper nutrition contributes to better performance and higher productivity at work. Proximity to healthy food sources, such as produce markets and community gardens, reduces time and money spent on transportation.


Property Performance
and Condition

Food security reduces pest risks. When apartments lack sufficient food storage and preparation space, residents may leave food out to spoil and attract pests.

Food security decreases garbage volume. Reducing residents’ reliance on processed convenience foods will result in fewer discarded boxes and wrappers.

Food security can reduce unit turnover. Residents save money when they have access to affordable sources of healthy food, such as on-site vegetable gardens. For residents living from paycheck to paycheck, those extra dollars can be the difference between making and missing a rent payment.



Food Security Solutions

    Management and Maintenance

    Garden City

    Portland has 47 volunteer-assisted community gardens, including 7 in East Portland. Visit Portland Parks & Recreation for locations and other information.

    Allow and provide support for on-site gardens. By enabling residents to grow their own food on available space, you’ll encourage tenant retention, increase the marketability of your property and positively impact residents’ health.

    On-site gardens provide nutritious food and help stretch residents’ budgets.

    • Locate gardens in areas with good solar access. Plants need plenty of sunlight.
    • Locate gardens away from high-traffic areas, such as sidewalks and busy roads.
    • Provide a nearby water source.
    • Allow planter boxes on unit balconies, in entryways and in shared open spaces.
    • Provide safe and secure storage for gardening tools.
    • If possible, designate a responsible resident to monitor and maintain the garden, and provide a small rent rebate in return.
    • Consider installing raised beds. In addition to having a tidy appearance, raised beds make gardening easier for residents with disabilities.
    • Check for lead contamination in the soil, particularly if your property is home to many children.

    Create a gardening agreement between you and your residents. A gardening agreement outlines each party’s responsibilities related to the garden. For example:

    • The property owner is responsible for designating specific areas for gardening and for providing water.
    • Residents are responsible for actively maintaining the garden by growing plants, weeding, watering, harvesting and cleaning up at the end of the season.

    Check and maintain kitchen appliances during annual inspections. When refrigerators, ranges and ovens work, residents are better able to prepare healthy, affordable meals at home.

    If you have a community room, allow residents to organize food-buying clubs. Members of these clubs save money by buying bulk food directly from food suppliers.

    More Food Security resources.

    Access free and low-cost help to build gardens

    Growing Gardens is a nonprofit group that builds organic gardens in the backyards of low-income households.

    Independence Gardens is a consulting group that helps people build and care for edible gardens in Portland.

    Resident Communication and Education

    Tell your residents where they can get food boxes, meals and other free nutrition services. Many people who qualify for these programs don’t know they’re eligible. See Resources. Also, encourage residents to call 211 for information about a variety of services, including these important ones:

    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is a government assistance program that helps low-income households pay for food.
    • Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal program that provides a variety of nutrition-related services to women and children under five years of age.

    Remind residents to notify you if kitchen appliances are malfunctioning.

    If you allow gardening on site, give residents written suggestions and guidelines for use of the garden. For example:

    • Consider growing your own food. Gardening will yield healthy food and help you stretch your food budget.
    • Combine resources and share labor with your neighbors to maximize the productivity of your garden.
    • Respect others’ labor: Only harvest food that you grow.
    • Use creative containers, such as old kitchen pots, to grow food. Group the containers together so your plants will be easy to maintain and harvest.
    • If you plant a garden, be sure to maintain it. Regular weeding and watering will produce more food and prevent your patch from becoming an eyesore to neighbors.
    • Gardening can help reduce stress and beautify your community!

    If establishing a garden isn’t feasible on your property, direct residents to the nearest community garden or food-buying club.

    More Food Security resources.

    Make the most of your garden space

    Visit Square Foot Gardening to learn tips for growing food in small spaces.

    Get the word out to non-English-speaking residents

    Provide translations of notices and signs in residents’ own languages. Consider using pictures and icons to communicate across multiple languages. Or ask bilingual residents, including youth, to verbally pass along the information to others in their language community.

    Design and Construction

    Repurpose unneeded parking spaces as gardening plots. Many properties in East Portland have more parking spaces than are required by code and needed by residents. Creative use of this space can make your property healthier for current and future residents.

    Containers help keep on-site gardens tidy.

    • Dig up parking spots or simply place planting containers directly atop paved areas.
    • Select spots with good solar access and a nearby water source.
    • Call the City of Portland’s Brownfield Program if you need help determining the feasibility and/or safety of developing your site for gardening.

    Ensure residents have plenty of food storage and preparation space.

    • Design kitchens so that they have sufficient shelf space, and make sure shelves have high vertical clearance.
    • Make it easier for residents to cook at home by providing adequate counter space next to the refrigerator, sink and stove.
    • If possible, lay out kitchens so they have a work triangle of 12 to 26 linear feet of open floor space between the centers of the refrigerator, stove and sink. Each leg of the triangle should be between four and nine feet.
    • If there is extra space in living rooms, hallways or elsewhere, add storage shelves or cupboards. Extra storage space doesn’t have to be in the kitchen.

    More Food Security resources.

    Get assistance digging up unneeded parking space

    Depave is a Portland nonprofit that helps people remove unnecessary pavement to create community greenspaces and mitigate stormwater runoff.

    Qualify for a storage-area density bonus

    The City of Portland offers housing developers a 5% density bonus—i.e., permission to build 5% more housing units than allowed by code on a particular site—in exchange for supplying residents with sufficient storage space. Consider this option if you’re adding more units to your site. Sufficient storage space for kitchens is defined as follows:

    Drawer space: 20 square feet

    Shelf space: 50 square feet, with at least 12 inches of vertical clearance

Rethink This Property

Rethink This Property

Making Space for Gardens

Health-related design solutions for real East Portland apartment complexes.

We asked a team of architects to recommend health-related design solutions for real East Portland apartment complexes. These drawings show some simple ideas for creating space to grow food.

Get ideas for creating garden plots in unused outdoor spaces. View the Making Space for Gardens slideshow.

Images by Constructive Form Architecture & Design