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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.

Open Space

Green Gap

East Portland has 29% fewer public parks per capita than other parts of the city. And many residents lack direct and safe pedestrian access to the parks that do exist.

Whether it's a structured play area, a community garden or a simple green lawn, on-site open space improves residents' quality of life. On-site open space gives kids room to run and play—and to establish healthy physical activity patterns that last a lifetime. Open space gives adults, including busy working parents and seniors, a convenient place to recreate outdoors. It keeps children and older youth from playing in inappropriate areas, where they risk injuring themselves and damaging property. Open space brings residents together, contributing to a shared sense of community and pride of place.

Open Space Benefits

Resident Health
and Wellbeing

Open space keeps kids safe. Without access to safe outdoor play areas, children may play in the street or in your building's parking lot, including between parked cars, where they risk injury and prolonged exposure to exhaust fumes. They may also gravitate to unsafe, unsanitary Dumpsters.

Open space keeps people active. The tremendous health benefits of outdoor play and exercise are well documented. Children, youth and adults lose these benefits when their recreation area is limited to the spaces in front of their computer and television screens.

Open space relieves apartment overcrowding. When larger families squeeze into small dwellings, they fully utilize indoor space for living, sleeping and eating. Usable, covered outdoor space gives large families room to breathe.

Property Performance
and Condition

Open space helps property owners attract and retain tenants. Especially in East Portland, where parks and recreation facilities are scarce, apartments without usable outdoor areas may have difficulty maintaining high occupancy levels and minimizing turnover.

Open space prevents property damage. Dented car doors and overturned garbage bins may result when kids use parking lots and utility areas as substitute playgrounds.

Open space enhances on-site security and decreases unit wear-and-tear. When families spend time outdoors, more eyes are on your property. Likewise, indoor spaces get a break from use; and kids who run around outdoors may have less pent-up energy for indoor roughhousing that could damage your property.


Open Space Solutions

    Management and Maintenance

    Take advantage of existing areas on site by making them more usable.

    Grass seeding or wood chips can make this area an inviting play space.

    • Fence in street-side lawns and landscaping to keep children safe from traffic.
    • Turn muddy, uneven or unlandscaped areas into attractive play spaces through simple regrading and grass seeding; or cover these areas with wood chips or other soft surfaces.
    • Add a basketball hoop to an out-of-the-way corner of your parking lot. (Make sure there is enough space around the court to prevent balls from hitting cars and building walls.)
    • Consider dedicating a couple of parking spots to safe outdoor activity during limited hours of the day.
    • Install picnic tables and benches in an unused open area to give residents a place to sit and socialize in the fresh air and sun.
    • If your property contains an appropriately sloped, south-facing open space, designate it as a vegetable garden and, if desired, add raised beds.

    Make outdoor areas more inviting by keeping them tidy and safe.

    Power Play

    Children who have access to parks, greenspaces and playgrounds have a lower risk of becoming overweight and obese.

    • Prune, mow and trim landscaping.
    • Address deferred maintenance, such as cracks and spalling in pavement.
    • Pick up trash around the site and sweep the parking lot.
    • Remove graffiti as soon as it is reported or observed.

    More Open Space resources.

    Bring a playground to your property

    Portland Parks & Recreation's Summer Playgrounds Program offers games, crafts and sports at parks throughout Portland, free of charge. Portland Parks also runs the Mobile Recreation Program, which brings supervised activities to apartment complexes in Southeast Portland. Interested property owners may contact Jeff Milkes at

    Resident Communication and Education

    Posted rules helps kids use play areas responsibly.

    Establish rules of conduct for common outdoor spaces. Post an attractive sign asking residents to act safely, respect property and pick up after themselves.

    Teach kids to use open space responsibly. Provide a written notice asking residents to remind their children of the following rules:

    • Be safe when playing on site. Always be watchful for cars and people you don't know.
    • Stay within view of your parent or a responsible adult, or let someone know where you're going.
    • Respect each other.
    • Don't damage the property or landscaping.
    • Pick up after yourself.
    • Follow quiet-time hours.
    • Don't play by Dumpsters.

    More Open Space resources.

    Learn what youth want

    We asked young residents at several East Portland apartment complexes to describe their ideal outdoor open space. Visit the Youth Design Workshop page to find out what they said.

    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

    Creatively repurpose unneeded parking spaces. Many properties in East Portland have more parking spaces than are required by code and needed by residents.

    • Repaint part of the parking lot for use as a basketball or foursquare/handball court; kids can use the area for jumping rope and dancing, too.
    • Dig up parking spots and transform the space into a garden, lawn and/or seating area. Ideally, do this in a centrally located area so parents can watch kids from their units.

    Design open spaces that accommodate a variety of age ranges and needs. Creative design can encourage multiple uses for limited spaces.

    Placing seating near play structures makes it easier for parents to supervise children.

    • Install simple, all-purpose surfaces. A play area covered in pervious pavement can be used for playing foursquare, jumping rope and doing bike tricks. A grassy area used for lounging and picnicking can easily be converted to a volleyball or badminton court.
    • Locate seating near play areas, so that children may be supervised by older children or adults.
    • Provide sheltered areas and hard surfaces where kids can play outdoors even on rainy winter days.

    Consider installing a play structure. In the long run, a simple, well-constructed play structure is not very expensive to purchase, maintain and insure. Even a small one can make a big difference for families with kids.

    • Cover a portion of the play structure so residents can use it year-round.

    More Open Space resources.

    Offset the cost of improving your property

    The City of Portland's Multiple-Unit Limited Tax Exemption (MULTE) is a 10-year property tax exemption that lets owners of multifamily housing properties reduce the cost of adding units and making structural improvements. Affordability restrictions and other evaluation criteria apply in this competitive program, which is administered by the Portland Housing Bureau.

    Get assistance digging up unneeded parking spaces

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

    Consider installing pervious pavement

    Pervious pavement has air spaces that allow stormwater to pass through the paving material and infiltrate to the ground. It can make muddy areas more usable without compounding drainage problems. And pervious pavement requires less frequent repair since it resists cracking and buckling.

Rethink This Property

Rethink This Property

Creating Open Space

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 adding and improving open space on a typical site.

Get ideas for creating inviting outdoor spaces. View the Creating Open Space slideshow.

Images by Constructive Form Architecture & Design