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The BikePortland Housing Index project: Your map to 5,000 new low-car homes in Portland

Posted by on August 16th, 2013 at 9:43 am

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Homebuilders have discovered low-car life in Portland. But until now, nobody’s made a comprehensive effort to help Portlanders locate low-car homes.

Today, BikePortland is kicking off a project to change that.

Three weeks ago, we laid out one of the biggest problems in Portland right now: it’s had a chronic shortage of rental housing for the last six years, leading to rapidly rising rents and powerless tenants.

The following week, we explained why the Portland real estate market has been shifting so fast toward low-car life: households that include more adults than they do automobiles account for an estimated 60 percent of Portland growth since 2005.

Today, we’re taking the first crack at something a little more concrete: a map of 60 buildings permitted since 2006 — 5,108 housing units among them — that were designed with low-car life in mind.

Click on a pin for details. Buildings marked in green have no on-site auto parking;
buildings marked in yellow have auto parking, but less than one space per unit.
(Data from Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, as of February 2013)

Some of the buildings on the map above, mostly the ones from before the 2008 lending collapse, are condos. Others, mostly the newer ones, are apartment buildings. All of them are color-coded by the amount of on-site auto parking, because that’s the simplest available measure of whether a building is intended to cater to people who get around by bike, foot and transit.

One note of caution: These pins show building permits that were issued as of February 2013, not necessarily buildings that have been built. If you see any whose plans have changed, let us know.

The buildings on this map are all very new. Therefore, the rooms inside them aren’t renting for rates most Portlanders would call cheap: like new cars, new rental units usually peak in price just after construction.

“New construction, it just is more expensive to begin with, and then those structures will filter down over time.”
— Kevin Shively, Nelson\Nygaard

“Those units are going to be on average more expensive than older units,” said Kevin Shively, an associate project planner for transportation planning company Nelson\Nygaard who has been studying the West Coast’s boom in low-car housing. “That’s true with or without the parking. … New construction, it just is more expensive to begin with, and then those structures will filter down over time.”

Even so, for Portlanders who don’t always need quick access to cars, a building with minimal auto parking on site will generally tend to offer the best deal at a given quality and location. That’s because the huge cost of setting aside space for on-site auto parking adds $50 to $300 a month per unit to the rent a developer must charge to break even.

And that leads us to the reason this subject matters to Portlanders who ride bikes. By making it possible for more homes to be built in the central neighborhoods of our city, these buildings are creating a larger supply of a good that’s in very high demand: a home in a bike-friendly neighborhood of Portland. Just as surely as a big new bike lane on a busy street, these new homes are increasing the percentage of Portlanders with access to good biking.

This is why we’re starting a new project, as part of our real estate beat, to systematically create a directory of apartment buildings in Portland, new and old, that have low auto parking ratios, and possibly one or two other key characteristics. Once we figure out exactly which buildings should be in it, here’s what this directory might let us do:

  • Give low-car Portlanders a list of buildings at many price levels where they’re likely to find like-minded neighbors.
  • Give apartment buildings that care about bikes an easy way to communicate this to prospective tenants.
  • Reduce the annoyance to neighbors that would come if these apartments filled entirely with car owners, by making it easier for low-car Portlanders and these buildings to find each other.
  • Map the connection of these apartments to bike infrastructure, so we can show how bikeways are part of urban development.
  • Create a BikePortland housing index of vacancy rates at low-car apartment buildings citywide, helping test whether these buildings are in demand and cluing us into trends in the market.

Gathering data is time-consuming, so the trick to making this index work will be to build it out of housing information that’s useful but not too hard to gather. So though we won’t be able to include every bit of information about an apartment building that would be nice to know, we’d love to hear your suggestions for what elements we should include.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Sky- Velo Cult August 16, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Nice project. We have three that just went up near the shop in the Hollywood area. These apartment buildings are adding a good energy and density to the neighborhood and with Hollywood being a transit center for bikes, trains and busses it makes all kinds of sense.

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  • Anne Hawley August 16, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I’m excited about your new beat, Michael. While I don’t have plans to move myself, everything pertaining to density, parking, transit, and active transportation affects my inner-NE house and the decisions I make about the property. Thanks for the research and insights. I look forward to more!

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  • Chris I August 16, 2013 at 10:29 am

    It’s important that we build new car-free and low-car housing. The only existing stock in the city are all apartment buildings from the early 20th century, that are definitely showing their age. Now, potential buyers and renters have options: older, cheaper places, or newer, nicer ones.

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  • Allan August 16, 2013 at 10:40 am

    2955 NE MLK, 3225 NE MLK, 3250 NE MLK

    I’m curious how you got this list… There are a number of projects in my neighborhood that didn’t make the cut.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 16, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Allan, I got it from Matt Wickstrom of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. It’s based on two database queries he ran during the recent debate over whether to require on-site auto parking at buildings on frequent transit lines outside the central city. If projects were in the development pipeline before February but hadn’t received building permits yet, they wouldn’t be captured here.

      I also set a minimum of 30 dwelling units per permit for inclusion on this map, and a maximum unit:parking ratio of 1:1. I’m not sure what the minimum size will be for buildings in our housing index, but that’s going to be an important decision. For practical reasons, we’re going to be limited to buildings managed by professional companies rather than mom-and-pop landlord/managers, so explicitly restricting this to bigger buildings makes sense.

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      • Allan August 16, 2013 at 2:30 pm

        I guess that makes sense. I’m unsure if the unit minimum is a good idea, a lot of infill didn’t have room to go that big

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  • Adam Gnarls August 16, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Savier Flats made the cut…probably incorrectly. There are two buildings on either side of NW Savier St, one building has no parking, but the main building of the complex has an entire basement devoted to parking, that includes bike parking – lots of it.

    For analysis purposes the numbers should be consolidated for both building permits; I’m assuming permits were issued for the individual buildings, one with no parking and one with a bunch.

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    • Adam Gnarls August 16, 2013 at 11:00 am

      I’m a dummy that doesn’t automatically know where to go in the City’s website to find the number of spaces….but everyones’ favorite daily website reports 134 car parking spaces (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/10/savier_street_flats_will_have.html)

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 16, 2013 at 11:09 am

      Thanks, Adam. I saw those two listings, too, and wondered. I bet you’re right — I’ll work through possible problems like this once a few more people find the lumps in this dataset.

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      • Adam Gnarls August 16, 2013 at 11:21 am

        Great project MIchael…I failed to mention that in my first post. Also my first post states it maybe shouldn’t be on the list, but with only .75 parking spaces/unit and more bike spaces than units (many of the units have a bike hook already installed as well) it certainly seems to belong.

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  • RH August 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

    3711 N Overlook will be a 68 unit apartment with no auto parking. It hasn’t been built yet but is in the design review phase.

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  • Eastsider August 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I hope Amanda Fritz, the newly minted commissioner in charge of the housing bureau, sees this and realizes what a terrible mistake mandatory parking requirements are for urban housing developments in 2013. This decision absolutely must be reversed if we are serious about affordable housing options, active transportation and a sustainable economy.

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    • Michael M. August 17, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      FYI, Fritz is newly in charge of the Bureau of Development Services, not the Portland Housing Bureau. Saltzman (who was the commissioner in charge of BDS) now oversees housing.

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      • Eaststider August 17, 2013 at 1:10 pm

        That’s correct – I meant to say BDS instead of housing. But it will be important for all commissioners to realize what a mistake mandatory parking requirements are because it affects BDS, housing, transportation, equality, etc. We have the lowest rental vacancy rate in the country and our leaders are focused on mandating building space for personal vehicle storage that people do not want and the market is not asking for – what a farce!

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    • Oregon Mamacita August 18, 2013 at 8:50 am

      The new apartments are small, noisy and expensive. Let’s have a map of where people can make 40k a year, because that’s about the income you need for one of these small studios. The citizen pressure for parking minimums was substantial, so don’t expect a reversal. And, Savier is starting with rent concessions, so expect weakening demand for these
      expensive 600 sq foot boxes as more and more places come onto the market. IMHO- the new Eastside places (not close to the real job center- Hilsboro and Beaverton) are a bubble waiting to pop.

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      • Grego August 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

        It’s all the people that want to commute to Nike & Intel that are nabbing these things up!

        Seriously, 40k is not much by any means, but it seems that not many people make it here. Hell. I just lost my 40k year job a month ago. I’ve given up on Portland- moving out to the midwest. Cheaper cost of living and better paying jobs. I am done with this pit.

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  • nuovorecord August 16, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Michael, you are a geek amongst geeks! And, I say that as the highest form of compliment possible. Nice work, as always.

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  • Terry D August 16, 2013 at 11:55 am

    These are apartment buildings built out of gentrification and the displacement of former residents. High Rents and condo HOV fees that, even if you can afford to buy one, make owning out of range of most. We need to update our zoning laws so apartment sized “Tiny homes” can be part of infill though-out Portland.

    Tiny homes are 500 square foot or less in footprint and can be fit above garages, in alleyways, inside built out housing blocks or anywhere you can think of. They are affordable and can be built to “artistic standards.” It is a way to create affordable density though-out Portland without displacing current residents. I wrote an extensive post with links to the “Tiny House Movement” and a “Tiny House Hotel” here in Portland a few days back including a series of suggestions as to how we need to update our residential zoning laws.


    This form of sustainable housing could become the mainstay of low to no car life if we rethink housing infill in residential neighborhoods. Of course, high density mixed use development will still occur on main arterials, but maybe we can keep the character of the current neighborhoods intact this time and not replicate the history of, for example, Albina.

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    • maccoinnich August 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      The Portland Zoning code allows ADUs by default in residential areas, of 800 sq ft maximum. Furthermore, the City Council waives the System Development Charges on them (until 2015, at least). No updating needed.

      Most of the buildings in the map above have been built on previously vacant land, so there is no displacement being caused by new apartments.

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      • Terry D August 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

        I understand the ADA issue and talked about it the post. It is not even close to what we need long term to reach our carbon reduction, density and bike mode share long-term without significant neighborhood displacement if we continue on the current path we are on. There are A whole series of zoning changes that need to be made, as I argue in detail.

        Currently putting them above garages abutting the property line? Not allowed. Multiple tiny homes in the backyards of Westmoreland or Lauralhurst? Ya…right. How about Town-homes of tiny houses along undeveloped gravel roads only accessible by multi-use-paths? Not allowed….we need to INTEGRATE low car lifestyles throughout the city and not just focus on apartment building in the inner city.

        As far as vacant lots go….almost all of those lots at one point had homes on them at some point in the past and were then demolished for one reason or another, but that is not the biggest point I am making.

        Why does living a low car life require expensive condos and rentals? We need better choices which require rethinking the way our residential neighborhoods are structured.

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        • maccoinnich August 16, 2013 at 1:43 pm

          Actually, it is possible to develop to the lot line, just not by default. You need to go through a lot line adjustment, which is the process by which neighbors implicitly give their permission (ie, they get issued a notice, and have a chance to object). I’ve gone through this process, and it’s not difficult. Multiple ADUs on a single lot are not, allowed, true, but there are very few lots that would support that. Terraced/row houses are allowed, but it seems that when developers get chunks of land large enough to support these in the central city, they tend to want to build apartments. Go to Hillsboro/Beaverton if you want to see what lots of small detached houses jammed close together looks like.

          ADUs/tiny houses are all very nice, but they’re not actually a terribly efficient use of land. Apartment buildings are amuch effective way of getting a lot of people into a small area of land. People on BikePortland tend to fetishize Copenhagen/Amsterdam… well, look at the densities of those cities.

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          • Terry D August 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

            The problem is parking minimum requirements….they need to be removed almost everywhere. Then encourage multiple forms of higher density…they complement each other in different situations. One large house, a carriage house and a “Tiny house community” has significantly more density and much more MIXED income than what is currently occurring in neighborhoods like Westmoreland, where the house on a large lot is demolished and subdivided under R2 zoning and multiple, high end, homes are put in its place. This is happening in working class neighborhoods as well, pricing them out of the neighborhoods.

            In what I am proposing the original character and house remains, while reaching a much higher density simultaneously mixing income strata.

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        • Oregon Mamacita August 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

          Terry: you raise an excellent question about why the low-car lifestyle requires expensive condos (for recent problems with downtown condo projections see today’s O). Here is the reason: the city wants more property taxes so it is encouraging large expensive infill houses & expensive condos- to build the tax base. The low-car apartments are lucrative- they make higher profit margin fr the builders, assuming that there is enough demand for small, spendy places where you must park your car on the street. Because the close-in streets are full of low-car folks storing their cars on the streets.

          If there was a real commitment to equity, in-fill houses would be smaller, cheaper and with more yard- not built out to the street.

          BTW- the South Waterfront was a ghost town yesterday. Bleak, bleak bleak. Expensive condos, no residents, no coffee shops. Un-vibrant.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 16, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Sweet project. I do hope it will help City Council to reboot its poorly thought out reaction to the low car apartment issue of late.

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  • Hugh Johnson August 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I think the more these buildings pop up in areas being gentrified, we’ll probably see more arson fires like the one that consumed the unfinished building on MLK and Monroe.

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    • Chris I August 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      And more NIMBYs going to jail, I assume? Sounds like the problem will solve itself.

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  • Craig Harlow August 16, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Staying on top of the Lloyd Blocks development at NE 9th & Multnomah seems like it’s harder than it has to be. It would appear that the city (BDS) hasn’t published anything on-line about the project since it’s hearing notice back in May, yet the project site is now fenced off and demolition vehicles are on-site:


    I’ve requested to be included in updates from via the assigned BDS staff.

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  • dwainedibbly August 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    This is going to be a great project, if it can be done. Good luck!

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  • Cora Potter August 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    No Glisan Commons? that’s 127 units with far fewer parking spaces.

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  • Doug Klotz August 16, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Good job, Michael. I would add to the call for smaller buildings than 30 units (although I think you chose 30 because that’s the new threshold for parking requirements) I think you’re trying to point out that all of these buildings would have parking requirements now.

    However, the lead photo is of the 38th and Division project that was an early example, and it is not included because it is 24 (28?) units. I think buildings with this number of units (done on smaller lots), have a role to fill. Perhaps under-30 buildings could be a different color dot.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 17, 2013 at 11:41 am

      Thanks, Doug. I did have that level in mind, but really the 30 is arbitrary-ish in this case. As dwainedibbly suggests, this could be a hard project to pull off, and the only way it’s going to work is if I have relatively few companies from which to collect vacancy and facility data. The 38th/Division apartment building pictured above is a actually good example of this: it’s managed by the developer rather than a third-party company, something that’s probably possible in part because it’s so small. If we get much smaller than 30 units, we’ll be missing a lot of apartments like this one whether we like it or not. Better to be up-front about that.

      Or maybe that’s not a big deal. Another option would be to let Urban Development Partners and other owners of small buildings opt into the ranking voluntarily … but any self-selection by landlords is going to start skewing the data. I guess it depends on whether we want this directory to be mostly a tool for landlords and tenants to find each other, or mostly a way to gather data on the state of the market.

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  • maxadders August 18, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Yay, more buildings that pay out big profits to developers based on feel-good bullshit that many pay lip service to, but don’t actually preach.

    These projects are, no punched pulled, making Portland worse.

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  • Joe August 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Yay, more buildings that pay out big profits to developers based on feel-good bullshit that many pay lip service to, but don’t actually preach.
    These projects are, no punched pulled, making Portland worse.
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    I’d like specifics how they make Portland worse. Of course developers need to see a profit in whatever they develop otherwise nothing will ever get built. Sorry but that’s how capitalism works.

    I’m just excited that there are these infill buildings getting built. I own a condo in Killingsworth Station and it is listed on the map. It’s great living in a vibrant city with these kinds of developments happening. Take a trip around the US and it is pretty bleak outside of our bubble.

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  • Chris Shaffer August 20, 2013 at 6:55 am

    I wish there were a way to list smaller properties in this list. I own and rent out a low-car duplex built in 1910 in the Buckman neighborhood – the only parking is on-street. The best of the affordable low-car housing in the city are small units built prior to the 1940s.

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  • 9watts August 20, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    Bikeportland’s just getting better all the time! An article right up my alley.

    One thing I’ve not had much luck figuring out is what the car non/ownership patterns of the residents in the newer (no offstreet car parking) buildings are. The estimates from Urban Dev’t Group and from the survey conducted as part of the City’s recent analysis of this topic diverged considerably–for the same building: 1516th NE Hancock (0.3 to 0.7, or thereabouts). I’m sure there are some simple ways to home in on this question, and your focus on this issue reminded me of this.

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