Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Will Portland’s rising rents squeeze out low-car life?

Posted by on October 21st, 2013 at 10:45 am

Yellow and orange neighborhoods are in the early stages of
gentrification and displacement; purple and blue, in later stages.
(Image: Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.)

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As California’s tech boom spills into Portland, there’s a growing fear among housing developers and advocates that the bad parts of the Bay — displaced cultures, closet-sized bedrooms and sprawling commutes for the many who can’t afford to live near work — might be on the way, too.

“We could become San Francisco,” Portland Housing Bureau program coordinator Kim McCarty said Friday at a conference organized by Housing Land Advocates about the role of transportation in affordable housing.

It’d be a shift that, if mismanaged, could pull the Portland neighborhoods that are relatively bike-friendly out of financial reach for much of the population.

On one wall was a map of Portland neighborhoods, color-coded by their residents’ vulnerability to being involuntarily forced to move (above).

The cause of the change, speakers seemed to agree, is also the Portland region’s economic strength: since around the turn of the century, more and more people seem to want to live here.

“Lots of people are moving here, which is creating more demand for housing,” explained Matthew Gebhardt of Portland State University’s School of Urban Studies and Planning. “More people moving to the area means more demand at every single price point. … Vacancy rates are very low. There’s not enough units to meet the demand of just the regular housing market, much less the affordable housing market.”

The latest Census figures, Gebhardt said, show that Portland’s nation-leading shortage of rental units continued in 2012.

A new wave of 6,000 new urban apartments starting to arrive on the market, Gebhardt said, are largely being financed by “institutional investors” such as pension and insurance funds who see the potential for long-term payoff as local rents keep climbing.

“The people who rent from us want to live there because they either want to get to work or want to get a date.”
— Eric Cress, Urban Development Partners

New construction may release some pressure from the system and slow the overall rise of rents, Gebhardt said. But in the short term, the buildings aren’t lowering average prices in the city; just the opposite. Because they tend to be higher-priced per square foot than the buildings they replace, the immediate effect is to raise average rents.

“The development community is responding to the pressure for market-rate units, but not for affordable units,” he said.

Eric Cress of Urban Development Partners, a local company that specializes in building and managing upscale low-car apartment buildings on the east side, didn’t disagree. Central-city rentals are attractive, he said, and people are willing to pay for them.

“The people who rent from us want to live there because they either want to get to work or want to get a date,” he said.

Few speakers at Friday’s event seemed confident of any particular solution to the rising price of Portland life.

Eric Cress and Justin Buri talk at Friday’s
Housing Land Advocates conference.

One conference attendee and HLA board member, Community Alliance of Tenants Deputy Director Justin Buri, said the logical response to a surge of developer investment would be to redirect some of that wealth toward constructing housing that would be required to be offered below the market price.

“In general, the in-migration is a benefit, because it gives us resources,” Buri said.

Buri said he hopes that Housing Land Advocates might be able to form an alliance with some developers: If developers throw political support behind policies such as inclusionary zoning, then that organization or its allies could mobilize their supporters to attend public hearings and rebut “not-in-my-backyard” opposition from nearby homeowners.

“Housing and transportation are two that are really tightly related,” Buri said. “It’s good to see more attention being paid in the area to the way the two work together.”

Clarification 12:54 pm: Buri’s concept of an alliance with developers referred mostly to his role with Housing Land Advocates and only secondarily to his job with Community Alliance of Tenants.

— The Real Estate Beat is a weekly column. Read more here, and don’t forget next week’s real estate Wonk Night, sponsored by Omission Beer, to discuss reforming Portland’s bike parking code.

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  • Andrew Seger October 21, 2013 at 10:58 am

    This is a great post and a fantastic image by the P&S folks. Though I am curious how a richer inner city will squeeze out low car life. Are you suggesting that because people with the means to own and drive a car are moving into formerly poorer parts of town there will be an uptick in miles driven? The tremendous growth of biking in most of the blue and purple areas on that map would seem to argue against that.

    Considering TriMet doesn’t glean any more money from higher property values, I do wonder how we’ll fund better transit to at least partly counter the effect of being pushed further out.

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    • Chris Smith October 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

      I think the risk is not that we won’t have low-car life, but that it will be something that you have to make enough money to be able to afford!

      This is a key issue for the work we’re doing now on the comprehensive plan. We’re trying to address this in several ways:

      1) Make sure affordable housing is available in ALL neighborhoods (authority from the legislature for inclusionary zoning would help a lot)
      2) Make more jobs available in East Portland. Commercial development in Lents and Gateway could help this a lot, as could the location of new industrial zones.
      3) Help develop more/stronger neighborhood centers in East and West Portland so you can get groceries, etc. in a low-car way.
      3) Provide better transit access in East Portland. I think Bike-to-transit could be a strong low-car option in East Portland.

      Be sure to plug in to the Comp Plan process and give your input!

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      • Jonathan R October 21, 2013 at 11:33 am

        Yes, this is the problem we have in New York City. Bicycle amenities (among other things) are credited with making Manhattan apartments even more desirable, therefore more expensive. Hard cheese for lower-income folks who would like to be able to live walking distance from work.

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      • Stretchy October 21, 2013 at 11:42 am

        My neighbor owns a business in the inner SE. He employs about a dozen skilled workers (skilled manual labor) and his biggest concern is that the city will force him to move to make way for coffee houses and overpriced McCondos.

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        • Oregon Mamacita October 21, 2013 at 9:51 pm

          He is a dying breed. Dow Disaster Restoration, the handy appliance parts store (they had everything) it all becomes a bar. I hope Langlitz Leathers can stay. All the car repair places on Division (gasp) employed blue collar guys, who are not welcome in the neighborhood anymore. I don’t want to count all the little manufacturing places that no longer fit the image of the brave, new Portland. Remember that inexpensive furniture store? It’s a restaurant now. All we can do is stuff our faces with expensive ramen
          and ride our cargo bikes to Ikea. Just kidding. Y’all drive.

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          • Brian October 22, 2013 at 6:18 am

            Not to mention the Palm Reader, now a brewpub.

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        • Alex Reed October 22, 2013 at 7:37 am

          It’s not the City forcing some older businesses out, it’s the market. If your friend wants his business to stay in the neighborhood, he needs to make money on something approaching the scale of these other businesses that are competing for the same space. When he started his business in the Inner Southeast, his business license didn’t come with a promise from the universe that nothing would ever change in his neighborhood and he would never have to adapt.

          There are plenty of blue-collar businesses left in the inner southeast. Hawthorne Auto Repair does a pretty penny because it welcomes women customers and cares about the environment. Bike repair jobs are blue-collar too and there are tons of those. And there are hardware stores on Hawthorne and Division which seem to be doing quite well, if the steady stream of customers clearly willing to pay high prices for convenience and service is any guide.

          I hope your friend’s business can adapt to the times and thereby stay in the same area! Best of luck to him and his employees.

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          • Stretchy October 22, 2013 at 8:35 am

            Actually, his concern is the city, not the market. His business makes money but, the city has the power to zone him out of existence. He has new condos and hipster shops going in all around him and he’s worried they will complain about the truck traffic going to and from his shop. Thus, the city will fine and ordinance him out of business, not the market.

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            • Alex Reed October 22, 2013 at 9:07 am

              Oops, I guess I responded from ideology without knowing the true facts. Sorry!

              Sounds like there is a potential conflict of uses in that area. Hard to even have an opinion about which uses should be prioritized without knowing more. I would hope that if the City decided to rezone his property, it would be relatively nice with the zoning thing and “grandfather” older businesses in with non-conforming use clauses (AKA you can keep doing what you’re doing, but if you do major renovations, you need to conform to the new zoning and stop having tons of trucks). I don’t know if that’s actually the way the City works though….

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            • matt picio October 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm

              Stretchy, you can’t lay all the zoning blame on the city. Portland is required by law to adhere to Metro’s zoning mandates. So, his concern is the regional government, the county, the city, *and* the market. These issues are never as simple as people make them out to be, and changing things at any of those 4 levels doesn’t guarantee the problem will be effectively addressed.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 21, 2013 at 11:51 am

        That’s a useful reframing around wealth, Chris — though I’d add that the car ownership rates in neighborhoods like the Pearl and cities around the country suggest to me that when you put higher-income people in low-car neighborhoods, they still use cars a lot. In that sense, making low-car-friendly neighborhoods unaffordable is bad for the planet and for taxpayers as well as bad for poorer households: the marginal social benefits of making low-car life accessible to poor people are greater than the marginal benefits of making it accessible to rich people.

        In other words, rising rents can also squeeze out low-car life in general *in addition* to squeezing poorer people out.

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        • wsbob October 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

          “…car ownership rates in neighborhoods like the Pearl and cities around the country…” Michael Andersen (News Editor)

          In walkable neighborhoods like the Pearl, I wonder how many miles car owning residents of that neighborhood actually drive compared to people living in less walkable neighborhoods, such as outlying suburbs.

          There are cost and area use issues associated with car ownership, but if car owners living in a walkable neighborhood helps them substantially reduce the number of weekly, monthly and yearly miles they must travel by car, this is probably a good thing.

          As for relative wealth effectively pushing out modest income low car or no car residents from their neighborhoods, possibly to neighborhoods whose available employment opportunities and services make low car or no car lifestyle impractical…that’s not a good thing.

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          • davemess October 21, 2013 at 1:16 pm

            Bob, I think the question isn’t it good those people in the Pearl aren’t driving as much, it’s more of couldn’t those buildings been inhabited with people who might have less money and not drive AT ALL.

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            • wsbob October 21, 2013 at 7:29 pm

              “…couldn’t those buildings been inhabited with people who might have less money and not drive AT ALL.” daveness

              I suppose the answer to that question would have to do with whether the Pearl could ever have stood a chance of being successfully developed in large part for people that have less money. Maybe rent control could help do it. Also is probably a question of whether low income housing districts consisting of tower housing, can be economically feasible, and can avoid the fate of some of this countries’ more notorious housing project disasters.

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              • Chris Smith October 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm

                The Pearl WAS – in part – developed for people with less money. 30% of all the housing units in the Pearl are affordable, funded in large part by the property taxes generated by the units that sell at market rates. It’s one of our city’s affordable housing success stories. And generally the affordable buildings match the urban form of the other buildings. You’d be hard pressed to walk around the Pearl and tell which buildings are affordable housing and which are market housing.

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              • wsbob October 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm

                The “…not drive AT ALL.” part of daveness’s question/statement: Is it thought that in the Pearl district, the city is satisfactorily and sufficiently meeting the demand from residents of this type? That is, those that don’t drive at all.

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              • wsbob October 21, 2013 at 11:01 pm

                Sorry about the name misspelling, should have read: The “…not drive AT ALL.” part of davemess’s question/statement:

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              • maccoinnich October 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm

                The Pearl, despite its reputation, does have a large number of low income people. The median income in the Pearl is below that of the City as a whole.

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          • Oregon Mamacita October 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm

            You don’t know many rich people, do you? They drive to the mountains and Cannon Beach and the Mac Club. So what if they have the groceries delivered. Big whoop. Those Pearl District condos have lots of bathrooms and square footage per person, and it’s a joke that they’re green. They are toaster ovens without air conditioning. But it was never, ever about the environment. Follow the money. And the Porsches in the garages.

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            • 9watts October 22, 2013 at 8:42 am

              So much anger; such a broad brush.
              When we bought our shoebox (without air conditioning, and built in the 19th Century) in the inner SE ten years ago no one else bid on it. It wasn’t considered a real house, too small. We got it for less than the asking price.
              Small is the way to go.

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          • Eavan Moore October 23, 2013 at 5:59 am

            This is purely anecdotal, but of the three of my friends living in the highly walkable NW 21st/23rd area a few years ago, two of them drove almost everywhere they went. Their commute was still car-driven because transit was close to them but not to their workplaces; they walked to get groceries and for occasional restaurant/coffee-shop outings, but they had friends everywhere else in the city and drove a ton. One had a great income, one had a very low income. The third, carless friend moved there in order to walk almost everywhere she went, but she couldn’t afford to live any further north than W Burnside.

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      • Oregon Mamacita October 21, 2013 at 12:33 pm

        In terms of affordability, why are we permitting 4000 sq. houses with 3 bathrooms on small lots? We should mandate smaller houses and some trees. A 1500 sq. house 2 bathrooms with some yard would be more affordable- and greener. People who can afford or need big houses will still have supply.
        Back to my beef: moneyed interests drive density- in a bad direction.

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        • Beth October 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm

          It’s tough to mandate living standard norms in a Capitalist economy. Someone will always balk, and instist that it’s their right to live large. And in a Capitalist economy, they’re technically correct. Not sure how to change a paradigm based on the idea of a social contract when the very concept seems to be falling out of fashion…

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          • spare_wheel October 21, 2013 at 1:54 pm

            assuming we still live in a democracy we have the right to elect individuals who will implement rent control, legal protection of renter’s rights, increased progressive property taxes, increased progressive building permit fees, and increased tax/monetary incentives for low income housing.

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        • wsbob October 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm

          “In terms of affordability, why are we permitting 4000 sq. houses with 3 bathrooms on small lots? We should mandate smaller houses and some trees. A 1500 sq. house 2 bathrooms with some yard would be more affordable- and greener. …” Oregon Mamacita

          Tax revenue. City makes money on that thar infill. Maybe you propose citing the 1500 sq. house 2 bathrooms with some yard, on a lot smaller than the standard size 5000 sq ft lot; a size that means a decent sized yard in front and in back of the house. Maybe you have some thoughts about mandating instead to preserve yard/greenspace, that urban mini-mansions’ footprint not exceed more than 1700 sq ft, but can build up to three stories, row house style.

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        • Chris I October 21, 2013 at 7:28 pm

          I think the better question, is why are we zoning these large lots for single family homes, when several smaller homes could be built in the same space? You remove the single-home requirement on a standard lot, and you won’t see as many of these monster houses.

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          • Oregon Mamacita October 21, 2013 at 10:05 pm

            They are dividing lots and shoving two McMansions in, generally at prices twice as high as the surrounding properties. They need to mandate smaller homes and mandate permeable driveways and some yard and tree cover. But that would not please the developers, so expect more McMansions until the next bubble burst. Packing houses in like sardines leads to crappy yards that can’t support plants. Treeless stretches of townhomes suck.

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            • A.K. October 22, 2013 at 9:17 am

              Funny, over in Brooklyn just up the side street from the Bear Paw a developer did exactly that. Tore one house down, and built two HUGE square houses that take up almost the entire lot – no yard space really. Both houses were listed for something like $450,000.

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              • davemess October 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm

                That’s not unique. It’s happening all over the city. Even out by me in outer SE and east portland.

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          • wsbob October 21, 2013 at 11:19 pm

            Referring back to one of Oregon Mamacita’s statements: “…A 1500 sq. house 2 bathrooms with some yard would be more affordable- and greener. …”.

            Chris I …what lot size are you talking about…how many sq ft will the footprint of each of the several homes be, that you propose to put on the lot…how much yard or green space on the lot will remain after the total sq ft of the several homes footprints are added together?

            It can be difficult to develop housing that’s affordable, that efficiently uses land space, and that doesn’t consume nearly every scrap of land that otherwise may be used for a yard or trees.

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        • Mike October 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm

          Why are we permitting single family homes? Why not mandate higher rise, higher quality, greener structures that can hold multiple families. Then you have even more room for trees.
          Then mandate that you cannot own a vehicle, but must own at least enough bicycle capacity to transport your entire family.

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      • davemess October 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm

        Chris, aren’t we pretty much already there? The rents/house prices in inner Portland are higher than most who earn Portland’s sagging incomes can afford. Thus we’re seeing 12 20-somethings renting out closets in houses, as they scrape by on $15-20k/yr.

        When looking to buy a house last year we quickly realized we couldn’t afford to live inside of 50th on the east side. Our only options were MontaVilla and Brentwood-Darlington.

        i agree it could get worse. But I don’t really know what the city can particularly do about it. Supply and demand at work right now, and frankly should everyone be able to afford to live in these inner neighborhoods? My solution would go more the opposite direction and look to build up infrastructure in other areas of the city which have been neglected.

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        • spare_wheel October 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm

          there is absolutely nothing wrong with closets — they just need to be more affordable closets. the 1400-3000 square foot homes favored by the upper classes are part of the problem, not the solution.

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          • Mossby Pomegranate October 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

            A 1400 sq-ft. house is in the realm of “upper class”? Wow! I’ve been upgraded! : )

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            • spare_wheel October 22, 2013 at 7:44 am

              What percentage of humanity can afford to live in a 1400+ square foot home?

              Is your lifestyle creating a sustainable future for your children or the children of your friends and relatives?

              Does living in a 1400+ square foot home make you happier than someone living in a smaller home?

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              • Mossby Pomegranate October 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm

                Sustainable? Meh who cares. My old 50’s house in east Portland is the least of our problems.

                Sometimes it’s about getting the space you need for your family at a price you can afford.

                Yeah it would be nice if we could afford the latest and greatest inner city “green” palace, and shoehorn everybody into it, but that just ain’t gonna happen.

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            • wsbob October 22, 2013 at 10:31 am

              “What percentage of humanity can afford to live in a 1400+ square foot home? …” spare_wheel

              How few square feet of housing per person should humanity be restricted to living in? A 1400 sq ft home isn’t very large when it’s shared by a four or five person family. Growing up, my family of five people lived in a 1200 sq ft house. It always seemed kind of small.

              Groups of people can adapt to living together in smaller areas than that, if that’s the objective or the simple financial reality they face. Personally, I prefer to have a little more than 250 sq ft to live in, and I think many other people do too. Knowing something about the per capita sq ft of living space for a given ‘no-car’ district, could be worth looking for.

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              • spare_wheel October 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm

                this society directly subsidizes large homes at the expense of small homes via unequal fees, permits, taxes, and a truly enormous tax credit. all of these financial inequalities are simply ways of redistributing income from the bottom quintiles to the top quintiles (who tend to home loan/own).

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      • 9watts October 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm

        “low-car life […] will be something that you have to make enough money to be able to afford!”

        I hope we can actively work against this becoming true. As we’ve discussed here dozens of times, just because ‘everyone, even the poor’ drives doesn’t mean it is a good bargain, prudent, fiscally responsible, or that it has any future. The chief reason people drive, whether they are poor and can’t really afford to or rich, is habit & generations of cultural and infrastructural bias toward autodom. I don’t think it is about being rich enough to bike or eschew the car, but about figuring out how to live that way. Sure there are constraints that the poor invariably feel disproportionately, but I bet that a closer look at this would reward us with tons of useful insights about the variation across every income tier.

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  • IanC October 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

    For Rent: 24sq ft cob house, formerly garden shed and play house, lovingly restored. Close in SE Portland. Walk to shops! Bike to work! Composting toilet or knock on neighbor’s door. No heat, but cool little shelves to put candles on. $575 (first + last, security deposit of $400). No pets (but plenty of local racoons to bond with).

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    • annefi October 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      Well done!

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    • Aaron October 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

      In addition, I’m selling a 170 sq. ft. tiny house with passive solar design, full kitchen, optional composting toilet, and able to be moved with a pickup truck. I built this out of material that I hauled over by bike trailer.

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  • Bjorn October 21, 2013 at 11:09 am

    The city could help the problem by doing more to remove the barriers to building accessory dwelling units. They are continuing to waive the large (10k+) fee associated right now but there are still a ton of rules about how the building has to look, where it can be placed, etc that are much more restrictive than they need to be. I’ve been looking into adding an ADU but it is not easy to even figure out what is allowed.

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  • AMA October 21, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Problem: Demand for housing is pushing up costs.
    Solution: Build more housing

    Even the densest neighborhoods with the best transit service in Portland have vacant lots that have been sitting empty for decades. We aren’t talking about bulldozing Victorians in Buckman (at least we shouldn’t be). Just fill in the vacant lots! Come on developers, you can do it. Stick a 4 story condo on my block. I dare you. No seriously. I’ll show up at the neighborhood meetings and speak in favor. I believe in you!

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    • Nick Falbo October 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      As Gebhardt said in the article, by building at high-end price points “… the immediate effect is to raise average rents.”

      At best, new market rate construction will only slow the increase in rent, unless the builders severely overbuild.

      Slowing the increase of rent is a good thing, and we should definitely build in the vacant lots, but don’t kid yourself in to thinking it’s going to lower rents or somehow make inner neighborhoods more affordable for all Portlanders.

      Housing policy in US cities is broken, and even our best tool (inclusionary zoning) won’t solve the problem of middle class families being pushed out of inner neighborhoods.

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      • AMA October 21, 2013 at 12:25 pm

        Define “overbuild.” If we build enough high end product to satisfy demand at that level, this will mean that there is less demand down-market. Possibly, this will mean that it takes a long time for high-end product to clear, but it will also keep prices lower at all levels of the scale.

        “Overbuilding” in the central city seems like a relatively good problem to have.

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      • spare_wheel October 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm

        taxing the living f*** out of the rich will.

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        • Mike October 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm

          Tax the living f*** out of everyone!
          Seriously, 15-20% is not enough for all the services we are provided.

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      • Alex Reed October 21, 2013 at 5:27 pm

        Isn’t slowing the increase in rent to something in line with overall regional economic growth exactly the goal? Couldn’t we more or less say we’re done messing with real estate at that point and get back to working on getting poor people more resources to help them afford the market rates?

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        • spare_wheel October 22, 2013 at 7:32 am

          so you want to rely on the “efficient” and “rational” markets that blew serial economy-tanking bubbles?

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          • davemess October 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm

            As opposed to government mandated housing requirements? What’s your solution?

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  • Steve B October 21, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Fantastic article, Michael.

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  • Brad October 21, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Let’s review…

    Portland markets itself as both “bike friendly” and “America’s It Town!” and nearly doubles the metro population over two decades.

    Portland creates bike plans that focus almost solely on close-in neighborhoods with little or no connectivity to the outer neighborhoods or suburbs.

    Inner neighborhoods become hot and expensive. This forces working class people and their families (who would benefit most from bike commuting/public transit) to the outer neighborhoods and ‘burbs for affordable housing.

    TriMet makes efficient mixed mode commuting virtually impossible through a lack of bike transport options, crowding, and less than convenient schedules while trimming service to outlying areas.

    Portland continues to milk “look how cool we are!” mentality by supporting more and more expensive trendy housing options (with secure climate controlled bike parking!!!) to effectively (and by design, I think.) become San Francisco del Norte.

    Congestion and air pollution get progressively worse as many have no other choice but to use cars for their daily commute as bike/transit become a rather unworkable option for many. Further, many of those that are buying up and renting the “cool” housing in the city never ride a bike and DRIVE to their high paying jobs out in Washington County.

    Proposed solution? A meager handful of “affordable” subsidized rental units that seemingly are snapped up by well heeled retirees, service workers, young professionals, and students rather than the working class families they are intended for.

    Who benefits from all of Portland’s supposed new urbanist charms? Those that can already afford them and still use cars most of the time plus a handful of folks that are able to game the system.

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    • gutterbunnybikes October 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      The city and the planners don’t really care who gets pushed out, there is a Max line to Gresham, and Hillsboro, and soon Milwaukie/Oregon City for people to move to.

      “Let them ride Max” is the mantra of the developers and the city planners have here. Always has been always will be. And once all the good properties are taken, max lines will be extended further out, opening up Gesham, Hillsboro, and Milwaukie for gentrification.

      It sounds like I’m against it, but I’m not. Having grown up in Detroit I’ve seen what the suburban sprawl will do and the scorched earth it leaves behind when people don’t invest and rebuild the old neighborhoods. And really it’s much worse on the poor than gentrification is, because they get isolated and shut out as the sprawl continues outward and they can’t afford to move, but all the stores and employment have moved out too, soon after that public services get dropped and you’re living in a ghost town.

      Plus living in an area that is about to take off, I can’t say that I’m not going to benefit at some point when the housing prices really start taking off in the middle East side here in the next couple years. My little 840 sq foot 2 bd/1 bath will be worth some dough then (though I might knock it down and build a duplexs/town house on it (since I’d make more renting the two units than selling one- even been talking to a neighbor in perhaps doing both lots. Don’t know well see where it goes.

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      • Terry D October 22, 2013 at 8:15 am

        Living in an area that HAS taken off, it is good if you have to refinance, have a rental or have to sell…..but for those new in the neighborhood you have too either be a careered professional, inherit or rent a room. We want to try to fix this.

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        • davemess October 22, 2013 at 1:22 pm

          Shouldn’t the issue then increasing employment and wages in Portland be just as important?

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  • Chris Sanderson October 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Dear Bay Area Readers. Don’t move here. The rain in the winter here is simply awful, and you would hate it. Please stay right where you are.

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  • Kiel Johnson
    Kiel Johnson October 21, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I’d love to read more about inclusionary housing policies and the history of them in Portland. Who and how exactly did they pass a law against mandatory inclusion? I’d also be interested in reading more about how they work in california. what happened to the second low income housing development in south waterfront? what are the car usage rates for people in gray’s landing vs other buildings?

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    • Bob K October 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm

      The short story is that in 1999, home builders and realtors ganged up to push it through the Oregon state legislature. Oregon is one of two states to ban inclusionary zoning. Can you guess the other? Texas. Great company we keep.

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    • i ride my bike October 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      You realize inclusionary zoning drives up the cost of housing for everyone else by subsidizing the units for a lucky select few. Driving up the market rate housing squeezes out the middle class for only very wealthy people who can afford their own home and to subsidize another for someone else.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 21, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    When a lower income family in an inner neighborhood is replaced by a higher income family in the same house, does car use really go up much?

    For the reading I’ve done, it seems that lower-income families own and use cars at a rate pretty close to higher-income families. If you control for location, the difference might be even smaller.

    Take commuting for example: in Portland, 81.6% of all employees commute by car, and for employees earnings less than $15K/yr that is 71.3%. That is not a big difference. Now think about how the car-heavy bedroom ‘burbs skew to higher-income (Forest Heights, Beaverton, etc). I suspect that if you compared “all employees” in the inner neighborhoods to “<$15K employees" in the same neighborhoods, the difference in car mode would be less that 10 percentage points.


    When a few old houses in an inner neighborhood are replaced by a four story infill apartment building, then car use surely does go up, simply because the apartment building houses 10X as many people as the old single-family houses. But for the same reason, bicycle use and mass transit use also go up. That is density at work.

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    • Chris I October 21, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      And as housing density increases, parking density can’t possibly catch up. The street spots never increase, and off-street parking is added at a rate less than 1 per unit. So eventually, the parking market becomes completely saturated, and all added residents can’t drive. This is where we will see major gains in transit, cycling and walking.

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  • maccoinnich October 21, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    The City of Portland has 3 times the area of San Francisco, but only 75% of the population. There’s no reason that growth can’t be accommodated within the city limits, as long we don’t pay too much attention to those who think it’s inappropriate to have 5 story buildings on commercial corridors such as Division or Fremont.

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    • spare_wheel October 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm

      until the voting public mandates public financing of campaigns we will get nothing but plutocracy.

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      • maccoinnich October 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm

        Amanda Fritz was (originally) elected through Portland’s now defunct voter owned elections law, and was quite happy to side with the anti-density activists. I’m not sure that’s better.

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    • gutterbunnybikes October 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Bring em on. I live off Division, and would love more commercial mixed use lots near by. I even like the 5 story cap (though no more than that).

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  • Todd Hudson October 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Betteridge’s law of headlines.

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  • Dave October 21, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    QUESTION PROPERTY RIGHTS–we have reached the point where Milton Friedman has nothing to teach us but Karl Marx has at least a little.

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  • kittens October 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I will never own a house in Portland. It’s impossible with the meager living I make and debt from school. I am 31 underemployed with a massive school debt.
    By this age, my parents had married, my dad was a professional, mom stayed at home, they owned a car and a nice split-level in a decent part of town. Though the standards of the good life have changed, stability has not and the need to housing is key.
    They say ours is the lost generation, and I believe them.

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    • Nick Falbo October 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      Psst… don’t tell anyone, but houses are still cheap around/past 82nd.

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      • Todd Hudson October 21, 2013 at 5:20 pm

        I have been interested in Madison South for quite some time. Downtown is still bike-able and it’s a neat neighborhood.

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      • gutterbunnybikes October 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm

        Won’t be for long either. Get em while you can, the artsy types and recent immigrants (phase one of the gentrification ladder) are already moving in. Smaller and younger families are next (which makes the schools better)….

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      • davemess October 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm

        Nick is completely right. Compared to every other West coast city (and much of the rest of the country) houses here can still be found for very low prices. Many can’t imagine living past 39th though, which is what you need to do (actually more like past 82nd).

        Many in this city though will NOT compromise on location.

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    • Terry D October 22, 2013 at 8:52 am

      The question is could you afford something like this:


      If the city allow owners to co-op their properties and convert or built cheaply energy efficient “Tiny Homes” or condos of less than 800 square feet the house payments could be lower than your current rent. We need to update our zoning lows to work with the new economy or else people like you will be forced to live in the suburbs which will defeat the entire purpose of making Portland as active transportation friendly as possible.

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  • dwainedibbly October 21, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    I think for a while, unless rents get way, way high, they will help encourage low-car lifestyles. People will realize that they don’t need a car and will get rid of it.

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  • Curt October 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    I’ll add that 50 years of suburbanization has left us with a huge glut of auto-oriented communities. Those surpluses keep prices for that lifestyle artificially low. Low car living in Portland, just as anywhere else, is rare, so people are willing to pay a premium for it. When low car living takes root elsewhere and becomes more common, prices for it should come down.

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  • Tom McTighe October 21, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    If you live in a basement, you’re not alone: http://basementdweller.me/

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  • Reza October 22, 2013 at 1:18 am

    A major factor that deserves more recognition in this discussion is the impact our skeletal transit network has in foreclosing neighborhoods that otherwise would be desirable for those without a car. TriMet’s lack of investment in its core frequent service bus network hurts low-car/no-car mobility. Not just the long transit headways, but the relatively short duration of service. Having to wait 20 minutes or more on the weekends or evenings means that you live by a schedule.

    As the familiar refrain goes, frequency is freedom.

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  • Dave October 22, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Then, it’s probably time to question capitalist economics.

    It’s tough to mandate living standard norms in a Capitalist economy. Someone will always balk, and instist that it’s their right to live large. And in a Capitalist economy, they’re technically correct. Not sure how to change a paradigm based on the idea of a social contract when the very concept seems to be falling out of fashion…
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  • Dave October 22, 2013 at 7:26 am

    This means that it’s time to artificially raise the cost of driving to make the behavior less appealing along with changing land use and employment laws so that nobody feels like they “have to” drive to keep a job or to afford housing within a reasonable distance of their work. Ready for Kalama and Longview to become commuter suburbs, otherwise?
    I’ll add that 50 years of suburbanization has left us with a huge glut of auto-oriented communities. Those surpluses keep prices for that lifestyle artificially low. Low car living in Portland, just as anywhere else, is rare, so people are willing to pay a premium for it. When low car living takes root elsewhere and becomes more common, prices for it should come down.
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  • Terry D October 22, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Yesterday morning before this great article came out we posting a link at https://www.facebook.com/COPINGWithBikes Talking about a $32,000 garage conversion to a fully functional studio in Seattle. We received over 130 views in a matter of a few hours.

    Our housing zoning laws have not been updated since the advent of the “Car is King” culture. There has been inclusionary zoning attempts at affordable housing, bike parking facility requirements, and commercial bike upgrades but no real “low car residential housing” other than in newly built multiplexes.

    What we need is a “Greenway Eco-Housing Zoning Overlay” that would be similar to ADU’s (Accesory dwelling units) but with a lot more flexibility. ADU’s can not be detached garage conversions, butt up to the property line, have to face the street which eliminates alleys,and have to look like the primary house. There are all sorts of other restrictions.

    We would like to create an “affordable eco-housing zoning overlay” that once the active transportation infrastructure is up to par enough for a neighborhood, the residences zoned R2 or Higher could then Co-op or condo their lots and build small low-carbon consuming homes on the space those dilapidated garages stand. It could even be expanded to duplex or town-housing existing structures.

    Instead of tear down and rebuild LARGER let us make it easy and cheap to add on more units or small Eco-Homes catering to the younger car-free crowd. This will not stop the demolition and rebuilt, but ti could stem it and create more mixed income neighborhoods.

    Example: one member of an Older couple has a stroke and need capital to remodel their home to make it ADA accessible or they will be forced to move into an assisted care facility. Why should they not be able to sell off their old garage they do not need anymore and let a younger couple built a small, garage free, home in its place? This way TWO families can stay in the neighborhood instead of the long term residences being displaced. In theory the low cost of construction and utility bills would allow a couple or individual working in the new “service economy” to be able to buy a small home. Then, once the older couple either passes or can not live at home any more, there is already someone established in the neighborhood that may be able to afford to “upgrade” from their small starter home. Neighborhood stability and affordability and keeping the character of the residential interior of the “mega-blocks” intact all in one fell swoop.

    Not everyone living a low car life want to live in a multiplex and we should allow for home construction that they want. We are starting to document our efforts and research (just beginning) at: http://copingwithbikes.net/greenways-and-affordible-housing/

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  • Isaac Porras October 22, 2013 at 9:42 am

    San Francisco’s problem is that they gave all the bike lanes to the rich people first. Let’s not repeat that mistake in Portland.

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  • Dave October 22, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Who was the person who said something like “the environment is the visible foot which will crush the invisible hand of the marketplace?”

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    • 9watts October 22, 2013 at 10:43 am

      that was Herman Daly. Wise and articulate dude.
      “While the invisible hand looks after the private sector, the invisible foot kicks the public sector to pieces.”

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  • SJE October 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    I dont see why rising rents squeeze out “low car”: here in DC, the rising rents have been accompanied by more bikes, not less. If you are paying a lot for housing, you can less afford a car or the costs of parking and, as the city becomes more vibrant and dense, there is less need. Boston, DC, NYC are all more expensive than Portland, and biking is growing.

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  • oregon111 October 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    here is an idea..
    why don’t the bikey people all move to a city in the midwest? (or southeast)

    my reasoning: the masses want to be here to go to the coast or go skiing or rafting, etc — and they are ALL CAR PEOPLE

    bikey people NEVER go surfing, skiing, rock climbing — all they do is ride bikes — and they can do it just as easily in another city

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  • Peter October 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    I hate to say it, but this describes my wife and I. We have one car between us, she commutes via Trimet, I work from home and we bike or walk often to the many businesses that make our Southeast neighborhood so attractive. We each make decent, middle-class salaries. I have no problem renting, but at more than $1 per square foot per month, renewing the lease on our 70s-era duplex makes less and less sense. Her job is in Beaverton, so committing to buying a house in Southeast would lock in her hour-plus transit commute indefinitely. Buying in North Portland or east of 82nd would be impractical for the same reason. Northwest is out of our price range, so that leaves Southwest and Beaverton. I’m sure both are fine places to live, but because of their underlying geography (Southwest) and suburban development patterns (Beaverton), we’ll likely end up buying in an area much less conducive to low-car life than I’d prefer. I imagine we’ll eventually wind up with a second car, and for all of the reasons listed here: rising property values, employment centered west of the river, and bikeable neighborhoods becoming less accessible to the non-wealthy as they become more popular. Perhaps the solution should be more investment in bike infrastructure, pedestrian rights of way and mixed-use development in the parts of town where those things don’t immediately spring to mind.

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  • i ride my bike October 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    The problem is antiquated autocentric zoning and building codes discouraging density and 1950s traffic engineering standards making traffic sewers instead of tame streets, as well as NIMBYs, that prevent the creation of new neighborhoods that have what people desire in old pedestrian oriented neighborhoods. Because there is a limited supply of desirable neighborhoods the rents and land values are being bid up. Its basic supply and demand, and we need to remove barriers to creating a larger supply of urban neighborhoods.

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  • Dave October 23, 2013 at 6:41 am

    That is why part of a housing cost solution has to include absolutely fixed and finite limits to the selling price of properties, enforced with as great a degree of rigor that will make them stick.

    It’s tough to mandate living standard norms in a Capitalist economy. Someone will always balk, and instist that it’s their right to live large. And in a Capitalist economy, they’re technically correct. Not sure how to change a paradigm based on the idea of a social contract when the very concept seems to be falling out of fashion…
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  • maxadders October 23, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    The kind of bike culture that the city of Portland wants to promote (after all, its in it’s own self interest) is not utilitarian cycling for the poor. What they’re after is the person who makes enough money to choose to bike to work, and bike for recreation. The kind of person who has two cars at home, in addition to half a dozen high-end, purpose-specific bikes hanging up in the garage at home. In short, someone who is relatively wealthy– middle class if not upper-middle-class. “Low-car lifestyle” is just another way of saying “can afford living within a few miles of a high-paying downtown job”. The city wants that guy, not the single father riding a Magna to a minimum wage job because he can’t afford car insurance.

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  • Doug Klotz October 23, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Beth lays out the probability of such price limits (low), and I’m not sure there aren’t unforseen downsides to Dave’s idea, as well. Mainly, though, supply and demand seem to function regardless of government regulations. If raised prices are prohibited, other black-market mechanisms will arise so that folks with more money can get to live where and how they want to. Somehow the high-ranking party members always had nice dachas.

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