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Low-car, upscale: New buildings dare to expand the Pearl

Posted by on October 29th, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Steven Van Zile and Jennifer Porter of Guardian Real Estate Services show off the common room in the company’s new 132-unit Linden Apartments at Southeast 12th and Burnside.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Two big new apartment buildings that opened for rental this month are aiming to kill the notion that well-to-do Portlanders — except for the ones in the Pearl, anyway — will always own cars.

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With rents around $2 to $2.50 per square foot, two on-site event coordinators, generous community spaces, an exercise room, a huge dog-friendly rooftop garden and $700 soundproof windows that overlook some of the most impressive views in town, the 132-unit Linden in the Buckman neighborhood is seeing if Portland’s east bank is ready for upscale low-car housing.

“We wanted that quality like you see in the Pearl,” Linden business manager Jennifer Porter said last week. “We are moving people from the Pearl to this scene.”

Outside Linden at Southeast 12th and Burnside.

Porter’s boss, portfolio manager Steven Van Zile, said he realized, soon after moving from Los Angeles to start managing rental properties in Portland, how important bike users would be to his work here.

“I will never forget standing on Ankeny waiting for my appointment, and all of a sudden it’s just bike after bike — is there a derby going on?” Van Zile said. “There are 18,000 bike commuters into the city every day,” he went on, dropping his jaw for emphasis. “I just want 132 of them to live at Linden.”

So far, so good; of the 35 or so tenants who’ve signed up in the first month, Van Zile said 90 percent have showed up with bikes.

One-bedrooms start at $1,265 a month for 576 square feet; the biggest two-bedroom is $2,085 for 922 square feet. The two-level garage downstairs has 110 auto parking spaces, each of which rents separately from the units for $110 to $139.

Linden’s rooftop garden has views of both Mount Hood and downtown.

Van Zile said he’d been surprised by how many of the tenants are new to town.

“We’ve got people who work at OHSU, we’ve got retired, we’ve got families,” Porter said. “It’s a nice mix.”

Inside a Linden unit overlooking Portland’s central east side.

Oregon Health and Science University workers are a market of opportunity for Linden. For The Emery, they’re a necessity. Sitting at the foot of the Aerial Tram in the north edge of the South Waterfront, the V-shaped 118-unit apartment building is aimed squarely at students, young residents and instructors for the teaching hospital that is also the city’s largest employer.

The second-floor public deck at The Emery overlooks the Willamette River, Zidell shipyards and Moody Avenue.

The Emery’s studios start at $1,005 for 455 square feet. Most of the building is one-bedrooms in the $1,200 to $2,000 range, the biggest at 764 square feet, with a handful of two-bedrooms topping at $2,425 for 907 square feet.

Inside a demo unit at The Emery.

The Emery doesn’t offer any on-site auto parking spots, though residents can opt into a surface parking lot about one block away for $125 a month. There are, however, dozens of bike hooks on the walls of two large rooms on the first floor. (Linden places its bike parking on the walls of its garage, plus a freestanding repair stand — seemingly the latest must-have for bike-friendly developments in town.)

Upmarket rents for upmarket housing quality is a formula that’s new to many Portland neighborhoods. It’s one enforced, in part, by an arcane state property tax system that falls disproportionately on newer developments. But the developers of these buildings also made a conscious choice to put the city’s growing prosperity, airtight vacancy rates and the growing popularity of low-car life to the test — something Van Zile isn’t afraid to admit carries a dash of uncertainty.

“There hasn’t been anything built in a long, long time,” he said. “With that pressure comes going into waters that haven’t been swam in for a few years.”

— The Real Estate Beat is a weekly column. Read more here.

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  • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
    Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 29, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Good question. Our current standard is less than a 1:1 ratio.

    That level of parking for new development is rare in almost any other market, so from our perspective it’s worth covering.

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    • IanC October 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Sure, but many renters, especially the families, will feel pressure to have 2 cars, so 1 is still an improvement.

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    • Nate Young October 30, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Surely you aren’t trying to say that owning a car and having a ‘low-car lifestyle’ are mutually exclusive?
      I own a car that sometimes sits in my driveway for weeks since both I and my lovely lady bike (mostly) or take transit to work EVERY DAY. We went >1 year without, but when we inherited grandpa’s car, cost of ownership was low enough to take it and be happy that I don’t have to bum rides from friends to get to Sandy Ridge.
      Part of what makes low-car lifestyles possible is the ability to get out of town when the desire arises. One car per unit facilitates this, while not necessarily leading to car-dependent life. Does this building or others like it dedicate a half-dozen spaces to Zipcars?
      Plus, since the spaces don’t come free with apartments, tenants are still incentivized (to the tune of $110-139 / month) not to own their own car.

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      • Chuck Yeager January 14, 2014 at 1:48 pm

        Well, it may incentivize them to pack the surrounding neighborhood with their unused cars, leading to no street parking available for their neighbors. I think this situation is common in Portland.

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  • Reza October 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Considering the neighborhoods these buildings are in, they are ridiculously priced for their size. Low amenities (including no convenient grocery store) and lack of quality transit in South Waterfront until the MAX opens.

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    • Mindful Cyclist October 30, 2013 at 8:56 am

      In fairness, the Lindeed has three major buslines that are only a few stops from the max and a (rare) N/S busline pretty much right out the door.

      I cannot agree with you more on the price, however. And, when I looked at places to buy two years ago, it was pretty much a deal breaker if I did not have a grocery store that I could walk to so I would not even be sure if I wanted to rent here.

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    • Lillian Karabaic October 30, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      The Linden is located a 1/2 mile from a Whole Foods and a 9 minute bike ride from a Fred Meyer. Not to mention access to 2 frequent service bus lines and 5 minutes from downtown on a bike, 15 minutes walking. I’m only defending it because I also live in the neighborhood and know it has great amenities.

      Granted, I don’t pay nearly that much in rent, but I also live in a building with no bike parking and 1970s shag carpet…

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    • Reza October 30, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Understand that I was referring to South Waterfront when I said lack of quality transit. I’m well aware of the 12, 19, 20, and 70 near the Linden, and agree that E-W mobility is very good; N-S not so much.

      And having Whole Foods as your closest grocery store hardly counts. But I guess if you can afford these prices for your condo, you don’t mind that as much. But a 9 minute bike ride to the Broadway Fred Meyer, which is 20-25 minutes walking, and not a pleasant one at that (along Sandy, across I-84).

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    • Reza October 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      Also, Whole Foods is practically a mile from 12th and Burnside.

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  • Cora Potter October 29, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Whoa – I bought at the peak of the housing bubble and the mortgage on my 2 bedroom 900 square ft, 6000 sq ft lot in Lents, 4 blocks from frequent service bus, on a pretty frequent bus line, 6 blocks from light rail, across the street from a grocery store (albeit a not so nice one) is 1/2 the amount they’re asking for rent on a 2 bedroom apartment. And, I pay out property taxes on an assessed value that’s 90% of the county assessors “real market” value.

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    • Cora Potter October 29, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      In other words – it’s actually cheaper to live in Lents and pay for a car, but you actually can live in Lents, own a house and not need a car. (Which is what I do).

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    • Lance P. October 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      While I’m glad you are happy in Lents, not everyone wants an hour+ commute. The reason it is cheaper in Lents is 100% due to location. I would rather rent my entire life then own and live out on the edge. For me a 10 minute bike ride to downtown is worth more than gold. This may just be me but I’m guessing due to demand for rentals in Portland that i’m not alone.

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      • Cora Potter October 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm

        My partner actually bike commutes to downtown from Lents daily. It’s about a 40-45 minute ride and he enjoys it. It also means he doesn’t have to go to a gym and waste 45 minutes every other day. We’re certainly not on the “edge”, I’d say we’re splitting the difference and getting access to a lot of things (natural areas, outdoor recreation, farms, restaurants and grocers that are a little less mediated/more culturally authentic) that folks that live downtown don’t have ready access to. I also get the benefit of having a 10-15 minute bike commute via multi-use path to my new office in Gateway starting in about 6 months.

        So – just saying. There are more things to weigh than cost and how fast you can bike to a downtown office tower.

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        • Cora Potter October 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm

          I also have views of Downtown and Mt Hood at my house. I haven’t gone downtown for fireworks since I moved in…I get the whole city except for what Mt Tabor blocks.

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      • Lillian Karabaic October 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm

        This my friends, is what we call the Bid-Rent curve in economics. http://www.answers.com/topic/bid-rent-theory

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        • Cora Potter October 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

          Solution? Build more places that can act as central business districts.

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        • Doug Klotz October 30, 2013 at 10:00 pm

          Thanks for the link to How Things Work! the description seems dated when applied to the really auto-centered cities, but still is to a great extent true in the City limits of Portland (and seems to be getting more so).

          To Cora, it’s not that easy to create more places that act as CBDs. See: Gateway. It’s hard to build a Central Business District from scratch. The one we’ve got evolved over 150 years because that was where the river traffic was, and because of that it was where the heavy rail access was, and then where the car access was. Even though we’ve been in the Auto Era for over 50 years, the residual effects are still enough to make the Central City the CBD. You can’t just decide to start another one and be assured of success.

          And to Kittens: As far as zoning and permitting growth where it is more likely to result in “low car clusters”. I think that’s supposedly one of the main thrusts of the Comp Plan Update. And the place this would happen is in the inner neighborhoods, in a 2-mile circle around the Central City. Unfortunately, most neighborhoods don’t want the upzoning that would actually accomplish this. Are we going to get “low car” in Gateway? In the West Portland Town Center? Until there’s as many jobs, shops and entertainment sites within the high density cluster as downtown and the inner ring (to 39th?), I don’t see it happening.

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          • Cora Potter October 31, 2013 at 7:19 am

            Doug, you’re saying this to someone who just successfully helped put together a 33million dollar mixed use, 127 unit, 16000 sq foot of commercial development in Gateway that has less than 60 parking spaces. There are two more large developments on the boards nearby, and permit activity is on the uptick.

            Gateway is ready to go, and the only thing that holds it back from serving it’s intended role as a regional center is will, influenced by folks that have a monied interest in keeping downtown Portland hyper inflated.

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            • Cora Potter October 31, 2013 at 7:25 am

              Also- Michael, if you want to tour phase 1, they’re starting lease-up in December. The trailer/temp office for the leasing agents will be set up in the parking lot of the Elks Lodge.

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            • Doug Klotz October 31, 2013 at 8:08 am

              I would love to be proved wrong, and maybe your development is the start of it. Just saying it’s not easy, as I’m sure you know. As you note, it has to do with many factors, including downtown interests. It takes time to build the aggregation of amenities, jobs, etc. that make a center. And as I have found out, assembling a more complete, pedestrian-friendly street grid in Gateway has been at times thwarted by the reluctance of some small developers to include new street connections. The city is trying to figure out a better way to accomplish those at this point.

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              • Cora Potter October 31, 2013 at 9:24 am

                Doug – that aggregation of amenities is the result of virtuous cycles. You can’t have a virtuous cycle until someone pushes the first domino. I could excuse the lack of political will for a lot of things with “it’s not easy” – including say things like adding bike facilities to Barbur.

                As far as the street grid in Gateway is concerned, that’s remedied by development with good master planning, which provides new streets (full ROW development, private roads/woonerfs or ped/bike only all accomplish the goal) and subdivides the current (often single owner) super-blocks. It’s actually the opposite situation of what most people assume. The reality is the lack of development is causing the lack of street grid, not the other way around. We added a ped route through our site for exactly this reason. And, I don’t think it’s “small developers” thwarting it – it’s land holders that have big projects in mind that are waiting for adequate subsidy/incentive/lender confidence. All of that hinges on city will.

                Take a trip down Glisan. The first phase building of the project I worked on is fully up and we’re in the process of adding siding and completing the interior build out. When you get to 99th looking east on Glisan – the street looks much changed. The 4 story apartment building accross the street actually has context. The whole block looks urban and activated. It’s remarkable. The same will be true for the 99th frontage once our Phase 2 is on the ground.

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              • Doug Klotz November 1, 2013 at 8:24 am


                Maybe I’m talking about a different section, but I have been told by PBOT staff that developers who are buying up 1-4 small lots (50 x 120?) are calling and asking if a particular lot has a street designated to go through there, and if it does, they just don’t buy that one lot, but build on the rest of them. I’m talking about the area between I-205 and 102nd, north of Burnside. For instance, the designated east-west connection at about Davis St. A developer is proposing a building on the east side of 102nd, and didn’t buy the last lot north of the Davis ped connection, because he didn’t want to have to dedicate the land for the planned upgrade to a full Davis St between 102 and 103, which would lead to a better grid system there. Many of the east west streets west of there apparently had similar issues.

                In areas where there’s large landowners, this might work. But where there are small lots, developers can pick and choose and avoid the connections.

                And, I don’t think ped-only connections are as good as a full street. These narrow connections are unsafe at night because there’s not enough “eyes on the street” from drivers, and/or from adjacent houses, which often wall off their ped connection side. Besides that, you need more of a grid to spread auto traffic out instead of putting it all on major streets which then are very difficult to get across.

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              • Cora Potter November 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm

                That’s not a problem with developers. Why in the world would they voluntarily mess up their project proforma by taking on additional lot square footage that they can’t develop?

                That no developer wants to buy a lot that goes 1/2 way into a block just to have it sit waiting for the other half of the block to change over (unlikely) is not a development issue – it’s a city issue, and it has to do with the unwillingness to use eminent domain where it’s needed, and to fund the build out of new city assets with collected system development charges.

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              • Doug Klotz November 17, 2013 at 10:53 pm

                I looked back here and saw your comment. If you’re still following this: I agree that the city should be using eminent domain, and have mentioned this to Novick and to Treat. I hope they’re seriously looking at some solution to getting a better grid.

                I do want to emphasize to them, though, that pedestrian- and bike-only connections don’t do it, unless they’re as wide and short as a regular street (i.e. at least 50′ wide and no more than 200′ long) so you can see from one end to the other, and it’s wide enough that you can avoid unsavory characters. Also necessary for them to work is to have required windows and entry doors facing the ped/bike connection, just like a regular street. It’s a lot harder to convince developers to face their building onto a ped/bike connection than an auto-access street, so regular streets ironically end up being better for pedestrians and bikes, especially if there are separated, but visible, facilities within the same right of way.

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  • dwainedibbly October 29, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Even better, Lovejoy Bakery is opening on the ground floor of the Emery, making it a nice pre-work stop for bike & streetcar commuters who take the aerial tram up the hill. (I’m not affiliated, I just love baked goods!)

    110 car spots for 132 units might not be as low-car as we want, but it’s a huge improvement over what it could have been.

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  • maxadders October 29, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Hey BikePortland: follow up in few years and see if you can estimate how many of these “low car” tenants aren’t actually just ignoring the suggestion and parking their cars on the street. Wealthy people like to talk the talk, but do they walk? Doubtful.

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    • Chris I October 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      Does it really matter in the end? Street parking is a finite resource. At some point, it will be completely full, and any new units added to the neighborhood will have to be car-free or have off-street parking.

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    • Lillian Karabaic October 30, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      There’s no street parking allowed on SW Moody, so I think the Emery/S Waterfront is isolated from that issue. This was a common fear in the Kerns and Buckman neighborhoods for the Linden, though.

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  • pixelgate October 29, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Geez, my loft at the Wyatt in the Pearl was less expensive than these

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  • V$ October 29, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    My 3 bedroom house off the best bike lane in the city is 25% less a month. Who the hell are these people throwing away all their money?

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  • Adam October 29, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    The rent in Portland is expensive. We pay just a hair under $1000 a month for an 450 square foot apt in inner NE. We sort of have no choice though – we can’t afford to rent a whole house, and do NOT want to live with the endless procession of freakazoid roommates you have to tolerate for dirt-cheap rent. But we are a couple. My mind boggles at the singletons who have to afford a thousand bucks a month just to put a roof over their heads in Portland. We need far, far, far more brownfield apartments constructed to meet demand. I wish it would happen faster.

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  • kittens October 30, 2013 at 4:23 am

    The prices are stupid, but people will pay them. I think the whole “low car” branding thing is greenwashing at it’s worst… just the latest accessory to your Eames rocker and Subaru. Not that either are bad, just predictable and nothing more than things, not real cultural change. In the end we’ll have a bunch of neighborhoods crammed to the gills with on-street parking (see NW) and homogeneous gentrification (see Pearl). The solution lies with the city to zone and permit growth where it is most likely to result in low car clusters.

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    • A.K. October 30, 2013 at 7:30 am

      I sort of agree with you. I think these low-car buildings could work if they were allowed to discriminate on who they rent to, e.g. vet the renter and verify that they don’t own a car. But you can’t do that.

      Otherwise you’re just going to get the normal cross-section of Portland people who own a bunch of bikes and a Subaru they need to park somewhere.

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    • bendite October 30, 2013 at 7:30 am

      Cats always have bad attitudes.

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    • Alex Reed October 30, 2013 at 7:51 am

      Aren’t NW and the Pearl similar to what desirable, dense neighborhoods look like in most cities? Yes, the on-street parking is mostly full. That means there’s no space wasted on empty parking and people think twice before buying a car (or another car). As long as the City is too timid to actually price on-street parking in residential areas, the on-street parking will inevitably fill up as an area gets denser.

      I’d question your characterization of the Pearl as “homogenous.” It has a large amount of affordable housing, which helps keep at least the people who live there diverse-ish. I’ll give you that the buildings all look kind of similar, but that’s pretty much what you get when an area is redeveloped all in the same couple of decades.

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      • Slammy October 30, 2013 at 9:14 am

        Yes, great point. I can attest that Hammarby, the new, desirable, densely packed neighborhood in Stockholm looks just like all this new development here. sure there’s a heat pump that serves the whole neighborhood and they incinerate all their trash to create energy, but when I was there, I was like, pshhh, looks just like the Pearl… easier to ride your bike around Hammarby though.

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      • Cora Potter October 30, 2013 at 9:21 am

        I think the better descriptor for housing in the Pearl is polarized. It’s not homogeneous, but it also isn’t heterogeneous. What is missing is low-moderate/moderate income folks.

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        • Chris I October 30, 2013 at 12:14 pm

          Just like the west hills, Alameda ridge, Laurelhurst, Ladd’s Addition, etc…

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          • Dimitrios October 30, 2013 at 4:45 pm

            Aren’t those pretty rich neighborhoods? I ride through Alameda ridge and Laurelhurst frequently and I don’t recall any shanties peppered between the mansions.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 30, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      A bit of context about the Pearl that didn’t make it into this piece: it’s actually a relatively income-diverse neighborhood, thanks to a bunch of income-restricted, subsidized housing units that were included in the neighborhood as part of the city’s development deals.

      The result of this, of course, is that there aren’t a lot of middle-income residents in the Pearl; you’ve got upper/upper-middle and low incomes, but not much in between. Buckman, by contrast, is currently upper/upper middle (this building and single-family homes that have changed hands in the last 15 years) middle (longtime residents and most of the apartments) and lower (subsidized units).

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  • Oregon Mamacita October 30, 2013 at 9:04 am

    One thousand dollars for less than 500 feet? How do you build wealth
    when you pay so much in rent? I thought the building was for low income folks because the architecture was so bland.

    Oh well, after the market for expensive apartments crashes and the building is not maintained, it will become more affordable.

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    • Chris I October 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      How is it any different from someone that rents a 1200 sqft two bedroom apartment in Fairview (I know people that do this) for 1 or two people? More space, more stuff, more money spent heating and cooling.

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  • Doug Rosser October 30, 2013 at 9:09 am

    New apartment buildings will always be eye-wateringly expensive. A building is only new once. The good news is that you can reasonably expect existing units around the area to come down (in time).

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  • boneshaker October 30, 2013 at 10:49 am

    If you have the down payment a $2100/month payment will buy you a $500,000 home. And most of those are bigger than 900sq. ft. That seems very expensive for the luxury of not having a place to park your car.

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    • dan October 30, 2013 at 11:43 am

      That is true, but more people can make the $2k/month payment than have a $100k down payment on hand.

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    • spare_wheel November 1, 2013 at 5:17 am

      residential housing is a high-risk asset in a “made market” dominated by wall street and hedge funds. no thanks.

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  • IanC October 30, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    For Rent: 60sq ft, 2 room cob house in quiet back yard back on the market! (Previous renters were raccoon allergic – upstairs neighbors). Handmade house in close-in SE Neighborhood. Walk to Methadone clinic! Bike to numerous overpriced grocery stores! Amenities include clay plaster walls, rack for garden tools, and little shelves for votive candles. New latrine dug in neighbor’s yard (please do not use during daylight hours). $675 + pet deposit + security deposit + 3 major credit card numbers + 2 pieces of original artwork my band can use on our next CD cover, bro!

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  • Justin October 30, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I love my 2,500 square-foot ranch home in Portsmouth, that my wife and I own and pay a mortgage that is well under what most of these residents will pay/are paying for an apartment around or slightly above 1,000 square feet in size.

    Oh, and I have bike lanes for days, plus get to watch the sun rise above the city every morning as I bike east on N Willamette to work.

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  • TOM October 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    So, let me understand this: some car spots at $110/mo. and others at $139/mo. Tell me: does $139 get the car a better view?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 30, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Ha! Yep. There are two garage levels, both with street access (thanks to the hill) but the higher-level spots cost more.

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  • Ted Buehler November 5, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Michael — how about some pics of the bike parking. Did you try it out?

    Ted Buehler

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 8, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Bike parking is a shortcoming of the Buckman building, at least right now. It’s a few vertical wall hooks in one level of the garage – nothing to write home about (or post a photo of, I decided), but also easy to roll into. The building originally applied for (and, I assume, received) an exception to the bike parking code requirement because it was supposed to be for “senior housing.” I’m not sure what happened to this plan. The management company said that they’ll be adding bike parking in the garage as it’s required; at the moment, several people seem to be storing bikes in their rooms.

      The South Waterfront building has two large bike parking rooms on the first level, all of vertical wall hooks.

      I didn’t focus on this because the nature and location of the units are the central part of this story. We may do a future post specifically about bike parking at new buildings.

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