Splendid Cycles

Maybe this is why you can’t afford to rent in the central city

Posted by on April 23rd, 2014 at 9:24 am

Yellow areas are zoned for single-family homes, blue for mixed-use and multifamily, gray primarily for industry and office (with some residential allowed), green for park and open space.

Real Estate Beat is sponsored by Portlandia Home

Seven miles is an important distance in the world of bike transportation.

It’s about the distance a casual city rider can pedal in an hour, which studies show is the upper limit of the time most humans prefer to commute. It’s the distance where, even in the Netherlands, public transit trips become more popular than bike trips (and car trips are eight times more common than either).

So as Portland’s apartment rents have jumped an average 11 percent in the last year, with the tightest markets in North and inner Northeast Portland, the city’s biking population has felt it — in either their wallets or their thighs.

Here’s one factor at play in one of the country’s most persistent urban rental shortages: in two-thirds of Portland’s central seven miles, it’s illegal to build a multi-family building.

It’s a broad swath of the city that includes Hillsdale in Southwest Portland, Eastmoreland, Woodstock and Foster-Powell in Southeast. It grazes 82nd Avenue and Rosa Parks Way, taking in the edges of Cully, Woodlawn and Arbor Lodge. Inside the circle, only 31 percent of residential land allows multifamily construction. (Citywide, the figure is 26 percent. Some residential construction, including apartments, is also allowed on “general employment” land, which isn’t part of the “residential” land ratio here.)

Even advocates for more housing don’t say apartments or condos should be allowed throughout this central area, or even most of it. But as neighborhood associations submit their requests this month for the city’s next comprehensive zoning plan — with some, like Eastmoreland, requesting less density — some are calling attention to the anomaly of so much land in the middle of Portland being reserved for single-family homes.

“In Northwest, the zoning allows high-density development, and the market has responded,” said Eric Engstrom, principal planner at the city’s planning bureau. “In Buckman, it is zoned single-family exclusively. … Probably without zoning, Buckman would be much denser.”

Some Portlanders like the current system, Engstrom said. Others don’t.

“I think zoning’s a valid policy tool that can achieve things, but it can be used for good and for ill,” said Ben Schonberger, senior planner at Winterbrook Planning and a board member for the housing-affordability nonprofit Housing Land Advocates.

Schonberger acknolwedged that new multifamily units are usually more expensive than older buildings, including the repurposed single-family homes they sometimes replace. But he said they prevent rents on the old units from spiraling upward even faster.

“Those people are coming to Portland regardless,” Schonberger said. “And either they’re going to fill a unit in an existing neighborhood and push the people out of there, or they’re going to occupy the shiny new unit. … It doesn’t feel like [the units in a nice new building] have any impact on affordability, but they do. It’s spread out across the whole metropolitan area by pushing everybody’s rents down by a couple dollars a month. And that’s really hard to see.”

Southeast Division at 70th Avenue.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The political problem, Schonberger said, is that the people who would benefit from “upzoning” to higher densities are the ones “who haven’t even moved here yet.”

“It’s a student who wants to go to PSU and wants a reasonable rent,” Schonberger said. “But he right now is living in Ohio and thinking, ‘Well, gee, I want to move to Portland but can’t afford it.'”

But Jamaal Green, a Portland State University Ph.D candidate who moved to Portland from North Carolina, said that though upzoning may indeed help people like him, it’s less useful to people in poverty.

“We do have a supply problem which upzoning could maybe help to dent,” said Green, who writes frequently about housing and transportation under the name Surly Urbanist. “Just don’t blow smoke and tell me that it’s for low-income people, because it’s not.”

“If you’re trying to address housing affordability at the bottom of the market, your upzoning has to be combined with something, like a combination of upzoning and inclusionary zoning,” he said, adding that more support for the state’s popular low-income housing tax credit program would help too.

Schonberger said he too supports changing state law in order to allow inclusionary zoning, which could require new buildings to preserve some lower-rent units for lower-income residents. But both he and Green questioned whether IZ alone could have a big effect on affordability.

“Most people, even most poor people, are living in market-rate housing,” Schonberger said. “And if market-rate means you have to live way back in Rockwood, that’s what you’re going to do.”

Correction 4/24: Because the city allows limited residential development on “general employment” land, some of the gray areas in the map above allow multifamily construction. An earlier version of this post did not reflect this.

 — The Real Estate Beat is a weekly column sponsored by real estate broker Lyudmila Leissler of Portlandia Home/Windermere Real Estate. Let Mila help you find the best bike-friendly home.

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  • Charley April 23, 2014 at 9:32 am

    This, for once, reveals a pro-bike, pro-sustainable-growth policy that libertarians could support: allowing more multi-family housing would be a free-market solution to the problem.

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    • matt picio April 25, 2014 at 10:36 am

      Libertarians will support it if zoning is changed to *allow* apartments. If the zoning is changed to mandate apartments and mixed-use, then you’ll lose the libertarian support. A side effect of enacting policies to replace single-family housing will be the loss of lots of existing housing stock which makes our neighborhoods beautiful and livable. I’d really like to see a pilot project somewhere before changes were introduced widespread.

      Also, Michael – that map doesn’t show “7 miles” – it shows 3.5 miles. You’re talking about a 7 mile radius in the article, but showing a graphic of a 7 mile *diameter*. That seems a bit disingenuous to me. Also, a 1 hour ride is 7 miles for casual riders, but about 10 miles for a regular bicycle commuter. I don’t disagree with the 7 mile radius, but I’d argue that most people when faced with >45 minutes will either move to transit or driving.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm

        Thanks, Matt – I agree that I’m being vague about diameter/radius. Hopefully the graphic speaks loudly enough to make clear that the circle discussed here is 7 miles diameter.

        Part of my choice here is that not every commute is to the middle of the city center, and in any case only 20% of trips are commutes. Proximity matters for NE-to-N trips, SW-to-SE trips, etc.

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      • benschon May 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm

        In my experience, libertarians are hypocrites on land use issues. They want the liberty to live in single-family homes with abundant parking because they believe it is the natural order of things. However, they also want the government to preserve this position by blocking other housing types. True free-market, small-government advocates should want a zoning free-for-all, especially where nuisance impacts are unclear or unproven. They also ought to be outraged by minimum parking requirements, and actively support Last Thursday on Alberta. Right?


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      • eric May 20, 2014 at 8:49 am

        Huh? Are there really places that *mandate* apartments?! In an urban area like Portland, you really don’t have to mandate it, because the demand is so obviously there. If you let people build them, they will. I live in Cambridge, MA, and over the past ten years there has been quite a bit of development not far from my house (thousands of units). All of that development has been big apartment buildings, and it all came about after the restrictive zoning was relaxed to *allow* (not mandate) multifamily. Of course, many of the people in single family houses nearby are now up in arms over traffic, etc.!

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  • Paul Souders April 23, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Affordable housing is a transportation/livability issue and an equity issue.

    I feel like a broken record on this subject. My family were planning on moving from outer SW to inner NE/SE this year, and we’re finding that it’s prohibitively expensive. Even selling the car won’t save us enough to make up the difference. And we do pretty well, money-wise: if this family can’t do it, very few can.

    Portland could be nothing but bikeways and streetcars but if we can’t afford the rent working families will still be buying houses in Troutdale and Tualatin.

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    • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      You’re welcome in East Portland, and it is affordable. I live in Lents, and I could probably find 10 listings for under 250K that would meet your needs. I’m happy to show you around the neighborhood too. (no, I am not a real estate agent).

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      • Paul Souders April 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

        Thank you. I genuinely appreciate the offer but Lents is farther from our inner PDX destinations than our current abode in outer SW.

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        • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 2:58 pm

          Ah – but it’s much closer than Troutdale or Tualatin.

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  • TonyT
    TonyT April 23, 2014 at 9:50 am

    A related issue is the trouble a small-time landlord like myself has in finding loans for adding capacity. I own a 4-plex. My lot is zoned for 7. I know without a doubt that I could find renters and adding a triplex would pencil out. Despite this, funding is nearly impossible to find. The system favors large property developers with a level of cash flow I can’t compete with.

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    • Dale April 27, 2014 at 8:21 am

      perhaps https://fundrise.com/ ?

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    • Nathanael May 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

      The major banks have a really weird attitude, and it’s been creating a lot of problems. The only thing I can suggest is trying to organize a community credit union to fund stuff like this — a long term project certainly.

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  • grumpcyclist April 23, 2014 at 9:58 am

    This whole article is pro-developer pap. Notice that they admit that the apartments they’re building are expensive, they want to dump zoning laws so that they can build really expensive apartments in the inner city and get rid of all of the affordable housing stock that already exists. Getting rid of our current zoning laws will just accelerate the move to push poverty out to the margins in our city.

    Don’t fall for this BS.

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    • spare_wheel April 23, 2014 at 10:15 am

      apartments are expensive initially but then depreciate to compete with new fancy apartments that cater to more moder tastes. unfortunately our current real estate market is a classic oligopoly dominated by rent-seeking developers (and the LLCs they hide behind).

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    • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 10:33 am

      How are we going to control prices as demand increases unless we add capacity? Restricting the market from adding density is social engineering. It reduces the number of people that can live in the city, and drives sprawl in the suburbs. And what do you consider to be affordable housing? Having to split an older house between 5 roommates? Have you seen what is happening to rents and occupancy levels in Portland? If you think something is affordable now, just wait a few years.

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      • grumpcyclist April 23, 2014 at 10:40 am

        How are we going to control prices if developers demolish modest single family homes and build half million dollar condos and 2000/month apartments (complete with marble countertops and stainless steel appliances, of course) in their place? And what happens when a neighborhood sees a bunch of new, high-priced units get built? Surrounding units also raise their rents,because they know that people are willing to pay more to live in the neighborhood. It’s not enough to add supply, you have to add the right kind of supply or you still end up forcing people out.

        Do you really think developers are champing at the bit to build apartments that’ll rent less for $900 a month? The answer’s in the article: the apartments they build cost more to rent. Of course they don’t mention any of this, it’s not in their interests.

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        • Oregon Mamacita April 23, 2014 at 11:23 am

          The prices will come down in the Central Eastside when we reach the tipping point re: ugly tall buildings and the area becomes unpleasant.

          My prediction is that we will have empty store fronts on Division and Williams in a few years as high food prices and a recession cause expensive restaurants to close their doors. Also- are new software jobs are very boom-or-bust. The local pandex crowd may see some attrition as they move for better opportunities during the next tech bust.

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          • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 12:06 pm

            LOL. Be sure to email Maus so you can write an Op-Ed once that happens. I’m eagerly waiting for that day.

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            • Oregon Mamacita April 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm

              I am not eagerly awaiting that day- but history is full of massive real estate fails, bubbles and failure to remember the economic cycle. But yes- I will say “I told you so.” BTW- I am predicting a huge blow to Bike Share within a month. So- let’s see how good an oracle I am. Care to place your bet on bike share?

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              • A.K. April 23, 2014 at 2:44 pm

                Ha, predicting a major blow to a system that is already way behind schedule by a company that constantly falls short.

                Anything slightly less obvious you want to point out to us?

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              • Oregon Mamacita April 24, 2014 at 9:59 am

                There could be a new wrinkle. Stayed tuned.

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              • Michael, BikePortland April 23, 2014 at 8:52 pm

                I would have taken that bet myself until Treat’s “pause” speech yesterday. No longer.

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          • maccoinnich April 23, 2014 at 12:38 pm

            Much like the way the Pearl is an absolute wasteland today with falling rents, little foot traffic, and endless empty storefronts.

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            • Oregon Mamacita April 24, 2014 at 10:05 am

              Let’s talk during the next recession. Division went from a mix of businesses to a near-monoculture of expensive bars and restaurants.
              If we have the kind of collapse in Hospitality we saw after 9/11, Division Street could have empty storefronts.

              Who cares about the Pearl. It sucks in the summertime. Airless. Tall buildings. A tiny park. Whoo-hoo. Only one place for live music. Lots of Cali transplant retirees. Condos they can’t sell because the homeowners association is suing the developer. Cool, man.

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              • Chris I April 25, 2014 at 9:10 am

                Rockwood is definitely more exciting, if you are one of the thrill-seeking types. The Pearl isn’t for me, but I would call it a success.

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        • was carless April 23, 2014 at 11:49 am

          Simple math:

          1 single family home on a 5,000 square foot lot can easily fit a 4 unit apartment building, garden apartments, townhomes, or micro homes.

          Today, if you try to find housing in the city of Portland there are what… 30 apartment vacancies in the entire city advertised online? You get to compete with ~1,000+ people moving here every year. That bids up the housing considerably!

          So the answer is YES, if we had more housing stock to meet the demand for housing, logic would tell us that prices would be lower! This is not rocket science, they teach it in econ101.

          Therefore, we need to build more housing to meet the demand, or else housing prices will continue to rise in the stratosphere. Unfortunately, like SF and Seattle, PDX maintains artificial government restrictions on housing to appease petty homeowners who are concerned with padding their own wallets at the expense of everyone else.

          And those same homeowners claim they are liberal, while laughing all the way to the bank after a Californian buys their crappy 1,000 sq ft bungalow for $550,000 that they paid only $179,000 10 years ago.

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          • spare_wheel April 23, 2014 at 11:57 am

            and the seller typically pays no taxes on their income.

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          • Buzz Aldrin April 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm

            just because someone’s a ‘liberal’ doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not allowed to have good business sense and must live in poverty…

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            • jeff April 23, 2014 at 3:44 pm

              ya, I don’t get the implied association either. sounds like nothing more than jealousy to be honest.

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          • grumpcyclist April 23, 2014 at 12:48 pm

            Whenever someone says “You learn that in Econ 101” you know they’ve ONLY taken Econ 101. You leave out several key issues in your analysis:

            1) The type of housing that’s being built. As I mentioned previously, if the developers are tearing down modest single family homes and replacing them with luxury apartments and/or condos, then what you see is a net increase in the price of rent in the neighborhood. Since the person IN THE ARTICLE “acknowledged that new multifamily units are usually more expensive than older buildings, including the repurposed single-family homes they sometimes replace” it should be clear that the luxury units are the one getting built, at least in the close-in locations we’re talking about. I’d also like to reiterate that these new units can create upward pressure on rents by signaling to landlords in the neighborhood that people are willing to pay more to live in the neighborhood (because it’s a popular neighborhood or there’s gentrification etc).

            2) Supply and demand isn’t absolute, there are other factors that can affect price. A big one that you fail to consider: elasticity. If demand for rent in a neighborhood is relatively inelastic (because of popularity, for instance) then increased supply for housing in that neighborhood won’t tend to bring rents down.

            3) You don’t really understand what the market is. The overall housing market in Portland consists of smaller submarkets (neighborhoods) An increase in supply in a highly desirable neighborhood might reduce rents in the overall market, but the reduction will likely take place in a submarket that is less desirable. Once again, we’re pushing the poor out to the periphery in this city.

            4) The actual cost to rent an apartment. As most people here are probabyl aware, you can rent a 3br+ house in Portland for less than the cost of a 1br house if you rent with roommates. Newly-built 1br apartments don’t rent for less than $900 in close-in Portland, and that’s for a 400sqft apartment. Meanwhile you can rent a 3br house for less than $1800/month, split 3 ways you save $3600/year. In that scenario you also only lose one unit over your 4 apartment complex, btw.

            5) When supply starts to outstrip demand apartment builders stop building apartments. They’re looking to build units that will rent at a particular price. They’ll only build if they think they can get that price. That means rents don’t get driven down even if the other market forces (outlined above) were not exerting influence.

            These developers are using our collective ignorance of Economics to fool people into thinking that what they’re doing will help us in the long run. As I’ve shown, this is simply not true. Undoing our zoning laws will result in INCREASED rents in close-in Portland and a big chunk of change in the developers’ pockets.

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            • spare_wheel April 30, 2014 at 1:27 pm

              your comment here are full of strawman. no one here has argued for the undoing zoning laws. in fact, i would fiercely oppose this. i also suggest that you re-open your econ textbook and examine the section on oligopoly and kinked demand curves. rental scarcity in portland is highest in desirable neighborhoods where zoning is predominantly SFR due to exclusionary and (economically discriminatory) zoning. this city does not need abolition of zoning but zoning that favors sustainability and economic diversity.

              i support zoning laws that do not favor flippers and mcmansion builders. i also favor inclusionary zoning (as opposed to nimby exclusionary zoning). and if these changes make mcmansions in ladd’s addition a little less expensive then that’s also a positive!

              our more progressive neighbor to the north has good examples of some of the changes needed:



              when it comes to urban land use equity, portland is the atlanta georgia of cascadia.

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          • grumpcyclist April 23, 2014 at 12:54 pm

            And here’s the short version for those who don’t want to read that much.

            Your analysis is simplistic and wrong for the following 5 reasons:

            1) These are luxury apts, they drive area rents up.
            2) You don’t consider price elasticity (luxury goods, popular goods).
            3) You aren’t properly considering how rents will be distributed in the market.
            4) Apartments are more expensive to rent on a per person basis.
            5) Developers stop building when they sense an oversupply.

            There are plenty of other reasons, but I thought 5 was enough. Read my earlier reply for a more detailed explanation. And don’t trust anyone who references “Econ 101” or “supply and demand.”

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            • Alex Reed April 23, 2014 at 6:12 pm

              Although I respect your ideas, I can’t let your anti-building arguments stand unchallenged. We need to allow more people, building, and vitality in Portland neighborhoods, otherwise the majority of the metro area’s growth will continue to happen in Portland’s sprawling suburbs.

              Grump–> 1) These are luxury apts, they drive area rents up.
              Me–> Yes, probably true for luxury apartments – as long as you mean the immediate neighborhood – due to it becoming more “fancy” and desirable. They drive metro region rents down, and the total change at the metro region is bigger than in the immediate n’hood. Some new buildings, however, are not “luxury.”
              Grump–>2) You don’t consider price elasticity (luxury goods, popular goods).
              Me–> No, this doesn’t make sense. The price elasticity only impacts what the magnitude of the change in rent due to increased supply will be, not the direction. Under any reasonable elasticity (I don’t think negative elasticity is reasonable for housing – who sees a more expensive place to live as a plus?), more supply means lower prices at the metro-area level.
              Grump–> 3) You aren’t properly considering how rents will be distributed in the market.
              Me–> Yep, Division and the Pearl aren’t going to be cheap anytime soon. Yet, the building activity there is driving down rents elsewhere.
              Grump–> 4) Apartments are more expensive to rent on a per person basis.
              Me–> Sometimes true, but this is not a good economic argument against building apartments. Two counterpoints: A) The vast land area that the City has dictated must only be covered with single-family homes amounts to a subsidy for single-family home buyers and renters versus apartment dwellers. B) If you build 50 apartments in the space of two single-family houses, the 50 people living in those apartments won’t be looking for space elsewhere. This will drive down prices both in shared houses and apartments across the region.
              Grump–> 5) Developers stop building when they sense an oversupply.
              Me–> True, but the buildings they built still drive prices down elsewhere in the metro area.

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              • grumpcyclist April 23, 2014 at 7:34 pm


                Most of what you say is spot on, except for the bit about elasticity (people absolutely do seek out more expensive goods as status indicators for instance, or because they believe expensive=better). If demand for housing in the central city is relatively inelastic (due to the popularity of the location or because it is a luxury good) then people will pay well over the rent of an apartment at 122nd… even as supply increases.

                Anyway, as I said, for the most part your logic holds, but ONLY if you consider the housing market in the greater Portland area as a whole. Unfortunately, the title of this article is “Maybe this is why you can’t afford to rent in the central city.” Given that, as you say, Division and the Pearl are going to be Division and the Pearl for a long time, no amount of increased inventory is going to reduce rents in the central city, which means the author (and those who support him) are ill-informed.

                I’m going to continue to bang this drum because what the author and others in this thread don’t seem to understand is that by scrapping zoning laws you allow developers to buy up cheaper 2 and 3 br homes in the area and turn them into expensive apartments and condos. There are still cheap (slightly run down) 3br houses near Division, but if you allow developers to tear them down and build a 4 unit apartment complex on them then that inventory disappears forever.

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              • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
                Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 23, 2014 at 9:23 pm

                This is a fantastic exchange — useful to my thinking about these issues and I’m sure to others. Grumpcyclist, thanks so much for your well-informed rebuttals to the assumptions that inform my post. (And for the record, I made to the 200 level econ courses, thank you very much. 🙂

                I think some of the differences here are due to long term vs. short term issues. The luxury vs. popular goods problem for new stock, for example, is going to be less pronounced in 10 years. One strong point Green made in our interview that I didn’t have/make room to include was that many of the filtering benefits from new development only materialize after many years. The occasion for this post, however, is a comprehensive plan update that’s supposed to prepare for the next 20 years of demand.

                It also sounds as if part of the issue may be definitional. Grumpcyclist, you say the fancy apartments on Division and the Pearl won’t decrease prices in the “central city” . The graphic at the top of the post refers to a pretty big 7-mile-diameter area as “Central Portland.” This is the “Central city” I intended to refer to in the headline … an area that includes lots of neighborhoods that I’d argue remain uninflated by the local effects of fancy redevelopment … but are being inflated by the strong unmet demand, nationally as here in Portland, for walkable human-oriented neighborhoods.

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              • Alex Reed April 24, 2014 at 8:55 am

                Cool! I think we agree on the factual issues (more building in the inner core doesn’t necessarily result in more affordability in the inner core, probably has a bigger effect on affordability further out) and just disagree about our value judgment on that.

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            • eric May 20, 2014 at 9:00 am

              I am very skeptical of your claim that building fancy apartment buildings will drive the rents in that area up noticeably. I don’t live in Portland, but it sounds like the rents are already quite high there. In my somewhat similar city (Cambridge, MA), it looks to me like preventing development doesn’t keep rents down. Instead, the worn out old worker’s cottages in my neighborhood get rehabbed to a luxurious standard and sold to rich people, and rents for apartments in even the old worn-out houses are extremely high. I’m all for trying to make low-income housing a part of development, and for trying to make sure that the apartments aren’t all 1-bedroom places for 20-something lawyers, but I don’t think not building at all is the answer. The central city will still be expensive, and the development will happen in other neighborhoods that are less suitable for it.

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              • spare_wheel May 20, 2014 at 10:27 am

                rents actually decreased in inner SE portland for the first time in many years as hundreds of new units became available. undeortunately, the liberalization of zoning laws that facilitated development of these building was immediately slammed shut by nimby home owners and a compliant city council.

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              • Nathanael May 20, 2014 at 11:37 am

                THIS. This is typical.

                If you suppress new construction for a long time, eventually you get the mess we see in San Francisco.

                I’m all for historic preservation, preserving park space, having aesthetic standards for new buildings, etc., but too often what you see is BUILD NOTHING, and that is a disaster.

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          • gutterbunny April 23, 2014 at 1:28 pm

            oh come on now. Not my fault that I bought my house 15 years ago. Though I will claim that I bought in an area that I knew would appreciate after watching, participating and renting in areas gentrifications (first wave – Sellwood, NW, Alberta).

            How many opportunities did I miss back then? Quite a few…the last being two blocks off Alberta and MLK when the landlord offered to sell me the house I was renting for 20k (around 1995/6ish and I probably could have talked him down by 3-5k on it too) I declined because the foundation was cracked pretty bad, and we quit clearing the black berries that overtook the back yard after discovering the 4th or 5th needle.

            A few years before that I looked into a warehouse in what is now the Pearl District too (1/2 a city block for an extremely low price (comparable to what I bought this house for – 2 bd/1 bath 900 sqf catalog house in SE) , I just couldn’t convince anyone in my family to help me finance it). Of course at the time the neighborhood was nothing but hookers and junkies.

            Those of us property owners that do make the most on buying cheap and selling once an area gets hot did the work ourselves. We took the risk in buying the properties that we liked and could afford. We saw the potential in these neighborhoods well before the developers did. We fixed the houses, opened the shops, and volunteered at the schools to make the area more desirable. We’re the ones that negotiated sales with landlords in neighborhoods where our friends wouldn’t come for a visit because of its reputation. We cleaned up our lots and the vacant ones near by. We’re the ones that confronted the dealers to stay off the block, and likewise ducked every time you heard anything that sounded anything like a gunshot going off nearby.

            Despite what most of you think the idea that developers are in control of the process just isn’t true most the time. In actuality they come in the neighborhoods at around the third or fourth phase of the gentrification process. They aren’t willing to take the initial risk in the neighborhoods until the neighborhood has achieved a certain level of security and reputation.

            Here’s the phases as I’ve noticed over the years.

            First phase – is immigrants, students, artists move in. Houses in area are usually renter occupied and cheap, but have good bones.

            Second phase – those in first phase buy the houses and start fixing them up and start opening shops, cafes, and galleries in the neighborhood. Schools start to improve about now, most but not all the criminal element has started to move out now. This is also when the conflicts with the locals start to arise.

            Third phase – lower middle class families and young couples without kids start moving in (this where the developers start to notice and some of the smaller local ones will start rehabbing properties. Usually a couple more upscale business start buying/building in the area). City starts making improvements. This is when the locals start feeling the price pinch and moving out.

            Fourth phase – the big boys both retail and developers start moving in.

            Fifth phase – It’s pretty much done, it’s only going to get more expensive until the next hot area hits third phase. Then the development will slow down because the developers start shifting their focus.

            What most of you don’t get is that the developers follow demand. And if you want to know what to look for – look for the neighborhoods where the young artists and craftspeople move to and where the new immigrants move and buy. They’re the ones that move in before the developers notice. That’s how it started in Sellwood, NW, Alberta, Pearl, Mississippi, and now Division.

            So don’t even start with berating us with your garbage. It’s just sour grapes, and quite frankly we earned what we get. I’d recommend you all stop complaining about housing prices in the existing hot markets and put yourself out there in the not so hot neighborhoods. With the UGB in place it’s about the easiest bet you can make with your money, because pretty much every neighborhood in the city will get redeveloped at some point.

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            • Jeff April 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm

              Don’t let the mildly irritated tone of this comment dissuade you. He’s spot on. There’s a vocal minority on this site that loves to soapbox every transportation issue that doesn’t go their way into a “social justice” issue about their right to the cheapest and most desirable property.

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              • spare_wheel May 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

                in other words, anyone who advocates for “social justice” (or “rides a bike”) must be poor. a great example of good old ‘merican classism

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            • Alan April 24, 2014 at 8:04 pm

              oh come on now. Not my fault that I bought my house 15 years ago. Though I will claim that I bought in an area that I knew would appreciate after watching, participating and renting in areas gentrifications (first wave – Sellwood, NW, Alberta).

              Good point. I should have bought a house 15 years ago too, when I was 11.

              The problem is that, in many successful cities, there are no more centrally-located, transit-accessible walkable neighborhoods to gentrify, or that’ll soon be the case.

              So, in a country with growing population, and especially in the cities with good jobs or a nice lifestyle that draw people from elsewhere, either central neighborhoods need to densify beyond single-family housing.

              Otherwise people will be pushed to build sprawling suburbs on the fringes with long car commutes. Or out of the metro entirely, in the case of NYC/SF/LA/DC, and to Houston or Phoenix. Those are all pretty terrible outcomes, in terms of the implications for carbon footprints andsocial justice.

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              • gutterbunny April 24, 2014 at 11:55 pm

                You missed my point. All those great neighborhoods you’re looking at right now, were dumps 20-25 years ago. It was the ghetto. It was us young poor students, drop outs, and service industry workers moving into these areas that started making them good neighborhoods which paved the road for the city and developers to notice.

                Like I said in 94-96 when I lived at NE 7th and Sumner, hardly anyone I knew would come up to visit me at my rental because the neighborhood was (well I’m not gunna lie) black (I’m not – and I’m not condemning anyone for the color of their skin- mostly I’m pointing out how racist others are). There was our house a couple houses in the immediate neighborhood that were recently sold to some nice recent vietnamese immigrants.

                I traded property improvements for rent. Most the locals didn’t put much into their houses, even though on my block they owned them, they didn’t want them to look too nice for fear of attracting burglars. I didn’t care, I was a poor art school student/drop out with nothing to steal and the nicer I made the house look the less I had to pay in rent. The Vietnamese families fully re did the houses damn the torpedos.

                We dealt with gangs, and dealers. We cleaned up graffiti. Those neighborhoods you like and want to live in weren’t made by developers. It was a bunch of us poor dumb kids that didn’t know better, that couldn’t afford much and turned what we could afford into what we wanted it to be. We didn’t whine about it, we made it.

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              • t. Horne April 29, 2014 at 1:13 pm

                Thank you for articulating my favorite rant. I have built multiple neighborhoods with the sweat of my brow, and yet I am almost permanently excluded from the housing market in any place that has the services I insist on living near. I will not waste hours and dollars and fossil fuel traversing assinine distances just because some of us cant figure out how to design cities that locate workforces near services and employers. Living somewhere I dont have to drive to should not take HALF my income. Its nothing but a social justice issue. Housing is a civil right, like water and food. Our country needs to grow up and give everyone access. There can be luxury condos, as many as there are wealthy people to buy them within the local demographics. If, as most people agree, affordable housing in central locations, that accommodates a diverse population, is in fact a desirable goal, then the only solution is this: A proportionate amount of rent and price controlled affordable housing stock needs to be created in tandem with the high margin development. That should be the zoning requirement, nothing less than housing stock in precise proportion to incomes. Whatever is lacking needs to be built with all due priority, or else reappropriated from the surplus of overpriced overspeculated folly. For every rich californian who moves into the pearl, there needs to be six more apartments for poor sods like me. Its the only way to retain the creative class who jump started the gentrification process, and the only way to continue creating opportunities with some parity and equity. Our economy is in a race to the bottom. If wealth continues to concentrate as it has, well all be priced out. Theres enough vacant space downtown to house everyone a few times over. The first wealth that needs to be redistributed is real estate. Yesterday…

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          • Oregon Mamacita April 24, 2014 at 10:13 am

            Was carless, you need to take a refresher course in Econ 101 and look at Nobel Laureates Case & Schiller. Some markets are efficient ( NASDAQ,
            pork bellies) and some markets are inefficient (famously, real estate).

            We have bubbles in real estate because the market is driven my irrational forces. We don’t have bubbles in oatmeal, orange juice, scrap metal, because those markets are efficient.

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        • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 12:26 pm

          This is what happens when you don’t add enough capacity to keep up with market demands:

          The same problems can be seen in NYC. We have a chance to take a different path here. We have a head start on infrastructure that can support more density without completely clogging the city with auto traffic (bike routes and mass transit).

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        • Beth April 23, 2014 at 4:18 pm

          NYC-styled Rent Control will NEVER happen in PDX.

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          • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 7:47 am

            never say never. although i expect it will take at least another bubble or two.

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        • Nathanael May 20, 2014 at 11:35 am

          Look at the prices of the Victorian-era mansions in London which were converted into apartment buildings.

          Basically, all other things equal, old buildings have lower rent and new buildings have higher rent. Let the developers build giant new apartment buildings and the old apartment buildings will see their rents fall.

          Of course, if you prohibit apartment construction, the prices for everything will skyrocket, even for crappy old single-family houses (which are probably holding three or four families right now, in unlicensed “sharing” operations)

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    • AMA April 23, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Care to explain how building more housing makes housing more expensive? Seems like the rich people would move in to the new expensive stuff and relieve the pressure on the older affordable stuff, no?

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    • john April 28, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Not to mention the general destruction of “livability” when these developers and speculators bulldoze older houses, mature trees, and neighborhood greenspaces to put up ugly skinny houses, townhouses, condos, etc…which block light and tower over their neighbors.

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  • James Sherbondy April 23, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I’m both curious and researching challenged. How much of the land zoned single family homes only is vacant?

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    • spare_wheel April 23, 2014 at 10:18 am

      if portland wants to become a more sustainable city many SFR units will need to be replaced with multi-family residential units.

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      • James Sherbondy April 23, 2014 at 10:25 am

        Good luck trying to sell that one to homeowners. Bringing your own bag to New Seasons is one thing, selling your house in the name of sustainability is another.

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        • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 10:36 am

          I’m a single family homeowner in the South Tabor neighborhood and I welcome it. I love my house, and when I want to rent or sell it, I know it will be worth more money if the land is zoned for multi-family. I want more people to live in my neighborhood, because I want more of the neighborhood amenities that we already enjoy within walking and biking distance.

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          • James Sherbondy April 23, 2014 at 10:44 am

            Do your neighbors in the surrounding houses feel the same way?

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            • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 12:08 pm

              I don’t know. I don’t tell them what to do with their property.

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          • gutterbunny April 23, 2014 at 5:28 pm

            South Tabor here too. And I think if you read my rant above you’ll know that I support the development of the area.

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        • Alex Reed April 23, 2014 at 10:55 am

          Me too! My partner and I own a home in Foster-Powell and I would love it if Foster saw development like Division is seeing. I believe we actually have a wider swath around Foster zoned for multi-family development than most City arterials already but I’d welcome having that area expanded.

          When we bought our house, we bought a piece of land and a place to live. We didn’t buy the right for nothing to change substantially in our surroundings forever. I think that would be kind of boring….

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          • GlowBoy April 23, 2014 at 1:05 pm

            Here’s another single-family home owner who welcomes more density around me. A lot of the vibrancy that we already have in my Brooklyn neighborhood is because we have a higher concentration of rentals than many inner eastside neighborhoods. More would be better.

            I should point out that the above map only shows where new apartments can be built. The reality of where apartments actually exist is nowhere near as stark as shown on the map. For example, almost everything for several blocks around me is zoned R5 (residential on 5000sf lots), yet this supposedly R5 area still includes numerous duplexes, several small apartment buildings and one significant apartment complex taking up over an acre.

            If we see a few homes demolished to make way for 2-4 units per lot, that’s fine by me. I’d much rather see that than modest sized homes demolished to make way for larger single-family trophy houses (which does NOT improve density). And if the main street (Milwaukie) through my neighborhood finally gets rebuilt with 2-5 story mid-rise buildings, that’s great too. More places I can walk to.

            The way I see it, allowing multi-use development (and the vibrancy that brings) is probably better in the long run for my property value. I really don’t see why so many homeowners oppose it.

            But like grumpcyclist I do not in any way favor adopting the libertarian fantasy of getting rid of zoning. What we need to do is start changing zoning, so more residential properties allow multi-family, and more of our arterials allow mixed-use development such as is going in along Division and parts of NW.

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            • James Sherbondy April 23, 2014 at 3:02 pm

              Around you or in the place of the home you live in now?

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              • GlowBoy April 23, 2014 at 8:19 pm

                I’ll sell when I’m ready to sell. If apartments go up around me while I’m here, fine. If when I sell, the buyer is a developer that wants to put up apartments after I’m gone, fine.

                As to the “New Columbia” comment, I already live in a moderate-income area with some pockets of poverty. Our neighborhood school, Grout, is 50% non-white with 65% of kids receiving free or reduced-price meals. And none of that bothers me. It bothers me more to be living in America’s whitest large city, after having lived in places with real diversity. If subsidized housing comes to my block, fine.

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            • Beth April 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

              Riiight. And what if that density starts to look like another New Columbia? Everyone said they liked the idea, but when push came to shove, a lot of single-family houses there went up for sale after those families had lived there for less than five years. (I know five of those families personally and all are expecting to take a hit on their houses if and when they finally sell.)

              It’s one thing to say you want density; it is entirely another to be able to dictate what KIND of density you get to have near your house. Just sayin’.’

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              • A.K. April 24, 2014 at 7:36 am

                “sale after those families had lived there for less than five years. ”

                Generally, yes if you try and sell your house so close to purchase you’re going to take a hit – you pay a microscopic amount of your mortgage payment to principal each month for many years after purchase, and then selling the house with broker fees on top of that can be a $10,000+ dollar ordeal.

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          • jeff April 23, 2014 at 4:02 pm

            We’re loving the growth and change coming to Fo-Po as well…and welcome the bulldozer every time it shows up near our home to claim another lot. We’re hoping it continues to grow with both renovated single family homes and multi-family complexes…as long as they’re done well and with thought to the community. There’s a lot of promise in that triangle and we’ll continue to improve (gentrify?) our home over the next few years with profit in mind when we’re ready to move.

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        • was carless April 23, 2014 at 12:06 pm

          Homeowners usually only care about profit. Therefore, if they can make more money selling to an apartment developer rather than a homeowner, they would.

          Its the neighbors and n’hood associations that don’t want any change.

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          • davemess April 23, 2014 at 12:54 pm

            And who do you think the neighborhood and NA’s are made up of?

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            • was carless April 23, 2014 at 4:08 pm

              And you think that NA are democratic?

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              • davemess April 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm

                Absolutely. Show up there are votes for all offices. Frankly it would not take that many like minded people to completely revamp a NA’s board. Many neighborhoods have pretty skimpy attendance, and if you could pull 10-15 of your neighborhood friends together, you could probably be elected president if you really wanted to.

                This isn’t some dark conspiracy with big government or corporations pulling the strings. It’s a bunch of neighbors who volunteer their time to try to make where they live a better place.

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              • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 5:48 pm

                LOL – I actually refused to put my name on the ballot last go-around for LNA Land-Use chair and I still got elected by write-in. Kinda hard to say no when 30 people insist you carry on.

                Anyone want to be the land-use chair for a 3.5 square mile neighborhood with 10K households and three major commercial districts/corridors? It’s a non-stop party I tell you.

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              • Terry D April 24, 2014 at 9:32 am

                That is what happened in North Tabor. We had an almost entire turn over this last year, with new urbanists leading. Hence, when we wrote our comprehensive letter to the city we were actually calling for more density on the main arterials that they were.

                We also called for significant changes to the city codes that would allow for more duplexing, micro-home and garage conversions. We also called for new large buildings to be mixed income …as in inclusionairy zoning. I know it is illegal here, but the city wants it. Many neighborhoods would be more amenable to higher density infill if it could be more tailored to the needs of the neighborhood instead of developers.

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        • AMA April 23, 2014 at 1:08 pm

          There is PLENTY of space for multifamily that doesn’t involve tearing down existing homes in established neighborhoods. Look at Buckman, where I live. East Burnside from roughly 10th to 28th could be redeveloped as multifamily housing, replacing mostly single story old strip retail (or houses converted to retail in the 80s) without touching an existing house that people live in.

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        • eric May 20, 2014 at 9:07 am

          I am another homeowner in favor of development, and there are many in my neighborhood who feel the same way. Of course, there are also a lot of people who are against it. But my take is that it’s about evenly divided.

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    • jeff April 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      not much…what’s also hard to understand is the fact that multi-unit dwellings are currently being constructed all over inner S.E…..

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    • Cora Potter April 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      I’d wager less than the amount of vacant land that’s currently zoned CS, CM, R1 or R2.5 – especially if you are talking about everything within the city limits.

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  • RH April 23, 2014 at 10:11 am

    There are quite a few of folks who want to live within inner PDX, but don’t want to give up their luxurious lifestyle. They’ll lease a new car every 3 years, eat out, go to Starbucks every day, buy junk on their credit card, take fancy vacations, spend $100 at the bar every weekend, etc.. But when it comes to saving up cash for a larger downpayment on a house (in order to get a smaller mortgage payment, etc..)…they will flinch and not want to make the effort and sacrifice. They need a financial ‘punch in the face’ to get their priorities right. Just sayin’.

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    • Paul Souders April 23, 2014 at 11:31 am

      How much coffee do you think people drink, exactly?

      The houses in the burbs right now are a *magnitude* cheaper than inner Portland eastside. Meaning: for what a single house costs in Hollywood you can buy two or more houses in Troutdale.

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      • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 11:50 am

        Or, you could buy two houses in Lents and get the best of both worlds – minus a decent grocery store.

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        • gutterbunny April 23, 2014 at 5:32 pm

          And then sell them in 10 years once Lents gets gentrified (is going to go fast there soon).

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      • Bjorn April 23, 2014 at 11:58 am

        a magnitude difference is 10x not 2x.

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    • spare_wheel April 23, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      mortgages and SFRs appreciate at a historical inflation-adjusted rate of 0.3% (C-S Index). and not everyone manages to perfectly time the next oh-so-societally useful housing bubble.

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    • jeff April 23, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      what are you ‘just sayin” exactly? your generalizations are painful to read.

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  • MaxD April 23, 2014 at 10:22 am

    One thing this article overlooks, IMO, is creating true “town centers” throughout Portland. Portland zoning and planning encourages the development of more intensly developed streets with mixed-use development that includes office, commercial and mult0family. In short, the 7-mile shouldn’t only be drawn around the center of downtown. Portland has great neighborhoods and great amenities spread throughout (including higher ed, great food, industry). I would really HATE for it to get developed with concentric rings of increasing density the closer one gets to downtown. Downtown is the center, and has the largest draw, but I approve of continuing to develop a multi-centered city with jobs, transportation, education and housing density dispersed throughout the City

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    • Michael Andersen, BikePortland April 23, 2014 at 10:49 am

      You’re right, MaxD – I did skim over that. Engstrom and I talked a bit about Gateway, which I think should one day be the awesomest of a bunch of town centers. He said that’s just a very long way off: there’s much more demand for housing in Buckman than near Gateway, presumably because Buckman’s a way more pleasant (and, ahem, less auto-oriented) place to spend time.

      On a smaller scale, the city’s strategy is to do more or less what you’re saying, with many pockets of mixed-use along major streets. (Notable exceptions: the inner west neighborhoods and the Irvington/Beaumont area in NE.) Neighborhood commercial is something lots of Portlanders like, but it’s also responsible for much of the auto parking conflict that dominates land-use conversations in the city right now.

      On employment, by the way: N. Williams is about to get a fairly big office building. There are also a few office buildings popping up on the east side right now, spillover from the red-hot office market on the central east side. If those buildings do well and the tech sector here keeps growing, I could see the next east-side building boom being a bunch of hip office buildings.

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      • MaxD April 23, 2014 at 11:13 am

        Thanks for response, Michael. I will only add that Gateway will remain a VERY long way if the City panders to the demand for housing in Buckman by letting developers build a bunch of cheap, amenity-poor multifamily stuff there. The zoning is a way to guide development to places like Gateway so it can continue to evolve.

        ON the topics of allowing multi-family, I think if the city wants to replace single-family homes, it needs to get MUCH more creative and proactive with its zoning. We are getting a lot of 300 sf studios and 500 sf one bedrooms with windows on only one wall and no outdoor space. We need to mandate developments that accommodates families and seniors, and people with pets, etc. I would love to see some design or perfomance standards that include requiring 3-bedroom and 2-bedroom units, better windows for cross ventilation, outdoor spaces for gardening, barbequing, eating, playing, etc. Density must be paired with quality of life.

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      • Jim Labbe April 23, 2014 at 1:14 pm

        You mean awesomest of a the region’s few Regional Centers! And it may not be that far off.

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        • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

          I know I’m super excited to be working in a brand spanking new, swank, modern office in Gateway come July.

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          • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

            AND – I’ll be able to bike to work. I can’t do that now (I currently work in Kerns).

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            • Terry D April 24, 2014 at 9:38 am

              Lents to Kerns? That is not a bad commute if you know where to go….

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              • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 9:46 am

                No, it’s not bad. It’s just not within my physical abilities (I have some congenital defects in my legs that make longer rides in cold weather difficult and up until a couple months ago I did not own an appropriate commuter bike). Right now, I take the 72nd and the 19 mostly. More than occasionally I take MAX. If I were going to bike I would probably take the Center greenway then cut over to Woodward/Clinton and then take 20th. I may try it a couple times before July on a fairweather day. For me, it’s probably a 45-50 minute ride.

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              • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 9:47 am

                That said – my partner is a daily bike commuter from our place by Lents Park to the South Park blocks downtown. So, even those outside the magical 7 mile ring manage. 🙂

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      • will p April 23, 2014 at 4:31 pm

        MA – I am curious to why you mention Beaumont as an exception. Did you mean Irvington/Alameda? Beaumont has a long strip of mixed use zoning. Brand spanking new apartment building, over priced homes, plenty of retail. Seems exactly what the planners are aiming for.

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      • Ted Buehler April 23, 2014 at 7:42 pm

        Michael wrote:
        “N. Williams is about to get a fairly big office building.”

        Actually, N. Williams is getting three fairly big office buildings.


        The Radiator is framed up and skinned already. The other two have been given final approval, but haven’t started construction yet.

        All are on the block just north of Fremont/New Seasons.

        Ted Buehler

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    • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 10:55 am

      This is EXACTLY what I’ve been advocating for since I first moved to Portland and started digging into the long-range planning documents (2000). A town center isn’t just a blob on a map – it’s a place where planning and capital investment is meant to shape the market to promote not only housing density, but aggregation and concentration of the aforementioned jobs, accessibility AND mobility (not just mobility), etc.

      Focusing on the Central city was useful in the 1970s and 80s. That era is over. We need to realize our own planning goal of being a poly-centric region.

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      • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm

        This is one area where we largely agree. Town centers are much easier to serve with low-cost, frequent, high capacity transit. I was amazed when I visited Stockholm, Sweden and saw how the Metro area was configured. The suburbs are largely centered around transit stations. You would have a dense town, then green space, then another dense town, etc. The population was highly mobile because of the fast transit system, but they were able to keep some open spaces for recreation nearby. If only Washington County would embrace this concept. It could be such a great place…

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        • wsbob April 23, 2014 at 1:38 pm

          “…The population was highly mobile because of the fast transit system, but they were able to keep some open spaces for recreation nearby. If only Washington County would embrace this concept. It could be such a great place…” Chris I

          Washington County, more specifically, Hillsboro, has Orenco. How’s that relatively development recently designed and built around light rail and near to a nearby big employer, doing? Is the demand to live there, next to employment and services, increasing over the desire many people seem to have, to live further out in one of Hillsboro’s suburbs?

          For those kinds of developments to be more successful than single family dwelling neighborhoods, they somehow have to be more appealing and affordable to people than are houses out in the suburbs. Washington County is a great place. It does have countryside and open space for recreation nearby, that inner Portland neighborhoods don’t have. Nevertheless, out here, even where core density multi-use development and housing exists, the single family dwelling arrangement seems to continue to be more popular.

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          • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm

            The countryside will continue to get further and further away if you keep building single-family developments.

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            • MaxD April 23, 2014 at 2:55 pm

              Agreed! But the multi-family/density doesn’t need to be arranged concentrically around the downtown from most dense at the center to least dense at the edges. We should not want uniform density, instead we should zone and plan for a rhythm of densities throughout the city, with higher densities closest to amenties like large open spaces, mass transit corridors and mixed use (commercial/office/residential) centers.

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              • James Sherbondy April 23, 2014 at 3:04 pm

                I wish I could thumbs up this 100 times!

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            • wsbob April 23, 2014 at 6:56 pm

              Single-family houses seem to be the type housing people generally prefer, as they’re able to afford it. If a majority of people really wanted to live in the kind of multifamily housing Orenco offers, instead of single family housing, it’s multifamily housing that would be the predominant housing type being built.

              If the city were to put a whole bunch more high rise, multifamily housing units into close in neighborhoods within the 7 mile circle bikeportland’s story highlights, the question of what it would take to have people happily choose that housing rather than a single family dwelling out in a quiet suburb, still remains.

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              • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 7:04 am

                I can only speak from my experience here- but I chose a single family home, even though I am very amenable to living in a high rise condo in the Pearl or on Williams. But, in shopping there was only one building that I found, design wise, that appealed to me, and that was the 937. And, of course, the 937 was well out of affordability range for me- especially when factoring in the HOA fees.

                I hate long, narrow apartments/flats. And that’s the vast majority of what’s on the market because it’s what gets you the most units per floor.

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    • Paul Souders April 23, 2014 at 11:33 am

      THIS. I don’t want to live close to “THE core,” I want to live close to “A core.”

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      • davemess April 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm

        Just not Lents.

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        • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 5:55 pm

          To be fair he said Lents isn’t as close to stuff he needs to access as his current place in SW, which I took as he’s just staying put for logistical reasons – not really rejecting Lents as a place in general.

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          • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 5:58 pm

            We do have THE goats though – so, all y’all are missing out. Also fab natural areas and parks, commercial district with massive potential, TWO major bike/multi-use paths and crazy good intra-neighborhood bike access. Hell – intra-east-portland bike access. Also, our Asian food is better. period.

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    • was carless April 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      That means you start allowing much larger apartment buildings, hospitals, college campuses, healthcare clinics, affordable housing, social services and apartment buildings be built in these centers.

      From what Portland’s neighborhood history has shown us is that most Portlanders are totally against these “non-conforming uses” from being allowed, let alone funded, in the designated Metro “town centers.” Therefore, as zoning has never been updated to allow residential uses, they will not happen!

      Then you compound the issue with the fact that land values in many of the outlying neighborhoods are lower than near downtown, and you have no interest in redevelopment. That may not be as big an issue as 10 years ago, however.

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      • was carless April 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm

        Forgot to add office buildings, which can be quite large.

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      • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 12:34 pm

        Actually – I think you’d find that most folks in Lents Town Center would readily welcome a large office development, an industrical or flex space campus in the JCID or an institutional employer/hospital campus. And, there’s actually space for all of these uses. The same holds true for Gateway. And, PCC SE is doing a huge campus expansion on 82nd, and Multnomah University on 84th and Glisan is also developing.

        Hollywood already has a big hospital use (Providence).

        Opposition to change is an inner Portland phenomena – and for good reason. They’re the ones being pressured to change – rapidly and in a lot of cases drastically.

        That opposition doesn’t automatically transfer to other parts of town, especially when the development is proposed not to replace a single-family lot/block/neighborhood, but as infill in already underdeveloped commercial and industrial areas.

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        • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 12:50 pm

          Also – the zoning in central Gateway is predominately RX, EX or CX. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/53366

          Lents Town Center is primarily EX(d) with some CM and then surrounding R1 and R2.5.

          So, the zoning capacity is there, and so far there hasn’t been any push-back on development other than folks not wanting the residential capacity used exclusively for subsidized housing and a desire to have ground floor active retail uses in mixed use buildings – especially on main streets and key commercial nodes.

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        • was carless April 23, 2014 at 4:15 pm

          You are right, it probably is a predominantly inner SE/SW phenomenon. I actually would like to see town center development throughout Portland and the Metro area, but am somewhat cynical about it really happening.

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        • Terry D April 24, 2014 at 9:50 am

          Providence Hospital is in North Tabor, except for their new office park that is in Hollywood, and generally they are not the best neighbors in the world. As a neighborhood, we feel that they have taken over the west end and given back very little. We can not even use their meeting rooms. It is one thing to call for large employment in neighborhoods, it is another when they bring many 1000’s of trips a day into a neighborhood and yet give nothing back except degradation of the region through congestion. Everyone will see this in the summer once the 50’s bikeway is built. They are not planning any changes to their exiting system from their parking-ramp, which is going to create all sort’s of fun in the afternoon commute at that light at Glisan. They will not even pay for crosswalks…”it is PBOT’s responsibility.”

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  • wsbob April 23, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Hypothetically, let’s say, take all the land zoned for single family dwelling within the 7 mile circle surrounding the central city area, and rezone it for mixed use. Many four or five story, and even taller buildings then are built to provide housing.

    Look to bigger cities for possible examples of the situation created. NYC, with its block upon block of high rise housing, for example. To counter the cars for transportation problem, and parking for them, that very dense housing can produce, NYC has a far more extensive mass transit system than does Portland.

    In terms of distance that a casual city rider will ride to work, and so forth, 7 miles may be quite a stretch. Looking at the map with the circle situated over it, even half that distance, three and a half miles, from the outer reaches of that circle, would be a stretch for many people. With some super fine cycle tracks, maybe.

    Building good neighborhoods that include many high rise buildings may be a lot tougher to do than many people would like to think. Hopefully, they’re designed and built, not just to be relatively affordable, but also so that they’re places that people actually would want to live in, rather than in a single family dwelling located in a close in neighborhood, or out in the comparatively quiet, cleaner surroundings of the suburbs.

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    • MaxD April 23, 2014 at 10:58 am

      Vancouver, BC’ west end has blocks and blocks 3-4 story multi-family with some towers along the baech and the the shopping streets. This model has a ton of density, it is super quiet and safe, adn may be a good model for close-in density. However, a big part of why this works so well is that Vancouver has a much higher commitment to providing high quality, shared openspace for people. There is an amazing bike/ped network, large parks, and lots of places for people to hang out, outdoors. They accomodate barbequing, offleash dogs, rollerbladings, kayaking, etc. If Portland wants to get dense, it also has to reckon with compensating people with high quality, diverse outdoor places. So many of parks are increasingly becoming off limits due to restoration goals. I love native plants and ecosystems, but some of the park land within the UGB needs to be for people to actually use if we want to preserve some of the larger habitats and agricultural lands outside the UGB!

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      • wsbob April 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

        “…I love native plants and ecosystems, but some of the park land within the UGB needs to be for people to actually use…” MaxD

        You might think twice before repeating remarks like that one.

        As for BC being a model of high population density through high rise, affordable housing that people would find more appealing than a single family dwelling, that’s a maybe. To be more certain neighborhoods designated to have many high rise buildings will be good ones, they probably really need to be designed as a whole, rather than from a hodgepodge approach.

        Sticking multi-family dwellings here and there in neighborhoods, providing insufficient transportation infrastructure and mediocre or no amenities such as parks, can result in their being places that people want to move away from ASAP. Creation of such places, is one of the reasons single family dwellings in suburbs away from city central cores came to be.

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        • MaxD April 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm

          I guess I mostly agree with you. The City would need to structure the redevelopment density around some well-developed amenities like mixed-use corridors or significant opensapces and not simply allow hodge-podge infill.

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    • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 11:55 am

      I’m interested to see the results of the recent survey that Metro put out asking about housing preferences and the trade-offs people are willing to make (cost vs. distance vs. amenities vs. detached housing etc). But, I think it will just reaffirm what past surveys have shown: people in Portland want affordable, detached single family housing with access to urban amenities within walking distance. They’re willing to make some cost and size trade-offs to achieve this, but living in attached and multi-family housing is not appealing to them.

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      • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 11:57 am

        That’s not to say that the percentage of people willing to live in attached or multi-family housing isn’t increasing – it’s just not the majority and won’t achieve majority status for a long while – if ever.

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      • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm

        And I want a flying unicorn to commute to work on… people want a lot of things, but they usually aren’t willing to pay for them. The fact is, you can’t support a vibrant commercial district if you surround it with single family detached homes. Name a popular commercial district in Portland that doesn’t have multi-family housing nearby… If we only provide single family houses in desirable neighborhoods, they are only going to be affordable to the wealthy.

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    • was carless April 23, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      I actually think that the development pattern we have in place – denser, mixed use 4-5 story buildings along major streets/transit corridors is the way to go for now. We will be able to fit 10’s of 1000’s of residents into these new developments. Downtown, the central city, SoWa and the Lloyd District can fit 1000’s more.

      After those fill up, we may want to look at how NW Portland has balanced denser apartments along with SFH. After all, not all houses are really worth keeping – Portland is full of poorly built, falling apart and not-so-great to live in houses that could be replaced. Would it change the character of the city? Sure. But it may be a smarter decision than trying to save every cramped and rotting 1910 bungalow in the city.

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  • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Michael – can I suggest a second map? Draw a 7 mile radius circle with it’s centroid NE 99th and Pacific.

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    • was carless April 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      I really don’t understand your fixation with Gateway. There is no draw or reason for people to go there. Gateway is not a CBD, it has very few amenities, and is not very walkable. It also has low land values, which is the main driver for development.

      I think we need realistic expectations when it comes to Portland’s urban future. One of those is that people want to live where the action is, close to downtown – where we find the highest property values and rent.

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      • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        It’s not my personal fixation. Gateway is a planned regional center, and the level of transit investment there reflects that. In addition it does have some significant institutional employers (Adventist, Pacific Power and Light) and zoning that could be leveraged into a district that is comparable to downtown Hilllsboro or Beaverton. What’s not catching up is the the City of Portland – they’re too busy pandering to the owners of real estate in the central city to follow through on investments and development in Gateway – investments and development they committed to when they agreed to Metro’s 2040 plan.

        And, Gateway developing into a true Regional Center gets us a hell of a lot closer to solving some of our equity issues as a city than building tiny apartments and more office space in the Central City.

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        • Lazy Spinner April 23, 2014 at 2:24 pm

          Thank you for bringing up the west side suburbs. I can hear the groans already but, I think that Hillsboro is doing a better job of putting housing and commerce close to employment while building better connected infrastructure than Portland. If you live within a few miles of Intel, Nike, the new Kaiser hospital, and some of the other assorted tech businesses out here, getting to work via bike is easier than getting to downtown Portland from its close-in neighborhoods. Flat wide roads with bike lanes, neighborhoods connected with off road paths and parks, plus centralized commercial areas make bike usage very competitive with auto usage. While lacking in chi-chi eateries and cool watering holes, you can bike anywhere with ease and the weekend’s grocery getting, errands, Costco stock up, kid’s sports, catching a movie and the like can be accomplished with a single auto trip of less than 10 total miles traveled. Best of all, you are not forced to do everything in downtown Hillsboro because the politicians demand that the “progress” be within site of their office windows.

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      • spare_wheel April 23, 2014 at 1:07 pm

        because gateway is a symbol of the portland’s failed promises to the east side.

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  • TOM April 23, 2014 at 11:12 am

    >>Seven miles is an important distance in the world of bike transportation.

    It’s about the distance a casual city rider can pedal in an hour, which studies show is the upper limit of the time most humans prefer to commute.

    Seven miles as the crow flies or radius’s from a center are usually more via bike . We generally ride right angles not hypotenuses.

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    • wsbob April 23, 2014 at 11:41 am

      “…Seven miles as the crow flies or radius’s from a center are usually more via bike .” TOM

      Reference in this story, to findings that casual city riders will ride up to 7 miles for a commute, etc, doesn’t note with it the type of infrastructure likely required to support and encourage riding by people living within a very densely populated area such as the suggested 7 mile central core.

      While Portland has made efforts to improve its infrastructure in support of travel by bike, to meet bike travel objectives for a much denser population than exists now, the current infrastructure is most likely, barely sufficient.

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    • rain panther April 23, 2014 at 11:44 am

      I could be wrong, but I was assuming that was factored into the 7 miles per hour estimate. My 5-6 mile morning commute takes me about 25 minutes, and I wouldn’t describe myself as exceptionally speedy.

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  • Alexis April 23, 2014 at 11:50 am

    How to ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) fit into this picture? I recently bought a house in Irvington, and while I’d consider turning my detached double garage into a separate living unit, the permitting costs – especially for the historic district design review – are daunting.

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    • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      Welcome to Portland. The permit fees for my basement conversion are going to be about 10% of the total project cost. They don’t make it easy or cheap, but at least we can feel a bit safer, as it helps prevent really dangerous, shoddy conversions from happening.

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    • was carless April 23, 2014 at 4:24 pm

      ADU’s alone will not enable the city to significantly densify. They are a useful tool for homeowners, however. You can use them to generate rental revenue or allow family members or friends to stay with you in their own unit!

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  • Buzz Aldrin April 23, 2014 at 11:55 am

    look around in neighborhoods like Buckman at the crappy, out-of-place, poorly designed and constructed multi-unit apartments built in the 60s and 70s, often on lots where a former single family home had been razed, and you will understand why there is no great desire for higher density in these neighborhoods except on the bordering arterials.

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    • nuovorecord April 23, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Density doesn’t have to look like 60-70s era apartments.

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      • Buzz Aldrin April 23, 2014 at 3:58 pm

        no, but judging by some of the architectural monstrosities now being built on SE Hawthorne, Belmont and Division, most early 21st century apartments will be just as tacky in their own post-post-modern way…

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        • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm

          My favorite is the “wavy” cement fiberboard siding they’re using to add “architectural interest”. BLEH.

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  • Chris Smith April 23, 2014 at 11:55 am

    While this raises an interesting discussion, I’m not sure it ultimately asks the right question. The question here seems to be “how much of central Portland should be zoned for high density?” I would suggest the right question is “have we zoned sufficient high density development capacity in central Portland?” If you looked at the zoned FAR (floor area ratio – the basis measure of how dense a given property can be), I suspect you’ll find that we have an enormous amount of capacity. I don’t think bulldozing single-family neighborhoods is going to help with affordability. We need to look to other issues.

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    • spare_wheel April 23, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      I prefer data to suspicion:

      In 2012 and 2013 Portland had the lowest and second lowest vacancy rate respectively of major cities in the USA.


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      • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 1:29 pm

        Vacancy rates are not the same thing as zoning/development capacity. There is enough zoning capacity in the city to provide residences for existing and projected residents until 2035 – actually I think we’re even over capacity.

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        • spare_wheel April 23, 2014 at 3:41 pm

          both you chris made this assertion without providing evidence. show me the numbers. in particular, demonstrate that this capacity is located in areas where vacancy rates are low (or where development makes economic sense). capacity in centennial (a red-lined ghetto with very high vacancy rates) or the pearl (uber-expensive developed land with higher vacancy rates) is not capacity in buckman, sunnyside, richmond, H-A, irvington, sabin, alameda, vernon etc. that big yellow blob in inner NE portland is particularly disgraceful.

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            • Cora Potter April 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm

              Actually – this is the more applicable document: http://www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan/index.cfm?c=54647&a=392783

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              • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 8:05 am

                did you look at your own link?

                it showed capacity in highly developed inner nw and sw and on the periphery (especially around the urban blight that is 82nd) and a big fat hole in the inner se and ne. moreover, it is entirely disingenuous to focus on excess capacity city wide when the focus of this post was on the central city. and as i mentioned previously vacancy rates are absurdly low in nimby limousine liberal inner eastside neighborhoods (ironically these neighborhoods also get a massive property tax break).

                it boggles the mind that you and chris are arguing that nimby zoning barriers* do not contribute to scarcity in central portland when the data (in the map above) and in your links shows big gaping holes in the most desirable neighborhoods in pdx.

                *other barriers, such as, credit tightness caused by the SFR bubble also contribute (pure irony)

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              • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 9:27 am

                I did read my own link, many times, well before this article and comment thread.

                Capacity-wise for new construction, there is modest but adequate capacity on Hawthorne, Division and Powell in inner SE. If you’re willing to make a stretch there’s a large amount of capacity – with a lot less existing development destruction to be utilized along Foster and space for a pretty significant center node in Woodstock. Downtown, the Central Eastside and Lloyd have a large quantity of capacity (central central) even with the existing industrial and infrastructure constraints, MLK has a huge quantity of capacity, and there is also corridor capacity along Sandy and Burnside (inner NE). So no, in the next 20 years we don’t have a zoning capacity issue in inner NE, inner SE or in the Central city. And, factoring in the immense amount of capacity in Gateway and along 82nd, we are well supplied for a very long time.

                Unless what you really want is to turn Laurelhurst, Eastmoreland, Ladd’s Addition, Sumner, etc into mid rise or high rise areas and completely devalue all the land east of 82nd by down-zoning, there’s not a problem that’s caused by zoning and there aren’t any big capacity holes.

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              • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 2:16 pm

                Unless what you really want is to turn Laurelhurst, Eastmoreland, Ladd’s Addition, Sumner, etc into mid rise or high rise areas and c

                re-zoning some parcels for small- and medium-size apartment buildings is not the equivalent of turning buckman into manhattan. heck, let’s rezone the many plots that have olive/brown/beige 60s era buildings with ugly parking lots. it’s my understanding that most of these are grandfathered in but are not currently zoned for new multi-unit buildings. surely replacing these eyesores with new 3-5 story apartment buildings would be an improvement?

                completely devalue all the land east of 82nd by down-zoning

                first of all, what exactly is wrong with cheaper houses? secondly, “down-zoning” is an interesting choice of words. care to explain what’s “down” about re-zoning for higher density?

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              • Cora Potter April 25, 2014 at 3:15 pm

                Simply – “down zoning” is reducing the development capacity of a parcel. So, converting CX to R2.5 would be a significant reduction in development capacity – and as a result a reduction in land value.

                Upzoning is an increase in capacity- example changing R5 to CS. And a change like that generally increases the value of the land.

                Planners zone for capacity. If there’s already plenty of capacity, they generally try to keep that in balance- so if they up zone an area, they also look for opportunities to down zone other areas. Down zoning is a hard thing to do though, because of the loss of land value.

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              • spare_wheel April 25, 2014 at 9:51 pm

                sorry but i did not understand your post. why would allowing for intermediate density in central portland necessarily cause rezoning of outer portland?

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  • J_R April 23, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    This argument seems to be based on the theory that the only destinations that are sought by people are in the central city. Even when I worked in downtown Portland, my work trips accounted for only two of my family’s ten to 14 trips per day. My children’s trips to school were always walking trips and they were in the neighborhood – not downtown. Grocery store trips were also never to downtown.

    What we need are lots of destinations for services near the places where we live. Places to work near our residential areas would be nice, too, but are not as critical as services, which account for the majority of our trips.

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  • davemess April 23, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    “It’s a broad swath of the city that includes Hillsdale in Southwest Portland, Eastmoreland, Woodstock and Foster-Powell in Southeast.”

    it really only grazes half of these neighborhoods. Over half of FoPo is outside that line, as it a good chunk of Woodstock.

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    • gutterbunny April 23, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Yes but once you’re east of 39th, your need to go downtown lessens considerably unless you work there.

      I live out on the far east side of South Tabor, and really there isn’t anything downtown I need to get that can’t be gotten in Foster/Powell,Lents,Gateway/Mall 205, Montavilla, Woodstock,Hawthorn, Division, Hollywood, Clackamas.

      This is why I almost always butt in and talk about what poor planning it is to continue to develop the inner East side and Downtown. Farther out is where the most people live, and many of us ain’t looking to head downtown very often.

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      • davemess April 24, 2014 at 9:08 am

        And many people work there. And as much as you and other here want to negate downtown, it’s still downtown. Sure I’m not going there every day (I’m at SE 75th), but I am there at least once a week (for work) and maybe once every 1-2 weeks for fun, museums/Timbers/restaurants/etc.

        I completely agree with your premise. But I think many people in these central neighborhoods on the east side probably go downtown about as much as we do. they have all those same amenities as well.

        They are developing this area because it is still highly desirable (whether you or I agree, there is still massive demand for housing in this area).

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  • Dave April 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    These are the reasons that there should be both rent control and an absolute ceiling to the value and selling price of real property. A free market in property is an unacknowledged part of our transportation, energy use, and climate change problems.

    This whole article is pro-developer pap. Notice that they admit that the apartments they’re building are expensive, they want to dump zoning laws so that they can build really expensive apartments in the inner city and get rid of all of the affordable housing stock that already exists. Getting rid of our current zoning laws will just accelerate the move to push poverty out to the margins in our city.
    Don’t fall for this BS.
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    • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      Rent control doesn’t solve the problem. It does do a good job of discouraging additional development, because the land owners have less financial incentive, or are outright banned from development because they cannot evict. It only only benefits a small portion of the population that is lucky enough to win the lottery, or be grandfathered into the system. Read the article about SF that I posted above.

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    • Todd Hudson April 23, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Rent control in Oregon is prohibited by state law.

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    • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 8:18 am

      there was no bubble in multi-family residences or owners equivalent rent.
      look to truly massive tax breaks and preferential accesses to credit if you want to understand why single family housing prices are so high. it’s very hard for wall street to continue to make spectacular profits if the single largest investment the average american family makes does not become a speculative instrument.

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  • Troy Haliwell April 23, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    This is exactly why I moved to Vancouver. The housing is much less expensive. You take my home and put it in Portland and it would cost twice as much as it did here in Vancouver.

    Rents here are also less expensive than in Portland. A friend of mine rent’s his 2 br. apartment in a newer building near the Uptown area of Downtown Vancouver and it is $400 less than what he paid in Northeast Portland.

    I realize that the UGB is the issue in Portland with artificially inflating the costs of construction, renting, and buying a home. It artificially creates a shortage of housing, which causes rent to increase and at the same time prevents landowners from building additional capacity of housing.

    Not everyone though wants to live in a dense neighborhood. Some folks like having space around them that someone doesn’t occupy, they like the quiet that comes from a less dense neighborhood, and prefer a less crowded street to ride/drive down.

    I am one of those folks–my home is in a typical suburban neighborhood. My house in PDX was in the Lloyd Center area. The living conditions couldn’t be any different. Here I have a back yard which would be holding a second house on in Portland. I can go outside and not have my neighbor interrupting the intended solitude moment. I can then get on my bike to my doctor, the post office, any of three different grocery stores, a couple big box ones, and a nature trail that goes on for 9 miles in the heart of the city.

    In Lloyd, the traffic was horrible, riding a bike was fine on the lower trafficked streets north of NE Broadway, but man a trip to the grocery store meant dealing with the crush of traffic and taking my life in my hands with drivers not paying attention. My backyard was barely large enough for a small deck and a BBQ, and both my neighbors always knew if I was in it by looking out their bathroom and bedroom windows.

    So for me, Vancouver made sense. I have the benefits of all my retail trips being under 4 miles and all my health services being 1 mile save for the hospital which is a 4.5 mile ride away. My job in is in the ‘Couve so I save on the punitive income tax. If I want tax free, it is a trip across the Glen Jackson’s protected bike route.

    If you want that density, then sure you can live in Portland. Perhaps those folks who like the life that lower density brings could move to Vancouver and it’s urban area. 443,000+ people couldn’t all be wrong.

    (Vancouver: 164,235. Urban area: 278,976 2014 estimate)

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    • dan April 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      That sounds pretty great for anyone working in Vancouver. The commute to Portland is what kills it for me.

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    • Reza April 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      It must be great living in the state with the most regressive taxation system in the country.

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      • J_R April 23, 2014 at 5:26 pm

        It all depends on how you measure it. I’ve been considering moving from Portland to Vancouver because I’m a “saver” not a “spender.” Right now, all my income above $5000 per year is taxed at 9 percent (income tax). If I move to Vancouver, I only have to pay the sales tax on what I actually spend. Some big ticket items, such as rent and utilities, don’t have sales tax applied.

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        • davemess April 24, 2014 at 12:35 pm

          But you’ll keep paying that income tax if you work in Oregon (where most of the jobs are). If you have a job in WA, seems like a slam dunk.

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    • davemess April 23, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      Did you get out of the Lloyd much when you lived in Portland?

      Portland has so many neighborhoods that pretty much described what you’re describing in Vancouver to a T. Comparing the Suburbs to the Lloyd center is incredibly unfair.

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    • GlowBoy April 24, 2014 at 10:30 am

      I would dispute the assertion that the UGB creates an artificial shortage of buildable land. The purpose of the UGB is not to limit how much development the metro area has, it is to direct where that development goes.

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  • Ted Buehler April 23, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Interesting article.

    However, availability of land zoned for apartments is not a problem in Portland.

    See the 2012 “Buildable Lands Inventory” which concludes about residential land

    “Zoned capacity in Portland is sufficient to meet projected housing need; that is, enough land in Portland is currently zoned to accommodate the projected number of new households.”

    p. 17, http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/408231
    (I didn’t read all the methodology, but I figure they’re a reputable bunch.)

    This inventory is all over the city. To see it, look at a zoning map
    and check out the areas of dark red, dark blue and dark purple i neighborhoods that you frequent.

    For me, many blocks of land along the NE MLK and N Interstate corridors that are zoned for 5 story mixed use buildings. These are now things like gas stations, vacant lots, tired-looking single family homes, etc. The developments that are occurring now have only scratched the surface, so to speak, of the vast tracts of lands developed for apartment buildings.

    This inventory of buildable lands is something that will benefit Portland renters in the long run. Many other cities lack inventories of apartment-zoned vacant land, and the cities suffer for it in many ways. Portland is fortunate, thanks to aggressive upzoning by our leaders in years past.

    Ted Buehler

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    • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 8:38 am

      this post focuses on the central city

      while there is capacity downtown, in the pearl, and in the lloyd district much of this is built out and expensive. the links you posted clearly show a lack of capacity in many of the most desirable inner SE and NE neighborhoods. these are also the areas that contribute to portland having one of the lowest apartment vacancy rates in the nation.

      “NE MLK and N Interstate corridors that are zoned for 5 story mixed use building”

      so your response to the absurdly low vacancy rate in large swathes of central pdx is to tell renters that they are fortunate to have the chance to live on an arterial desert in an apartment building that might some day be built.


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      • MaxD April 24, 2014 at 11:15 am

        the article is not about the central city as it is commonly understood, the ‘central city’ this article refers to INCLUDES NE MLK and N Interstate Ave, not to mention NE Sandy, SE Powell, SE Foster, 82nd, etc.

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        • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 12:53 pm

          the circle drawn in the post does not include 82nd and only includes parts of the other arterials you mentioned. moreover, the post specifically mentioned close-in neighborhoods that are almost entirely zoned for sfr.
          thus, my focus on zoning and rental scarcity in those yellow blobs is on topic while those who argue that we have plenty of peripheral capacity are missing the point.

          i should note that i live in the sunnyside-buckman area and applaud the new low-parking apartment buildings that have popped up all over my neighborhood. unfortunately this development has come to a halt because the city increased permit requirements in response to protests from a minority of home owners. and some of these same homeowners are now protesting bike facilities because their free vehicle storage spots are further threatened. it’s time for some push back from homeowners and renters who are pro-density, pro-diversity, and pro-active transport.

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  • jim April 24, 2014 at 12:34 am

    There sure is a lot of yellow where I know there have been apartment buildings go up.

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  • Doug Klotz April 24, 2014 at 12:36 am

    Part of the problem with the Comp Plan’s Buildable Land inventory is they are counting all the R-1 apartment zoning along corridors as well as the CS. The difference is in CS you can build any number of apartments you want, as long as they fit in the envelope (and meet building code minimums). If over 30 units per project, you must provide parking. In the R-1 zone, you can only build one apartment per 1,000 sq Ft of site area. So, take a 100 x 100′ lot on Hawthorne. CS? You can build 30 units or more. R-1? You can build 10 units. Problem is that building less than 20 units does not pencil out in going to the trouble to get a loan, as well as other permit costs, etc. So, it seems that no market-rate apartments are getting built in R-1. Single-family houses are, some with ADUs. We’re not going to get that R-1 density, even if the site has a small, cheap house on it now. The other major source of “capacity” is all those swaths of neighborhoods that are zoned R2.5, or Comp Plan Designated R2.5. Unless they’re really luxury rowhouses, we’re seeing few of those built.

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    • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 7:17 am

      Before the recession, R2.5 town houses were definitely being built in East Portland and they definitely were built as an affordable alternative to detached housing- not as a luxury product. I suspect the same is true in N Portland.

      I would also like to see the R1 problem solved. The types of development forms you get from R1 -3 story walk ups/brownstone, real apartment “houses”/ cottage courts- are well loved building forms. But the problem is the penciling, not the form. So let’s solve from that side rather than throwing out a zone that provides variety.

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      • GlowBoy April 24, 2014 at 10:48 am

        We also need the R-1 and R2.5 (as opposed to CS) to provide family housing. Not all families like mine end up buying detached houses because they want a yard that badly. Many end up going that route because there is an extremely small supply of 3BR or larger apartments available to rent. And 3BR condos are prohibitively expensive in much of the city (though I have seen quite a few less-expensive R2.5 townhomes in East Portland, as Cora mentions). I would support rezoning more R5 as R2.5 and R1 to improve the supply of 3 and 4 bedroom units for families that take up less space than the traditional single house on a 4000-5000sf lot.

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        • spare_wheel April 25, 2014 at 10:01 pm

          families also live in multi-unit buildings. moreover, portland’s zoning is highly restrictive and favors single family residences. portland’s zoning also is a product of attempts to prevent blight in the inner city by frightened property owners. it’s time to drop these reactionary and regressive zoning categories and adopt the kind of zoning that other large metro areas in cascadia adopted years to decades ago.

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          • GlowBoy April 26, 2014 at 9:15 pm

            Agreed, we need more developers building 3BR apartments for families. Not sure how zoning plays into that, but if there’s a way for zoning to influence that, so that the new units aren’t ALL small units for hipsters, we should do it.

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      • Doug Klotz April 24, 2014 at 11:47 pm

        Certainly there’s a place for this type of development, but as a step-down from the higher density along the Transit Street. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t have currently a Residential zone that provides the CS-type density that would be appropriate on the Transit street. RH is the closest, but has higher height limits than the R-1, and so would be rejected for that reason. A version of RH with a 45′ height limit could be designed for the transit streets, and then R-1 in the next block, and then down to R 2.5. However, such gradual stepping down doesn’t seem politically feasible, at least in the inner neighborhoods.

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        • Cora Potter April 26, 2014 at 8:50 am

          Or, rather than changing the zone, you could just use the (a) or (t) overlay to provide density bonuses in exchange for specific development forms or amenities.

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  • Eli Spevak April 24, 2014 at 6:18 am

    Great article! There are some easy and effective ways Portland can update it’s zoning code to simultaneously preserve the character of existing neighborhoods AND allow more and smaller homes within these predominantly single dwelling zones. Here’ a link to a summary of initial ideas: http://www.orangesplot.net/blog/

    It’s also interesting to look at Portland’s zoning code before the 1959 code update, which switched lots of land area from multifamily to single family zones in close-in neighborhoods. Here’s a link for details:

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  • John Liu
    John Liu April 24, 2014 at 7:41 am

    The biggest factor in Portland’s housing shortage is the recession, which halted almost all development for five years. Similar to what happened in downtown office space. The surge of multi-family development going on now is just the start of catch-up. It may take a decade to fill that five year hole.

    As pointed out, there is ample zoned land on which that multi-family housing can be built. Ride around the city and on many arterials you’ll see block after block of low-value and low-occupancy commercial property and lots which can be replaced with apartment buildings. I was thinking about this as I rode around NE Sandy and Hollywood yesterday. Talk about under-utilized land.

    In a decade, I think there will be a much better supply of multi-family housing in Portland, without any change to zoning.

    However, there will not be a better supply of multi-family housing that is cheaply priced AND attractive AND close to the city center. The cost of development means that new construction won’t supply those units. Existing housing will rise in price with new housing, either through renovation, scarcity, or being torn down and replaced with new.

    Big picture: Portland is becoming a desirable city, and prices in desirable cities . . . rise. That has happened in every city I know of that has become desirable, in the US and indeed elsewhere.

    The best way to preserve cheap, attractive, close-in housing in Portland would be to tear out all the bike infrastructure, shut down all the good restaurants, drive out all the growing employers, and generally degrade the desirability of the city. Not likely to be the choice.

    One thing that could soften the desirability -> price rise effect could be new, smaller models of housing – micro-apartments, tiny houses, ADUs. That will require recalibration of renters’ expectations.

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    • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 8:43 am

      the drop in mdu construction predated the recession by many years. moreover, multi family starts increased immediately following the recession due to a spike in rental demand caused by foreclosure and falling incomes.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu April 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

        Here is national multi-family housing starts. It was stable for decades, then fell deeply in 2008 and has taken 5 years to recover to pre-recession levels. http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/HOUST5F

        Here is housing starts for the Portland metro region. The higher (blue) line is all units (single family and multi family), the lower (brown) line is only single family. Similar picture – starts dropped sharply in 2007 and has taken years to partly recover.

        Today, the single family starts are still well below pre-recession levels, while the multi family starts may now be back at, or above, those levels.
        The difference between the lines is the multi family starts; since the lines are almost together during the trough of the recession, you can see that multi family starts went to nearly nothing in those years. http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?chart_type=line&recession_bars=on&log_scales=&bgcolor=%23e1e9f0&graph_bgcolor=%23ffffff&fo=verdana&ts=12&tts=12&txtcolor=%23444444&show_legend=yes&show_axis_titles=yes&drp=0&cosd=1988-01-01%2C1988-01-01&coed=2014-02-01%2C2014-02-01&width=670&height=445&stacking=&range=&mode=fred&id=PORT941BPPRIV%2CPORT941BP1FHSA&transformation=lin&nd=&ost=-99999&oet=99999&scale=left&line_color=%234572a7&line_style=solid&lw=2&mark_type=&mw=3&mma=0&fml=a&fgst=lin&fq=Monthly&fam=avg&vintage_date=&revision_date=

        You can export the data to generate the data series for just multi family,

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        • John Liu
          John Liu April 24, 2014 at 10:39 am

          Okay, I’ve done the export and graphing. MFD permits/month averaged about 400 units/mo from 2001-2008, then plunged in mid 2008 to 100/mo or less, where it stayed until a slow recovery began in 2011. Currently MFD permits/mo are averaging around 300-400/mo, close to pre-recession levels. In contrast, SFH permits/mo are currently running at about half of pre-recession levels.

          I don’t know how to post the chart image here, but will email it to Michael.

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        • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 10:39 am

          erm…i see mdu starts at historically low levels from 2000 on and a drop during the great recession (that i did not dispute). i also see a sharp recovery that began at the end of the great recession.

          isn’t that exactly what i stated?

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          • John Liu
            John Liu April 24, 2014 at 11:43 am

            Portland metro MDU units in 2001-2008, averaging about 400/mo, was lower than in the previous cycle 1995-1999, which I eyeball at about 600/mo. I don’t know what the cycles in the 1980s, 1970s, and 1960s look like. The comparisons get less relevant as we go back over the decades, both for Portland and for the country. Population growth was different back then, for one thing.

            In the 2008- recession period, the 100/mo rate was far below the rate in prior recessions (eyeballing about 250/mo in the recession periods around 1990- and 2000-). It truly was a “Great Recession”, not that this is news to most of us. If we have a five year hole of 100/mo (-300/mo below prior levels) to fill, and if Portland continue to attract new residents and job growth, we’ll need to see many years of MDU permits well above prior levels.

            In the interim, I wouldn’t be surprised to see upward pressure on rents and prices continue.

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  • rex April 24, 2014 at 9:18 am

    As a 36 year resident of inner city Portland, I am thrilled by the new housing going in. I like the fact that young people can afford to live here and help support the bars, groceries, restaurants that I also enjoy.

    As I report here (http://bit.ly/1fnISy0) the new households in Multnomah County over the coming 20 years will be dominated by one person households (50% of new, of which 75% will be people over 65). Maybe we need a new word: what really is a single family? One person, three generations, four friends? Since households vary so much, we need a varied housing stock–again, the future demand will be for one bedroom housing.

    As for the proposition that existing “modest” housing in inner city is more affordable than apartments or condos–how can that be when the median house price in 97214 is $434,000? (Zillow 3/31/14) (I just saw a home on SE Salmon priced at an “affordable” $1.2Million!)

    Building 4-6 story buildings along major streets can enliven those streets, calm traffic and is entirely compatible with strong neighborhoods. Think of how much better 82nd would be if it was lined by such buildings and redesigned like a Parisian Boulevard instead of the dirty, dangerous and ugly place it is today.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu April 24, 2014 at 11:48 am

      “how much better 82nd would be if it was lined by such buildings and redesigned like a Parisian Boulevard instead of the dirty, dangerous and ugly place it is today.”

      Vastly better. And that wouldn’t require any significant zoning change. It would, however, require better transit up and down 82nd and from 82nd to central Portland. Bike infrastructure yes, but also bus, rail, and maybe car-share can help.

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      • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 12:07 pm

        I’m a little confused about the bus comment. The 72 is the highest ridership and most frequent bus line in the City/Trimet system. You can’t really improve on the bus service on 82nd. I don’t even have to think when I ride the 72. I just walk to the corner and it magically appears. The only thing that would make it better is if it didn’t have to stop as frequently and could have limited service to just the major cross streets. And, to do that you’d have to add local circulation service, like streetcar (which would be awesome) because there is a lot of need for the frequently spaced stops and local service.

        Also – there is carshare along 82nd. It’s pretty darn easy to get a car2go most of the time. There could be more zipcars available, but there are some. There’s even a bunch of getaround cars. They aren’t Maseratis or Teslas, but they work.

        Bike-wise, there’s an 80’s greenway that works pretty well, and the I-205 path if you’re covering longer distances.

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        • Chris I April 25, 2014 at 9:31 am

          You can definitely improve on the 72. After they finish BRT on Powell, they should use the same approach on 82nd. Queue jumps, dedicated space, larger capacity vehicles. You will improve speed and on-time performance. This will drive increased ridership, and support more density in the corridor.

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          • Cora Potter April 26, 2014 at 8:57 am

            I don’t disagree with this- but it can’t be at the cost of losing local circulation. BRT stops are spaced much further apart and if you spend enough time on the 72 (I’m a daily rider) you know that every stop gets used, and the residents and users of services in the area need closely spaced stops.

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          • GlowBoy April 26, 2014 at 9:30 pm

            Another thing TriMet could do, which I don’t see them doing anywhere is having a mix of local and express buses on the same route. TriMet only has a handful of express buses at all, mostly on freeways, anyway. Seattle’s metro has a number of routes where some buses make the milk run, stopping every 2-4 blocks, and at busier times there are also Express buses only stop every 20 blocks or so (often at major transfer points), covering the route a LOT faster. I took advantage of this a lot when I lived in Seattle. TriMet could be doing a lot more of this on their busy routes.

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            • davemess April 28, 2014 at 8:42 am

              TriMet does this on Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy, so it’s not completely new to them.

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      • Nick Falbo April 24, 2014 at 1:03 pm

        I think zoning would need to change to be more pedestrian focused. The current zoning on 82nd is very auto-accommodating, allowing for large off-street parking lots and drive through.

        If we went to a boulevard model, we’d need to reintroduce on-street parking along the access lanes and prohibit wasteful surface parking lots.

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        • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

          The zoning allows, and even requires pedestrian focused development, since 82nd is a transit street. It’s not the zoning that needs to change, it’s the development. The new buildings along 82nd (PCC SE, the Columbia Clinic, many of the Asian malls) are being built with pedestrian scale setbacks, active storefronts and other amenities. They’re just scattered. And, in cases of retrofits- like Eastport Plaza, the streetside entries aren’t being utilized – because most of the customers are still coming from the parking lot side.

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          • Nick Falbo April 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm

            Maybe we have different definitions of “pedestrian focused.”

            The Columbia Center property is half parking lot, and the main entrance is oriented toward that lot. This is not the type of development that will lead to a fully built out street. This perpetuates the “gap-tooth” look of suburban development.

            And what good is the transit setback if it is easy to get a variance? The gas station proposal on SE Schiller is evidence that our form-based requirements are weak sauce.

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            • Cora Potter April 25, 2014 at 8:21 am

              True, but at least the Columbia clinic building is oriented so the 1/2 of the lot that is parking lot isn’t 100% of the 82nd/transit street frontage. That’s still progress compared to a car lot or strip mall.

              Fred Meyer was able to develop a gas station in CG by right. But we also still need those sorts of things and better that they’re on 82nd and Schiller than 92nd and Schiller. A 20 sq ft kiosk is too tiny to have any effect on the street side continuity. I think we were wise to use that adjustment to leverage better traffic/driveway patters that protect Schiller and 84th from cut through.

              Added benefit: a couple of the nearby gas stations are now for sale. Maybe they’ll turn over into some other sort of development.

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              • Nick Falbo April 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

                The fact that you can built a gas station “by right” on 82nd tells me the zoning is not pedestrian-focused.

                I’m not saying no gas stations anywhere, but their location and form should be handled with care.

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  • Joe April 24, 2014 at 10:00 am

    I live in the Alberta area and would WELCOME more density. Right now single-family affordable homes are being torn down left and right and $600,000 HUGE single family houses are being built in their place. I lived in Germany for a year and these houses could easily be 3 flats of 1000 square feet each but the zoning says SFR. So another 1200 sf house gets bulldozed and an expensive one goes up in its place. Soon my neighborhood will be just rows of 3000 sf houses serving a family of maybe 4.

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    • benschon April 24, 2014 at 11:12 am

      Exactly. Mansion-ization is a direct, undesirable result of restrictions in single family zoned areas. Developers, acting rationally, squeeze the most money they can out of expensive land. If rules say no more than one unit per lot, they chase luxury buyers with lots of square feet and high prices. Allow 2 or 3 units within the same building envelope, and you can bet they would get built.

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      • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 11:16 am

        Except there’s generally not that much cross-over between multi-family developers and the developers of these large single family homes. The folks that are “mansionizing” Alberta and Sellwood are single family home developers that have moved into the inner city market.

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
          Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 24, 2014 at 11:42 am

          So are the folks building a lot of the new apartment buildings, right? Remmers and UDG, at least. Seems that developers follow the money once they figure out where it is.

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          • Cora Potter April 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm

            For every Remmers and UDG, there are 10 DK homes or Suncrest Constructions out there. That there’s a whole industry out there that specializes in fast tracking lot divisions and plats for single family home developments in Portland, separate from the actual development companies, says a lot about the market for development of lots within the boundaries of the city of Portland for single family residences.

            I think what everyone is missing is that while there is a market for new apartments, there’s also still a strong market for single family homes. And, as the inventory/supply of existing homes decreases to less that 3 months in most “desirable” neighborhoods (Overlook currently has zero, 0, nix homes available on the market for example) the amount of infill with single family residences may even make that market hotter than the apartment market. Add to that a single family home infill project is infinitely less complicated to accomplish than multi-family (no proformas, rent projections etc to deal with – and most of the time no design review) AND the housing starts in undeveloped areas like Happy Valley, Bethany etc. are down because the large-scale sub division developers are still recovering from the recession and also have converted their business model to infill detached single family development…

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        • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm

          re-zone those areas and developers will jump at the chance to build single lot 4-12 unit buildings. see san francisco and seattle for countless examples.

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          • Doug Klotz April 24, 2014 at 11:52 pm

            Developers I know say that really, building anything between 5 and 12 units is not feasible. Apparently 4 units and under fits in the “residential” loan class. Over, and you’re in the “commercial” class, with a lot more requirements. So many requirements, that it is not worth building less than 20 units. (Unless you’re in San Francisco and can charge much higher rents, perhaps).

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  • paul g. April 24, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Thanks to Chris Smith and Ted Buehler for providing actual facts to the discussion.

    It’s really ironic to see the posts here railing at “social engineering” or the limits that zoning places on your ability to knock down your house and build anything you want in its place.

    You can’t celebrate government planning one minute (UGB) then criticize it the next. Those same planners that promote density also try to manage density.

    You really want unrestricted multi-family units / apartments willy nilly? Who will end up paying for the upgraded sewer connections, road improvements, transportation connections, etc?

    Personally, I think Division has been very poorly managed by the City. The road doesn’t have the capacity to handle the increased volume, and bike riders can already the impact on Clinton. We need increased density, but we need to figure out the appropriate corridors, not just throw the gates open.

    Few homeowners that I know are greedily trying to cash in. Many of us are “home rich” meaning we are pretty much stuck as well. We could sell and pocket a nice profit (though could not a few years ago, and I know quite a few still underwater), but then we couldn’t afford anything comparable in the City.

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    • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

      “You can’t celebrate government planning one minute (UGB) then criticize it the next. Those same planners that promote density also try to manage density.”

      you may disagree with my “social engineering” (an insulting term, BTW) but this is a silly statement. since i support density i can certainly disagree with those who seek to manage it by disallowing it in neighborhoods that have “special” character. my position is consistent with someone who seeks sustainability and density.

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    • bjcefola April 24, 2014 at 11:19 pm

      Maybe if there was more housing supply prices wouldn’t be so high and you’d have more choices. Notice that if you’re unable to move from your home you’re stuck whether there are apartments on main streets or not. Which challenge would you prefer:

      -Trying to micro-manage who can live on your block trying to preserve an ideal neighborhood and hope that nothing in your life ever changes, or

      – Living in a city with a healthy housing market such that should your residence become undesirable for any reason- income change, family change, nuisance neighbors, mowing the lawn loses its charm- you could find housing that better suits your needs.

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  • Cora Potter April 24, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Developing 82nd is a fantastic idea. Here’s an area where the west side of the street at this intersection (which has an awesome grocery anchored site across the street and is on a neighborhood greenway) could be redeveloped into a pretty desirable place to live. And, it would be replacing a car lot and an unused warehouse rather than 2-3 centuries old homes.


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    • spare_wheel April 24, 2014 at 10:47 am

      i agree.
      i also think opening up buckman, sunnyside, richmond, sabin, or vernon to more development is a fantastic idea. then again maybe this is because i know many young people who have struggled to find affordable housing in neighborhoods that appeal to them. maybe they will eventually coalesce in some more distal neighborhood and start the process of gentrification.

      honestly, what i see is a city that at the first sign of protest from wealthy inner city residents slams the breaks (parking capacity requirements) on development of the small number of lots that cash flow in these areas.

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  • Terry D April 24, 2014 at 10:11 am

    As a neighborhood we fundamentally are concerned with the double problems of a lack of affordable housing and want to keep the “historic housing stock.”

    In response, we wanted the city to make it “fundamentally easier to duplex, add additions and ADU’s.” I am personally zoned R2 but comprehensive plan R1, but I am directly next to a non-conforming commercial in an r1. In response to our letter, the city has decided to change the CG zoning on Burnside to something more commercial/residential mixed use and include the non-conforming commercial. The question on Glisan is different. We think that the area north of Glisan between Providence and Center commons at 60th could handle MUCH more density as the neighboring buildings have a 99 foot limit. The city is current reticent about zoning this much density since it is not initiated by landowners…..but how would an R1 zoning pencil out when it butts up to a freeway?

    Initially I was thinking we should push for the higher density, but on second thought…after talking to a city planner, I am leaning more towards leaving it as is UNTIL we actually get inclusionairy zoning. That way we can REQUIRE true mixed income and sized units. We called for a mix of low income, work-force, family sized and retirement focused units. There is no way to do this without inclusionairy zoning…hence, since there is plenty of development room on Burnside for market rate mixed use (look at the south side between QFC at 60th) for the time being, as a Transportation and Land use chair I am willing to wait until the state law is changed so we get a better product that actually contains affordable housing that meets demand.

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  • Ted Buehler April 24, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Michael — I think you’ve made an error in your calculations.

    The Portland zone “EX” is termed “Employment” but what it really means is “Everything,” typically with a 65′ height limit (5 stories).

    In your map, you omitted all non “residential lands” from your buildable inventory. The EX land, while not zoned residential, is available for residential construction.

    There’s lots of EX land, suitable for building apartment buildings, that ie erroneously shown in “grey” on your map.

    For instance, many of the new apartment buildings in the inner N/NE are built on EX land, such as
    * The Albert, Williams and Beech, 64 units
    * The Payne, 18 units, Williams and Beech
    * 4200 N Williams 84 units, (under construction) Williams and Mason
    * Wilmore, about 50 units, (under construction) Williams and Skidmore
    * OAME site, about 184 units, soon to be under construction, Willams and Mason
    * Kaiser Towers, 8 stories, soon to be under construction, Williams and Fremont
    * Bakery Towers, 5 stories, 100+ units, soon to be under construction, Williams and Cook
    * new microflats, about 35 units, Vancouver between Failing and Beech
    * The Miss, ~40 units, Mississippi between Beech and Failing
    * The Sippi, ~25 units, Mississippi and Failing
    * The Prescott, ~? units, Skidmore and Interstate

    You might want to update your buildable land inventory map, and calculations, to include the EX zoned land…

    Here’s some screenshots showing where EX zoned land needs to be added to the “blue” section of your map — https://www.flickr.com/photos/11599639@N03/13995058791/

    Ted Buehler

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      Ted, thanks very much. Looks like you’re right. Engstrom’s staff put EX in the “employment and industrial” category while preparing the map, presumably because of the code requirement that residential uses aren’t supposed to “predominate.” I didn’t catch this, or realize that so much of the change in your area is within EX. I’ll start by adding a caveat to the caption beneath the image, a qualification in the text of the article and a note at the bottom. And I’ll ask Engstrom for advice on how best to characterize EX.

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  • Chris Smith April 24, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    There’s been a lot of great policy discussion here, but not much on the politics of density. I’ve been involved in this debate for a long time. I’d encourage folks to read the 1999 City Club report on increasing residential density (http://research.pdxcityclub.org/sites/default/files/reports/Density_1999.pdf) – I was a member of the study committee (at the time I was a board member in my neighborhood association).

    The City has essentially three strategies for accommodating residential growth:

    1) Whole new neighborhoods (Pearl, South Waterfront)
    2) Add multifamily development on transit corridors
    3) Infill single family neighborhoods

    Those are listed in the order of least political opposition.

    There is little or no opposition to new neighorhoods, because nobody lives there yet! And the City has taken advantage of that, but there really aren’t any more opportunities on the scale of the Pearl.

    Intensifying transit corridors has a strong policy nexus (we already have the transportation infrastructure) – but still encounters considerable local resistance on the grounds of building mass, height, design and on-street parking supply. Arguably we could do better on some of these issues, but we will upset people, as can be seen on Division and Williams.

    Neighborhood infill is the toughest, because it can happen next door to anyone. Witness the skinny houses debate. The City’s policies here are relatively mild yet still engender considerable pushback (when adopting the ADU liberalization, people testified that it would change the character of entire neighborhoods – instead we see a maximum of a few hundred built each year).

    “Density everywhere” is actually very bad for transportation (Metro modeled this while developing the 2040 concept). It generates lots of auto trips because you put housing relatively distant from services. The centers and corridors strategy does a much better job of reducing trips by putting residents near commercial and other other services.

    While there is a LOT of opportunity for refinement and improvement, I think the basic centers and corridors strategy for density being pursued by the City is on-track for both policy and political reasons.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 24, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      Very useful comments, Chris.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu April 24, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      “there really aren’t any more opportunities on the scale of the Pearl.”

      What about inner Eastside (Grand to the river)?

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      • Chris Smith April 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm

        In my view we still need that area to be focused on employment.

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        • Oregon Mamacita April 24, 2014 at 4:11 pm

          What? We need jobs? It can’t all be condos? My gosh. Don’t “Bogart” that joint. I wanted to turn the Entire Central Eastside into mixed use sock puppet studios/ tiny house/unicorn daycare, but now Chris S. starts talking jobs. Jeeze.

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          • Chris I April 25, 2014 at 9:41 am

            Ya, we definitely shouldn’t displace those used furniture warehouses with dense housing close to the largest employment center in the region (downtown Portland). That would be silly…

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            • Oregon Mamacita April 25, 2014 at 3:32 pm

              Well, the owners of City Liquidators aren’t selling. And if they did- that space could be used for offices/light manufacturing.

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        • spare_wheel April 25, 2014 at 7:58 am

          mixed use.

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          • John Liu
            John Liu April 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

            I suspect there are more jobs per block in the Pearl than in near Eastside (river to Grand), since much of the latter is parking lots, warehouses, and other under-utilized buildings.

            Compare to Pearl with office buildings, creative workspace, lots of retail and food businesses – high density mixed use, in other words.

            Of course we need warehouses too, but they don’t need to be located in the city center.

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      • Panda April 25, 2014 at 6:39 am

        What about the Lloyd Diatrict?

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        • John Liu
          John Liu April 25, 2014 at 9:08 am

          I think and hope that big things are afoot for the Lloyd District, with the 8th & Hassalo mega-project and the Lloyd Mall renovation, plus the 8th & Hassalo developer reportedly has plans and holdings elsewhere in the district too. With MAX and Streetcar service, Broadway St nearby, easy access to the Broadway Bridge and two freeways, and Portland’s first real experiment with a separated cycletrack, I think the Lloyd has much potential.

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    • bjcefola April 24, 2014 at 11:06 pm

      Chris, do you think Portland has a housing problem? If so, how does that reconcile with policies being on track?

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      • Chris Smith April 25, 2014 at 6:23 am

        I’m not arguing that we don’t have a housing affordability problem, I’m just saying that it’s not for lack of land that can be developed at high densities, and that opening up land for high density development that’s not well-served by transportation services would not improve affordability and would hurt safety, sustainability and increase congestion.

        The public capital that’s available for housing is primarily building housing for very low income people (<30% of median income). The private capital that is building in central Portland is opting to chase the high end of the market because they can make more money that way. I'd love to channel that private capital to build a more diverse product with a tool like inclusionary zoning, but the legislature has made that illegal.

        The assumption in this post seems to be that if we cleared a bunch of houses in the middle of Irvington and allowed high density development there, we'd suddenly have affordable apartments. I think we'd just get what we're getting now, in a slightly different place. The land values and apartment prices are a market function on what you can easily access, not a lack of places to build high density units.

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        • Panda April 25, 2014 at 6:49 am

          This is the most useful and succinct post yet, thanks!

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        • spare_wheel April 25, 2014 at 7:52 am

          “The assumption in this post seems to be that if we cleared a bunch of houses in the middle of Irvington and allowed high density development there, we’d suddenly have affordable apartments. I think we’d just get what we’re getting now, in a slightly different place. The land values and apartment prices are a market function on what you can easily access, not a lack of places to build high density units.”

          Like Cora above you argue from the extreme position that a change in zoning (and permitting) would necessarily result in “clearing a bunch of houses”. IMO, this is fear mongering. Many cities have successfully promoted a mix of multi-unit and SFR housing in diverse neighborhoods without razing historic SFR housing. Good examples in a neighboring city are Capitol Hill (upscale) and Central (more diverse and affordable).

          Small changes to zoning (and permitting restrictions) would facilitate the development of small apartment buildings/”plexes” instead of the many McMansions Rennaisance homes has littered around our inner city. These changes could be targeted to encourage developers to replace existing multi-unit lots with larger (and in many cases more attractive) small multi-unit buildings. I live next door to multiple small 4-12 unit buildings that have plenty of room for additional density. In fact, the local owner of one of these units has told me that he would love to develop a higher density building but that zoning and permitting road blocks prevent him from doing so.

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          • Cora Potter April 25, 2014 at 3:23 pm

            There is a bit of a ruby slippers thing going on here though- but highly dependent on the lot and existing house. But, in theory, you could divide an R5 lot into 2 lots, keep the existing house, build an additional house, and add ADUs to both lots. This would net 3 new housing units and one net parking space/driveway/garage. So, the end result is 4 units where there was previously only one.

            Density comes in more forms than multi-unit single buildings.

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        • bjcefola April 25, 2014 at 8:34 am

          Chris, you and I took different things from this article. I see it as an indictment of nimbyism, highlighting how single family home owners already have 2/3 of the city zoned solely for their use. Claims that new multi-family housing in the remaining 1/3 are somehow depriving single family homeowners is nonsense.

          And with respect to private capital, what were no-park apartments and micro-apartments if not attempts by private capital to build lower end housing? The city stamped out the former and would almost certainly do the same to the latter if any more such projects are proposed. Private capital isn’t going to build lower end housing because too many Portlanders don’t want them to, and too many city leaders agree with them.

          No one is putting up multi-family housing in neighborhood interiors. Instead multi-family housing is being successfully prevented in corridors where it is nominally allowed, whether by parking minimums or preservation districts (Irvington’s covers the north side of Broadway). If you think housing is a problem I don’t see how you can be satisfied with the status quo.

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          • Chris Smith April 25, 2014 at 9:10 am

            I’m not satisfied with the status quo, I just think the major obstacle isn’t the land supply. If you think you saw nimbyism over no-parking apartments, you ain’t seen nothing yet compared to what would happen if you proposed upzoning single-family neighborhoods (it will fly under the more charitable (and in many cases sincere) name of “preserving neighborhood character”). I’m a political pragmatist, I don’t want to wake up that bear, particularly when I think the correct answer is density in the centers and corridors anyway. Could some of the fix be zoning? Sure – Doug and others have pointed out that R1 and RH could possibly use some modification (or maybe there are better zones for the corridors).

            But if you tackle this with blanket upzoning, all that will happen is the election of a City Council with a no-growth majority. Then housing will get REALLY expensive.

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            • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
              Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

              Another good exchange, all. And for the record, I consider “goalpost relocator” to be part of my mission with the REB. 🙂

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            • spare_wheel April 25, 2014 at 12:11 pm

              by not walking that bear the overton window often causes “acceptable policy” discussion to be shifted towards the conservative position.

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            • benschon April 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

              Jeez. No one suggested “blanket upzoning” of single family neighborhoods, nor has anyone proposed high-rises in the center of Irvington. I think the main point of this post was show that single-family zoning is a limit on the free market, imposed by government, that reinforces privilege and drives up housing prices. Also, spatially it is the overwhelmingly dominant zoning category. If that’s what elected and appointed policy-makers want, fine. But let’s not kid ourselves that it’s the natural order of things.

              How about starting with smaller changes in the single family neighborhoods? Allow existing buildings (e.g., 4,000 sf Irvington mansions) to be converted into duplexes. Reduce city-imposed parking requirements. Aggressively promote ADUs. There are lots of small changes that could increase housing capacity, in the neighborhoods where people want to live, but zoning rules currently keep them away. Here’s a list of ideas:

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            • Oregon Mamacita April 28, 2014 at 1:23 pm

              Chris, I respect your views- even if I don’t always agree. But, if we are going to have a civil conversation- please don’t use the word “NIMBY” to
              describe skeptical neighbors. I am trying to say “planner” and not “utopian social engineer.” We both agree that the city is very much divided over density and cars. So, maybe everyone should avoid “fighting’ words.”

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    • spare_wheel April 25, 2014 at 8:08 am

      “Density everywhere” is actually very bad for transportation (Metro modeled this while developing the 2040 concept). It generates lots of auto trips because you put housing relatively distant from services.”

      I agree.

      But density in the central city is good for transportation. Since the original post mentioned Buckman let me point out that a major bus line is a few blocks away from any lot in this area. Development of smaller apartment buildings and “plexes” in central areas can only encourage greater use of public transport and active transport modes. This approach is complementary to the center and corridor model.

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  • o/o April 24, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    I live in Milwaukie about 8.5 miles to Portland city hall. Wish I could live a bit closer like Sellwood. But I am generally happy with my current house.

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    • davemess April 25, 2014 at 9:29 am

      I agree. I think a bit of this is an expectation issue. The central area is popular now, thus it’s going to be more expensive, if you can’t afford to live there, move to somewhere this more affordable (and this means further out).

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  • gumby April 24, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    In San Diego, they are changing some of the rules for apartment buildings so that they can be built for low income people without needing subsidies for the owners or the tenants. This means that they are being built like some of the older apartments with shared bathrooms and common areas and very small apartments.

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  • David April 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Timely question.
    Not a very useful answer.

    I was a longtime Portland resident.

    I am a bicycle mechanic. I can find work in Portland. I cannot find housing I can afford anywhere near work.

    I remember a Portland where the people working in stores lived near enough to ride or easily take TriMet.

    The sadness of this: many of the people who worked so hard and so long to build Portland great: bus riders, park users, library patrons; can no longer afford the lovely city they built.

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    • t. Horne April 29, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Thank you. There is no excuse for this situation which is almost universal among my acquaintances. The primary obstacle as many have mentioned seems to be that there isnt sufficient profit margin to give developers enough incentive to build affordable apartments in the places that are zoned for it. This, as I see it, is one of the few valid functions of government, specifically, redistributing wealth, levelling the playing field economically, and protecting common resources from exploitation and abuse. Affordable housing is a classic progressive priority, and I wouldnt mind strong-arming the issue with either tax credits or direct subsidy for the type of rent and price controlled housing that should have been here a long time ago. A lot of commenters seem to agree that the real estate market has been EXTREMELY irrational and subject to a lot of manipulation that has concentrated it in far too few hands and excluded far too many of us. I dont realistically expect this to be corrected until a sudden wave of democracy breaks out and supplants the current corporate feudalism, but were all crazy not to insist on a more inclusive housing market, by whatever means.

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    • oregon111 November 13, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      maybe its because every time someone wants to expand freeway capacity – it gets shut down — so now EVERYONE wants to live close in because traffic is sooooo bad

      that is the COST of hating cars — you get priced out

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 16, 2015 at 9:17 am

        I agree! Housing in the Austin metro area has remained more or less affordable despite even faster growth than Portland because it has kept building more and more and more freeway lanes. This does work as a way to make housing financially affordable to middle-class people.

        One problem with this is that average travel times to work are going up and up (much faster than in Portland metro) because they can’t build freeway lanes fast enough. That offsets some of the housing gains just in transportation costs, and also makes people less healthy and happy, which might have longer-term financial costs.

        Another problem is that those freeway lanes are going to gradually disintegrate and their maintenance cost isn’t being covered, so this may not remain an affordability strategy.

        A third problem is that the transportation sector contributes 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions if that’s something that matters to you.

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  • sean April 25, 2014 at 10:21 am


    Take a few minutes and scan the inner neighborhoods. Some of the busiest streets (Hawthorne for example). Are still zoned R1 in places. A good rule of thumb: adjacent to mass transit (within 50m), consider higher density zoning.

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    • spare_wheel April 26, 2014 at 11:07 am

      and a good chunk of the rest of hawthorne is zoned storefront commercial.

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      • Cora Potter April 28, 2014 at 4:09 pm

        And, you can build housing in the CS zone. In fact, you can currently build a multi-unit building that is 100% housing with no commercial component in the CS zone.

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  • kww April 28, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I live in Sellwood, right at the edge of the transit corridor (Sellwood Bridge), and there is a lot of development going on close by, a 4 story commercial/residential, narrow lot homes, and single family replacements (one McMansion, and one ‘right sized’).

    So the neighborhood is getting denser, but guess what, the zoning hasn’t and doesn’t need to be changed to accommodate this development.

    IMO, for Sellwood, there is about 20 more years of ‘infill’ that can happen before zoning laws will have to change to accommodate more density.

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  • Lynnd March 29, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Zoning issues are a culprit in affordable housing shortages but another is demand. During the Great Recession many foreclosed-upon homeowners upon were pushed into the rental market, which has driven demand to the point where the cost of renting in some areas of the country are in line with the cost of a mortgage elsewhere. (To afford the average one-bedroom Los Angeles area apartment, for example, a renter must make a minimum of $67K per year according to an NPR article I read.) Given how severe the affordable housing shortage is in some of the nation’s major cities/job markets, I’m curious to know if others have observed a similar phenomena to what I have observed in Southern California: the construction of brand-new condos and single-family homes that remain partially empty for years on end? I appreciate that this phenomena was prevalent during the Recession, when news outlets reported on “ghost towns”, but what I can’t wrap my mind around is the fact that I’m still seeing the launch of new housing developments that are bound to sit half empty once they are completed (if completed developments that are still half vacant or unsold in the LA area are any indication!). Are there tax or development incentives that encourage developers to proceed in the face of these risks, outright kickback schemes with local officials and/or lenders — or some other explanation for how new construction and “what the market can bear” continue to work in seemingly opposite directions?

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  • Mark Smith April 22, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Drop the apartment ban and see where the market takes Portland. Worried about too much development? Require 8 foot sidewalks, sprinklers and true sustainable construction without formaldehyde.

    What is worth building will truly be built.

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