(Photos courtesy Eli Spevak)
This is a guest post by Eli Spevak of Orange Splot. Spevak, who the Portland Mercury once described as “the coolest condo developer ever,” develops small, often freestanding homes in single-family neighborhoods with a goal of increasing the city’s supply of housing that’s both affordable and environmentally low-impact.
Neighbors bemoan the demolition of older homes and the scale of new ones – and worry for the character of their neighborhoods.
Demographers see the trend toward more and smaller households – and wonder where they’ll be able to find enough right-sized and affordable homes.
Planners recognize that we can’t rely only on high density centers and corridors to accommodate all expected new residents; neighborhoods will need to play a role too.
Environmentalists know that space-efficient housing (ie. less square footage per person) is the most important thing we can do for our climate in the residential sector, yet average new home sizes are back up to record levels.
And EVERYONE is concerned by rising housing costs, displacement, and the prospect that Portland’s real estate might be heading in the direction of Seattle and San Francisco.
We’ll need help from planners to address problems this large, dire and urgent. Fortunately, there are several regulatory changes that would support traditional neighborhoods and simultaneously open the door for the creation of market-based affordable housing. Let’s prioritize this for the next zoning code update package Portland takes on. If we’re going to avoid the fate of the eight major US cities with significantly higher housing costs than ours, now’s the time to act.
Data: U.S. Census. Chart and research: Portland Budget Office.
Allow internal conversions of older homes to 2 or more units in single dwelling zones, so long as their exterior is minimally altered and they retain their single dwelling appearance. The zoning code already allows this for homes on the state historic register. That same provision could be extended to any home over a certain age (say, 80 years old). This would allow existing housing stock to be adapted to changing market demand and reduce market pressure to demolish well-built older homes.
Allow a second home to be built on the same lot as an older home, so long as the existing home is preserved and the combined square footage of both homes is no more than the size of an average new home (about 2,400 square feet). This would be a way to preserve smaller old homes and support the creation of small and more affordable new ones.
Remove the definition of “household” from the zoning code to open up spare rooms for occupancy in larger homes. This would legalize “co-living” and other innovative, community-oriented housing models being pioneered in the Bay Area. It would also get our zoning code out of the “who’s married to whom” and “who’s living with whom” business. We’d rely instead on existing noise, nuisance and building code regulations to address life safety and community impact concerns associated with larger households.
Implement Inclusionary Zoning in Portland (after the state does their part). Inclusionary zoning is a common land use tool, used by hundreds of jurisdictions across the country to ensure that developers integrate affordable housing into larger residential developments. Unfortunately, Oregon is one of 2 states in the US (the other is Texas) that bans the practice. There’s a decent chance our state legislature will remove the ban this session. Given Portland’s hot housing market, rising home prices, and scarcity of public funds to buy down the cost of housing for lower income residents, this could be a great tool for getting the private market to build affordable housing in both neighborhoods-scale and higher density developments. If it’s looking promising that the ban will be lifted, Portland should immediately start writing code to match this tool to our immediate needs for affordable housing.
Support Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a popular, affordable, flexible, and discreet form of in-fill housing. This can be done by:
- Allowing ADUs to meet community design standards instead of matching the design of the existing house
- Waiving compatibility requirements for ADUs under a certain size or that are fully accessible
- Allowing one ADU per home in single lot, planned developments. This would facilitate site plans for larger residential lots that support community and preserve existing homes & trees.
- Allowing both an internal and detached ADU on a single residential lot, as done in Vancouver, BC. With this, perhaps the 2nd ADU would trigger an off-street parking space requirement
- And if there’s no existing house on the property, why not allow someone to build 3 ADUs instead? Each would have to meet the height and size requirements of ADUs, so the total living area would be under 2,400 square feet. That’s about the size of the big new house that would otherwise have been built on the lot, but the shorter height and smaller bulk of ADUs might fit in better.
Support small house ‘Pocket Neighborhood‘ or ‘cottage cluster’ development by offering density bonuses in subdivisions or planned developments in exchange for house size and bulk limits. This would provide a financially feasible way for developers to build right-sized homes for smaller households and support community-oriented site plans.
Scale system development charges (SDCs) based on home size instead of the current situation, where builders pay identical SDCs for 1,000 or 5,000 square foot homes. Scaling should be revenue-neutral, meaning that SDCs would be reduced for smaller homes and increased for larger ones. This will remove a significant (and perverse) incentive to build larger, more expensive new homes.
Create a legal path for tiny homes. OK, this one might piss off a few neighbors. But it shouldn’t, given the aesthetic pass we grant to thousands of (much uglier) Tuff Sheds and other un-permitted small structures in backyards all over the city. Tiny homes would need to meet standard sanitary and life safety standards, could be on wheels or ‘ground bound’, could be on their own or in small community pods, and would typically share a lot with a primary dwelling. Codes could regulate design, placement, and buffering – and ensure that they’re safer than most older homes (which, we should remember, often quite legally have knob-and-tube wiring, single pane windows, no insulation…). A more detailed proposal can be found here.
Originally posted to the Orange Splot blog, republished with permission.
— The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here. This sponsorship has opened up and we’re looking for our next partner. If interested, please call Jonathan at (503) 706-8804.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
If these proposed changes to the ADU code were made we’d have one at our house. One additional one I would suggest is that there is no reason not to allow an ADU to be built in front of the existing house rather than in most cases requiring it to be out back.
Portland is in the process now of updating regulations for detached accessory structures, including ADUs. It seems unlikely they’ll allow ADUs out front as a matter of right (this can always be appealed), there does seem to be some recognition that the current rules (60′ back and 6′ behind the main house) may benefit from a bit more flexibility.
Eli – great to see some changes coming to the single family neighborhoods, as they can’t come soon enough.
Coming at it from the other end of the equation, what do you think we can do about far too low density in high density zoned areas?
Here’s a ridiculous example: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/article/510408
A Taco Bell in between Broadway and Weidler was demolished last year, leaving 29,000 square feet of an empty city block to build on. Central City zoning. Excellent news for anyone who wants to see more high rise apartment buildings or greater housing affordability or wants a short commute. So, how many housing units are planned for the new development? How many stories tall will it be?
None, as it turns out. Instead, the new building is going to be…
…another Taco Bell. Single story, no other use. The drive thru will remain in the same spot. The generous surface parking will remain.
How is this legal, and what can be done to change it?
For hillside neighborhoods, which I live in, an ADU behind my house is not viable. I should be able to build an ADU’s by right, not through appeal.
Lansing, Michigan has a handful of older ‘in front’ ADUs or tiny houses; I’ve seen a half dozen.
It is my understanding these were built by aspiring DIY owner-occupants who first built the tiny house and then lived in it while they built the larger, primary structure.
Upon completion, they moved into the larger house and enjoyed rental income from the tiny house.
Of course, these preceded relevant zoning provisions, so for now they are grandfathered as non-conforming uses but none have been built in decades.
Scaling SDCs is a fantastic idea.
Portland Parks is now proposing to scale SDCs based on home size. Although I have a few quibbles with the size ranges they’re proposing, in the big picture it’s a great precedent to set for Portland’s other bureaus that levy SDCs.
I’m not convinced that “scaling” of SDC fees is a good idea. If scaling is used, there should be a sound rationale basis for the formula that is used.
SDC’s are used to ensure that new developments pay their fair share of infrastructure needed to support them. Keep in mind that SDC fees are only levied when a new building is constructed or a significant replacement building is built, but typically credit is given for what had been there.
I haven’t followed any recent discussions about SDC fees, but they should be proportionate to the impacts. To support scaling of SDC fees, I’d need to be convinced that proportionality of impact was being retained. On the face of it, I would not be willing to support basing the fees only on square footage. Would residents of a 2400 square foot house put twice the demand on parks and transportation systems as those of a 1200 square foot house? At least in terms of parks, I’d argue it might be the reverse – those with little private space might make more use of public parks.
Just consider the potential unintended consequences and move slowly and deliberately.
I could imagine a rationale tied to the footprint- the bigger it is the less ground there is absorbing runoff. Note that logic wouldn’t justify penalizing buildings for height.
I’m assuming a scaling factor would be used. Using square footage as a multiplier would be a bit extreme.
These are some great ideas. The Mayor seems to think all of the needed growth can be absorbed by condos and apartments in high density areas. This view seems unlikely to create the kind of Portland that most people really want. I hope more people take the time to contact our elected officials to let them know that we need these kinds of innovative and progressive housing options. It should not come down to a NIMBY centric no growth policy for the inner city neighborhoods.
I live in a condo because the existing single-family homes in inner Portland are either unaffordable for my single income or would require extensive (tens of thousands of dollars worth) renovations. If there were more lots developed as cottages or with some nice ADUs I would consider one, especially in a place where I could share a garden and other common spaces with my neighbours, while still having a separated residence that I can really treat as my own space.
That is exactly what we are calling for in North Tabor and sent to the city as official record in the comprehensive plan:
We need developers who can come in and either add an extra unit or add onto an existing house as a second unit. Then there would be an affordable smaller home/apartment owned by the person with a % in the property.
What if a few of your neighbors wanted to consolidate their properties, demolish, and add hundreds of apartment units for varying incomes. I’d bet you’d want there to be restrictions against that, but that is the very reason our city is unaffordable! We should be allowing density where it will go. If we prevent it, rents will spiral out of control. ADUs are a cute solution that will not absorb anywhere near the supply this city needs. Neither will simple density corridors to pen it up away from your quaint hood. The whole city needs to evolve.
Look at the Comp Map and focus in on North Tabor. Did you read what we are calling for in the TOWN CENTER designation? I am not sure you realize how much of our neighborhood we have called for re-zoning. Believe me, from all of the 20 NA’s in SEUL….North Tabor is one of the most realistic and progressive when it comes to density.
Easy Terry. 🙂 It’s also one of the more centrally located. Remember that the city was actually recommending some of us souther, outer neighborhoods to be up-zoned in spots.
What’s wrong with that? Increasing the allowable density would make it more livable, allow people to live with smaller environmental footprints and improve affordability.
I don’t have a problem with it in North Tabor. I was just ribbing him about his wording about being one of the only neighborhoods in SEUL that wanted more density. SEUL is a very large coalition and there are a lot of differing needs and issues that play out in the different neighborhoods. For instance increasing density in my neighborhood is likely not a great idea right now, as we already lack the connectivity, public transit, and general infrastructure to accommodate it.
Davemess – That doesn’t make sense. Density (people) is needed to justify investments in infrastructure to improve public transit and connectivity. We have an urban growth boundary. We are not going to grow out. No area of the metro region should be exempt from increasing density because selfish landowners don’t want the “burden” of more people.
“Density (people) is needed to justify investments in infrastructure to improve public transit and connectivity.”
Which would be true if the city actually kept up with its infrastructure equally all over the city. But over the last 30 years this hasn’t been the case. So instead, we had sections up zoned (more dense) years ago, and no improvements were made. So now we have a lot of people not being properly served, and the solution is just to keep wedging more people in (with absolutely no promise or faith that anything will be improved)?
The investment has to at least catch up with the density first before we just add more density.
Yes, and for every good reasons in some areas (less good reasons in others). We actually are still having conversations with our request to up-zone north of Glisan. The city is not sure it is economically viable….since they have not run the numbers on inclusionary zoning as of yet. Oddly, the state is moving faster on this issue than the city is. So this is a case of the neighborhood spending significant time doing outreach to trying to convince the city for higher density.
Yes, we are a very different neighborhood than yours…..
Way to go, MTNA!
North Tabor NA Eli,…the politics of MTNA south of Burnside are very different…..
Conventional ADU policy fails to address long-term issues of affordability and displacement, as it precludes affordable ownership.
I wish we could have more small apartments and condos in residential neighborhoods. Forcing all non house owners to live on major arterials seems like an equity issue to me. If you can’t afford a house, you have to live on roads that are loud, exhaust choked, and dangerous to cross. I was lucky enough to land an apartment in a 106-year-old 4-plex in a quiet area. The city needs more of what I have. The article mentions subdividing large older houses. Aren’t most very large older houses already divided up?
Exactly, Brad. Not to mention, the arterials that are described as “congested” have low height limits that mean that even more density is lobbed off by making a potential 10 storey building 5 stories due to zoning restrictions.
There should be more and more mid-rise structures with some parking concession underground if way off a main arterial popping up in the heart of neighborhoods. Places that seem “low-traffic.” We should be experimenting with all of this because we need the housing stock. There should not be restrictions on homeowners if they want to demolish with the prerequisite condition being that much higher density housing should replace demolished single family homes.
The heart of neighborhoods are almost exclusively around or on arterials though.
Arterials must densify, but so should surrounding hoods… That means inevitable demolition to allow for more housing stock.
Placed strategically yes. Currently it is not done in any way that enhances our housing stock. This new model would be able to create livable communities that are economically viable. Just dropping large complexes in the middle of neighborhoods does not work when it comes to accessing services. European Cities have been densfying this way for centuries……why are you encouraging disposable housing when it is unneeded?
It takes at least 50 years..some say closer to 75…to get back the carbon emissions that a tear down and rebuild creates when you can just build on and add too…thus saving character, emissions and quality of life….while providing significant affordable housing.
The noise factor on arterials is definitely an issue, though in my case most of the noise is caused by illegally loud motorcycles (vehicular noise laws seem to be completely unenforced in Portland) and drunk/obnoxious customers of food cart pods and bars.
Many older homes are internally divided because that practice used to be legal and common-place. Until WWII, most of Portland was zoned low-density multifamily, allowing single family homes or plexes. During WWII, even the single family zones were opened up to duplexes (or conversions to duplexes) due to the war-time housing shortage. Then in 1959 Portland introduced and plastered most of the city with R5, R7, R10… single dwelling zoning, the yellow part of the maps Michael has posted previously on this blog at:
Since then, it’s ceased to be legal to divide larger homes into multiple units – even as older conversions are legally grandfathered in.
If you had a house, you would NOT want a crappy apt full of gang bangers living next door to you — trust me on that one
As a law-abiding, college-educated, extremely low income (below 30% of area median family income) non-gang banger, I find your comment offensive and comprising class warfare.
You want to deny me opportunities for housing because you’re worried about crappy apts full of gang bangers?
Under capitalism, your proper recourse is to buy property so that YOU decide who lives in it- i.e. put your money where your mouth is. Your proper recourse is NOT to enlist government as an agent to pursue your rent-seeking greed.
If you own a house, you already have a loaf. Stop trying to deny me the opportunity for a half loaf.
“It should not come down to a NIMBY centric no growth policy for the inner city neighborhoods.”
Current zoning policy is *already* NIMBY-centric. Restricting development of apartments to commercial/industrial zones and other undesirable areas is discriminatory and virtually guarantees the San Francisco-ization of Portland.
It’s especially galling to see new developments blocked in many inner PDX neighborhoods that are dotted with (unattractive) apartment buildings. Why is new development or expansion blocked in areas that already have a significant number of existing apartment buildings?
I feel you. I think the overton window in terms of urban planning politics needs to shift at least a tick or two toward the progressive in some of our neighborhoods. Right now, crazies with very specific nits to pick are dictating our future housing stock and their spiraling real estate values. It’s gross greed.
You are right, the progressives in this town are too apologetic to the other side and too unwilling to fight for the density we need to be able to have an income inclusive city. Pity that this will become another rich playground like the bay area peninsula. It makes me very sad.
Agreed! But I hope it does not get even more so, as the Mayors state of the city implies.
Most fascinating is the neighborhood group protesting a 15-story building proposed for the center of the Pearl.
As for the 11-bedroom house, that was built then for—and would likely be occupied now by–someone with money eager to impress his peers, rather than a particularly large family. I’d argue that at least in the case of large refrigerators, houses, or vehicles there never was any utilitarian reason for purchasing them. These are and have always been just so many ways to make a statement about status or express one’s class anxiety.
This particular house was actually home to a family with 11 kids early in its life. But I”m sure you’re right in general that super-sized homes are much more about status than household size.
Great ideas, great article. Portland can increase density without widespread demolition of big and old houses. Thank you Eli Spevak and Michael Andersen.
It seems like you’re still proposing a lot of restrictions. Breaking up one old house into two here, allowing an ADU there, these actions are just drops in the bucket. Why put a limit on the age of a house before it can be turned into a multi-family residence? Why put a cap on the square footage of properties? These are some good ideas, but not the kind of dramatic reform we need it we want to prevent the Portland of 20 years from now from looking like the San Francisco of today.
“Why put a limit on the age of a house before it can be turned into a multi-family residence?”
Just a thought: seismic and fire-related building codes that were developed more recently?
Good points. But the goal of this document wasn’t to single-handedly re-write the zoning code. No one person can do that. Rather, it was to try and find some common ground between community neighborhood activists of various stripes – so we can at least make some progressive, incremental changes to the rules-of-the-game to support more affordable, less bulky, and more environmentally friendly housing options than what’s getting built right now.
The big issue for me related to density like this is noise. If you have ever lived next to a house/apartment/row house where a “band” comes to practice you will realize that the noise ordinances and enforcement are deficient. If you have to wake up for work early you are going to be in bad shape when your neighbor parties late or is noisy and shares a wall with you.
Allowing the subdivision of homes and the building of ADUs is great, but if you are for the prevention of demolition to provide mid-rise density, then I don’t agree with you.
The code should allow for such subdivision and the addition of ADUs, but this SHOULD NOT be at the restriction of demolition to add valuable rental/condo housing stock.
ADUs and subdividing homes alone will not stem the shortage of housing in Portland. Demolition is, unfortunately, very needed if we are going to stem some of the housing costs. I am for property rights in this case, and think people should be allowed to demolish if replacing with higher density.
“ADUs and subdividing homes alone will not stem the shortage of housing in Portland.”
We have a longage of people, more than a shortage of housing. The remedies are different for those two conditions.
What you propose, building and building and building at an ever increasing pace to accommodate both the present and plausible future in-migration to our area is a fool’s errand, cannot be accomplished without destroying the very thing people still find so attractive about this corner of the world. I’m not opposed to infill, and what Eli outlined is exactly the kind of accommodation I can get behind, but what you are saying is entirely different. There is a nearly infinite potential demand for housing in these parts (climate refugees are something Jonathan has even mentioned here on this blog). To seek to build enough housing to meet that demand requires changes that I doubt anyone but landlords and developers, people who could make gobs of money off this transformation, would countenance.
We should design our policies to work for those who live here now (all of them, not just those with jobs and houses, but those who currently lack a roof over their heads, a job, or a safe way to get to the store or work without a car). Tackling that should keep us busy for the next decade or three. Once we’ve solved those ongoing problems, then and only then should we seek to remove obstacles for, spend money on, incentivize those who are not yet here.
“What you propose, building and building and building at an ever increasing pace to accommodate both the present and plausible future in-migration to our area is a fool’s errand”
Your opinion will end you with SF when our demand continues to increase. Foolish.
“To seek to build enough housing to meet that demand requires changes that I doubt anyone but landlords and developers, people who could make gobs of money off this transformation, would countenance.”
Comparing the demolition of a few homes to the extreme possibility of all homes being demolished is also disingenuous.
“We should design our policies to work for those who live here now”
So the rich NIMBYs who want their property values to skyrocket? I don’t jibe.
“(all of them, not just those with jobs and houses, but those who currently lack a roof over their heads, a job, or a safe way to get to the store or work without a car). ”
You can’t really do that in an enviromentally sound or inclusive way without imposing new density on precious “old growth” craftsman homes.
“then and only then should we seek to remove obstacles for, spend money on, incentivize those who are not yet here.”
Only a fool would not want to incentivize community and more growth in a city– you are implying we should let our economy stagnate so that we can deal with other issues? These issues are concurrent– we are still a desirable city and need to continue to add housing stock.
You seem to imply there will not be an equilibrium point with new density (there will be). We need to build as much as we can so that people without homes can finally start affording what’s built, with inclusionary zoning (basically sliding scale rent control tied to inflation/income).
“you are implying we should let our economy stagnate”
You mention this fear a lot. I find it interesting that you would choose this club to beat your opponents. Have you considered the possibility of a salutary path that did not *require* economic growth and population growth and housing growth? It seems such a desperate view of our society. Why in your mind is this the only possibility? Why will diverging even a little bit from it lead us to ruin?
Except the population of the US will increase from 300 million to 400 million over the next 20 years or so. Portland is all one of 5 US cities situated on the West Coast of North America.
“…building and building and building at an ever increasing pace to accommodate both the present and plausible future in-migration to our area is a fool’s errand, cannot be accomplished without destroying the very thing people still find so attractive about this corner of the world.”
Well said. Signed, Apparently Rich NIMBY (despite growing up at poverty level along with a lot of Portlanders before everybody decided this was the place to be). p.s…I don’t know why any impatient newcomer’s ire, demands and sense of entitlement should be any less offensive than mine.
If you care about the ecology of your state, you would be for density and not sprawl. Encouraging preservation leads to income exclusive hoods and sprawl. You may have been poor, but not any longer if you own this land. It’s the reality of the market. If you over-preserve, you drive up EVERYONE’s rent–including native Portlanders.
Nobody here’d be a rich NIMBY without the help of the likes of you and the eager hordes, thank you very much. Characterizing a whole group of people without the context of history is helpful for fanning the flames but disingenuous and misleading. If you cared about the ecology of this place, you’d maybe move somewhere else instead of being yet one more person overwhelming a stressed, too-popular-for-it’s-own-good city.
” too-popular-for-it’s-own-good city.”
You mean we should sabotage our local economy? Absurd.
“you would be for density and not sprawl”
See this is the problem. Why approach this as having only two outcomes, both of which involve an undefined increase in buildings?
We have an urban growth boundary and spiraling demand for housing causing spiraling rents. We must build densely or give up the UGB. I prefer the former, as an environmentalist. It really is coming down to one or the other in this case. We can’t continue to nitpick about what is historic and not expect to completely push out everyone of color and low and middle income.
There is also the option to build up and promote different urban centers, which is what the city is currently trying to do. There is more space and cheaper housing available outside of the central city. You just have to make it attractive to people.
Metro has already decided informally that there is sufficient buildable land for the next 20 years; therefore there is no present need to expand the UGB. (The formal decision comes in a couple months.)
Where in the region are extremely low income (below 30% of median family income) expected to live between now and 2035? I do not see ANYONE building housing for this market segment.
If there is to be expected no housing affordable to these people, is it not imperative to expand the UGB?
You seem to be under the impression that population growth is driven primarily by people’s desire to live in a particular place. That may be true of some small communities such as Palm Springs or Martha’s Vineyard, which appeal to well-to-do retired people and to rich people seeking second homes, but major cities grow because their economies grow, and their economies grow because businesses expand.
The number of retired people and rich people with incomes sufficient to allow them to go where they please may be increasing, but they are a small percentage of the overall population, and I can guarantee that not all of them, and probably not even a significant percentage of them, want to live in Portland.
People who move to Portland do so for the economic opportunities, and the economic opportunities are in most cases created by businesses that are already in Portland and are expanding. A small number of well-financed entrepreneurs might start new businesses in Portland simply because they like the place and it is a viable location for the particular business in which they intend to engage, but if you examine the local economy I think you’ll find that its growth is driven primarily by existing businesses.
This means that attempting to curb population growth by limiting the amount of housing available is the real fool’s errand. All that will accomplish, as long as the city’s economic expansion continues, is to drive up the cost of housing, and the people who will be able to afford that limited housing won’t always be native Portlanders. Well-paid newcomers will have more choice than long-time locals with lower incomes.
The only way to effectively limit population growth is by limiting business expansion. Any efforts aimed at simply limiting housing availability will fail. There are ways of limiting business expansion, but I won’t recommend any to you as in most cases I disapprove of them. If you want to damage your city’s economy and limit the economic opportunities of your fellow citizens, you’re on your own.
Nothing in this proposal would block demolitions. It just offers additional choices for builders to transform older homes into more intensive (and financially viable) uses than is allowed by current codes in single dwelling zones.
I’m glad you aren’t an activist in the opposite direction; Adding ADUs and subdividing houses can help where the owners want to do it, but we need to demolish to increase density wherever we can or we will have spiraling rents.
Urban villages can work on the periphery as infill for suburbs, but I still believe central city should be open season for new mid to high rise development or we are not working within an equitable housing framework.
If you want more and more affordable housing, get government bureaucracy out of the code business so the innovation and genius of the people can be unleashed. The ONLY codes applicable in Oregon should be the unaltered ICC Codes. Oregon amendments add no value but they do add cost and confusion during the design process – city codes, county codes, and zoning stifle innovation and drive costs for housing thru the roof.
Quote: “High SDCs… will remove a significant (and perverse) incentive to build larger, more expensive new homes.”
The market dictates what builders build – they build what they can sell – otherwise they go broke. There should be no SDCs – the only thing they do is add to the cost of housing – the community does not benefit in any way.
Quote: “Allow a second home to be built on the same lot as an older home, so long as the existing home is preserved and the combined square footage of both homes is no more than the size of an average new home (about 2,400 square feet). ”
Why the arbitrary 2400 sq. ft.? If the old home is 3000 sq.ft., sits on a 1 acre lot, and you add 3 small 600 sq. ft. homes, SO WHAT? Why limit the number of small units you can build?
Quote: “Remove the definition of “household” from the zoning code to open up spare rooms for occupancy in larger homes.”
This is a great example of government regulations reducing housing availability, increasing housing costs, sticking their noses where it has no business, and increasing energy Inefficiency.
Quote: “Support Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a popular, affordable, flexible, and discreet form of in-fill housing. This can be done by:”
…..allowing people to build in their back yard what they want in the way of an ADU or tiny home, not by putting arbitrary “community standards” and other obstacles in the way.
False statement: “Environmentalists know that space-efficient housing (ie. less square footage per person) is the most important thing we can do for our climate in the residential sector, yet average new home sizes are back up to record levels.”
Size is one factor in carbon footprint, but is not the most important by any stretch. A large home can be built that uses less energy than one 1/2 it’s size. Lots of factors go into the calculation.
“A large home can be built that uses less energy than one 1/2 it’s size. Lots of factors go into the calculation.”
If you build a bunch of mcmansions, you end up paving over more ecosystem than if you build density– and as much as the market can bear within our urban growth boundary (something else I support to save our ecosystem).
“Environmentalists know that space-efficient housing (ie. less square footage per person) is the most important thing we can do for our climate in the residential sector, yet average new home sizes are back up to record levels.”
Actucually I think there is some pretty thorough research showing that size does matter the most for the life-cycle carbon impact of dwelling units.
Home size is more important than you might think, especially when adjusted for house-size-per-person. See this link to great research from Jordan Palmeri at Oregon DEQ:
Though I agree that residential building codes need a near complete overhaul, there does need to be some standards for the sake of public safety of course.
Though as far as I’m concerned house building as a whole needs to be revisited. The standard balloon framed house needs to be phased out, and rammed earth, SIPS, and superadobe need to take center stage. All those “improvements” in energy efficiency in balloon frames are laughable compared to what can be accomplished with other building methods.
Also water treatment and supply can be done on site with proper planning and design at the start, coupled with solar, and few creative tweaks and todays house can nearly be self sufficient. One need only look as far as Michael Reynolds and his earthships to see what can be done (though personally I’d prefer Superadobe structure (sandbags) over the rammed earth tires).
The whole system needs an overhaul (from engineering to utilities) and that starts by rethinking what a house is.
Fantastic article! The SDC scaling strikes me as a particularly powerful idea. I also like the notion of loosening ADU restrictions and allowing tiny houses, since I keep reading that one-person households are the fastest growing category of households in the US. I’ve lived in my very-small house for 20 years, and it’s amazing how not having a lot of spare space to heat, furnish, clean and redecorate has paid off. I hate the thought that when they carry me out of here in a body bag, the first thing that will happen is a teardown, followed by some behemoth infill house with too many bedrooms.
And I cannot applaud enthusiastically enough getting “our zoning code out of the ‘who’s married to whom’ and ‘who’s living with whom’ business.” It’s long overdue.
Hello Eli…. I have a neighborhood for you.
This is a link to North Tabor Comprehensive Plan comments on land use, affordable housing and in-fill that I spearheaded and was passed unanimously by the board.
We Seem to be speaking the same language….Marty from planning and I were chatting on Saturday and she said we should meet. I see a summit on these issues appearing in central east Portland’s future late spring or so….
If you send me your e-mail address, it would be great to connect. I’m at email@example.com.
Eli Spevak is a superstar.
The only good outcome with tear-downs replaced by Renaissance Homes style maxed-out-lot mega-mansions is future subdivision/conversions into duplexes. I’ve seen plenty of ugly converted duplexes in other cities, but they will be a lot more attractive in Portland’s near future.
Maybe, but I’d be surprised if many of those OSB lot-sprawlers are still livable in 50-60 years. The “craftsmanship” and materials on those homes, at least the ones I see in my NoPo neighborhood, is abysmal. They’re the Walmart Huffy of houses.
There’s one next door to us that was built about 8 years ago by a Hummer-driving developer from Las Vegas. It is already losing shingles and trim, the siding is sagging and I can see rot starting in the poorly finished rafter tails. It will be landfill by the time the neighboring houses from 1910 are half-way through their second century.
The “quality” of recent homes is debatable. Paper insulation, lathe-and-plaster, and ungrounded (typically uninsulated) single-wire electrical busses have been outlawed for a reason. Sure, a 2×4 actually measures 2″ by 4″ (when you can find where they’re located), but the lot utilization of a modern footprint (however unsightly) goes a long way towards accommodating density. Just playing Devil’s advocate…
How does a bigger house help improve density though? 4 people can live in 1200 feet or 3000 feet. Which one do you think is going to have a smaller footprint, meaning more space for grass, trees, and other plants?
I should communicate my assumptions better. If your goal is density, trees and grass are typically mutually exclusive of that. A 3000′ multifamily is not unheard of, but will unquestionably require higher lot utilization. A 3000′ single-family, well, that goes against your goal of density, and presumably will be seen more often in suburbs, which some here might consider “sprawl” (and the arch-enemy of density).
There’s a large historic home on NW Kearney that I helped a friend turn into a triplex many years ago. It had an interesting history (there’s a picture of it in a book on historical Portland homes), part of which we discovered previous ‘compartmentalization’ projects. Obviously the square footage and lot utilization didn’t change, but the density did. As far as the lot went, we restored the front porch back to original and turned the side yard into a driveway for parking in the back yard.
I’m just saying that most “non-modern” footprints are much smaller than the current “modern” ones.
Can you send me your contact info. and the location of that house on NW Kearney you converted? I’m doing some case studies for the State of Oregon of discreet, in-fill housing options – and that might be a good one.
– Eli firstname.lastname@example.org
Hahaha… My house is sheeted in old growth tight grained honest to God 2×12’s- age hardened to the point that most drill bits will break before getting halfway through.
Sure the electrical is a mess, I’ve slowly been replacing it. But other than a water main break the house on a whole has been pretty hassle free for 15 years, all the projects have been of my own doing (residing, replace the oil heat with a heat pump, remodel the kitchen).
Oh yeah, we got 4 people and two dogs and an artist studio in a 860 sq foot ground floor and an slightly improved basement of roughly 400 sq feet.
Small houses were the norm at one time not too long ago (which is why I laugh that it has now become a “movement”).
Yes…and if we update our lower density infill rules, encouraging add-ons, these older homes will still be there in 50 years…and the McMansions will become the slums of the neighborhood that everyone will be tearing down and replacing with some new, higher destiny eco-housing.
In my neighborhood, we had a modest duplex with yard space replaced by two Renaissance homes, looming over their neighbors, taking up as much of the lot as possible. The new development I’ve seen go up quickly, aren’t attractive, don’t fit the neighborhood, and are more expensive than what they replaced. And don’t result in increased density.
I blame the too loose development rules. Which I’m sure I’ll regret writing when I’m ready to cash in my house for millions in development dollars.
The new homes that are being built to replace the older homes are ugly. As are the ADUs I’ve seen, which resemble the original older home. Fix the problem of greedy developers building cheap homes as quickly as possible, uglifying our city for the next 60-80 years and I’ll support loosening the density rules.
“Fix the problem of greedy developers building cheap homes as quickly as possible…”
Fix the problem of cities working to encourage growth in business, jobs, population, and the associated tax revenue and developers won’t have reason to build.
Also, define ugly. I live in what I consider an ugly (tract) house, but as a result it was also affordable. It’s exactly that line of thinking that led to architectural reviews resulting in the homogeneity that others find unattractive (like the aforementioned San Francisco of today).
Based on my own observations I wouldn’t disagree with your point, but I just caution people to be careful what they wish for. Ugly and cheap don’t imply affordable, but affordable for the most part can’t be had without cheap (which is a kissin cousin of quick).
Actually I would not want to block it. I live a little over a block away from a row of lots that are currently built as single family but are zoned for medium rise high density. I often look to the north from my home and try to imagine the future buildings rising above my neighbors. Accepting change is part of city life. While the neighborhood would be different I reject the notion that it would be somehow worse.
One of the problems with ADUs is that it only suplements the rental market. You can’t buy or sell one unless you go through an expensive condo conversion process. Streamlining the condo process for ADUs would make it more attractrive for people to build them and easier for people to buy them.
There are some of us looking to put together a conference or summit on these issues around june’ish. This is exactly the type of model North Tabor is look at. We need an easy streamlined process for selling ADU’s or secondary units. Case: We have had elderly residents displaced, while if there was as streamlined process that could easily be filled out…without need for an lawyers…..a younger couple could then come in a buy the upper floor, remodel and move in. Thus increasing density and allowing the older couple to age in place.
Portlands position on the bar graph is worth a thousand words. My prediction for a cities graph position in 2025: Those with relatively warm climate having access to sufficient fresh water supply will move to the right the others being left behind as gentrification plays itself out.
unfortunately, portland has already outgrown the urban village model of planning. all these neighborhoody code revisions are great but wont do anything to substantially curb affordability issues. high density, multi-family housing is pretty much the only option left which can be affordable in inner neighborhoods. the problem is a dwindling land supply and nimbyist urban villagers that think high density residential has no part in their neighborhoods, even though they themselves are living in an urban environment. portland thankfully didn’t mow down swaths of historic homes, and thats part of what makes it unique and desireable but the future lies in condos, rowhouses, skinny infill and clustered developments….
Yes, increasing housing supply beyond what I’ve proposed here will be critical to address escalating home prices. Here’s a great article Ben Schonberger turned me on to showing how several US cities have successfully kept rents under control by allowing housing supply to grow:
Quote on home quality: “It is already losing shingles and trim, the siding is sagging and I can see rot starting in the poorly finished rafter tails. It will be landfill by the time the neighboring houses from 1910 are half-way through their second century.”
In suburbs west of Portland, almost every development in the past 15 years has been had water intrusion issues that required extensive tearing apart of the building envelope, construction defect lawsuits, etc. Lotta good the county building inspectors do – shows what a waste of money building permits are.
Quote: “How does a bigger house help improve density though? 4 people can live in 1200 feet or 3000 feet. Which one do you think is going to have a smaller footprint, meaning more space for grass, trees, and other plants?”
4 people can live in 200 sq.ft. How many do you think you can sell?
Quote: “Home size is more important than you might think, especially when adjusted for house-size-per-person.”
I can design a home that uses 1/2 or less of the energy of any home you have ever heard about.
“4 people can live in 200 sq.ft. How many do you think you can sell?”
I think in Portland right now I could sell a lot of 1200 foot houses. Esp. since they’ll be cheaper than a 3000 foot house. Only problem is there isn’t as much money to be made for the developers.
Apropos of this conversation, the Richmond Neighborhood Association plans to vote on Monday, Mar. 9, whether to recommend that heights of buildings along Division St. be limited to 3 stories instead of the 4 currently allowed. (Existing buildings would be exempt, but they would be anyway). If you live in Richmond, or are interested in the citywide effect, comment at the meeting, which is at 7 PM at the church at 3300 SE Woodward.
UGH. What is wrong with these selfish people 🙁 They’re doing nothing but stifling necessary housing which in turn will drive up rents and drive out the poor and middle income folks.
Make no mistake, these hoods may have been working class at one point, but these people are land rich now and wielding it to exclude people and marginalize.
“Make no mistake, these hoods may have been working class at one point, but these people are land rich now and wielding it to exclude people and marginalize.”
Got any more broad brushes?
I’m sorry to tell you this, but there are almost no “poor” income folks living anywhere near Richmond.
I have, in some gut wrenching sort of way, been fascinated by the Sunnyside-Richmond Hawthorne Divide. How can two neighborhoods so close together, with such similar characteristics, be so different in approaches….
I’ve done work on the homes at Sabin Green, and my friends used to live in that ADU in the back there. It is such a great community there, and I think Orange Splot did good work up there. It would great to see more of those developments here in Portland.
Generally speaking, in a housing shortage more housing is better and the ideas above serve that purpose. But I think there’s a big limitation when talking about ADUs.
To put it bluntly, how many people do you know renting ADU’s to African Americans or other minorities? How many people renting ADU’s take section 8 vouchers? Who’s going to enforce Fair Housing Laws on someone renting out their basement? As far as I can tell the city doesn’t enforce those now on professional landlords, what happens if we “uberize” the housing market? I think part of why some people feel more comfortable with such housing is exactly an expectation of more selectivity and control over who lives there.
Like I said, more housing is better. But ADUs have big caveats.
??? ??? ??? ???
How many people living in rented ADUs can even GET a Section 8 voucher?
The childless single Section 8 voucher holder is a rare bird, if not a mythical creature. Eight years ago I tried and failed to even get on the Section 8 waiting list. (8,000 people applied for a waiting list lottery and 3,000 actually got on the waiting list.)
Is there really any historic homes in Portland?
It’s not like we’re Europe with homes dating back to the Dark Ages, or even the east coast with houses that could be potentially pushing 400 years old. Other than a handful of structures from the area’s original settlers, I’m not sure I’d consider very many houses in Portland “Historic:. And the two main ones (Pittock and Weinhardt mansions) are both being preserved via a park and a college campus currently.
And when you consider that compared to most places, history in Oregon is really fairly uninteresting and uneventful, even on the Oregon trail most the action was making over the continental divide safely not – Oregon itself.
Remember the vast majority of single occupancy houses in Portland now aren’t even 100 years old most are barely even 50, And that there is a huge difference between historic and old. I ride bicycles that old (the newest being 41 years old, the oldest pushing 80) and I don’t for a second consider them historic, they’re old (though not obsolete) but like 99.9999% of the houses in Portland, they are simply one of thousands made just like them.
It seems to me that too many are hiding behind the term “historic” when what they actually mean is “charming”. And though I doubt it’s said specifically to be misleading, very few will dispute the need to preserve history, however aesthetics is something few will ever agree on.
The whole historic argument in housing sounds too similar to the rare and vintage descriptions on Craigslist for those Schwinn Varsities and Free Spirits. Where the sellers jack up the prices because it is an old bike, but of course they don’t tell you (honestly they might not know better) that there are literally millions of them laying around just gathering dust.
I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea that you’d move somewhere and then declare the history and architecture and sense of place in that place is valueless, ‘let’s raze it to the ground’. ??? It’s this viewpoint, which I see fairly well represented in bikeportland.org comments, that prompts me to comment at all–just to counter it. I keep reading about the selfishness of Portland bungalow owners, but is it any less selfish to move somewhere and demand the place terraform itself to suit your interests and the interests of like-minded maybe future immigrants? I’ve lived other places and I can’t imagine thinking that way–it’s like being The Guest From Hell, the honey badger of new residents. Is it impossible to understand just why this idea of cheerfully reducing our apparently worthless (architecturally, historically) city to a vacant lot to be built upon might upset and anger people already living here, and why they might not think that idea’s the best one? Or to fathom how bizarre it is to see someone move in and confidently, neatly sum up the place you’ve lived all your life, calling you and your thoughts about it ‘wrong’ in the process? Is it weird or selfish that we like our neighborhoods and homes? I like very much the ideas mentioned in this story and am for working with what we’ve got, retaining Portland’s character and easing the way for homeowners to create ADUs and to convert houses to duplexes and triplexes. You’ve got to honor what’s existing, and the people here before you. That’s not to say all the housing stock etc. is fab–but a lot of it is, and gives Portland it’s coveted character, and it holds great value for many of us. I’ve got a lot of friends who moved here in the ’90s and a little after. Not one of them took this weird, bossy tone, re: Portland. I really am trying to understand the “I’m here. Accommodate me!” pushy perspective. It’s not only boorish, I think it’s counterproductive to your aims.
rachel b for mayor!
No one is taking your house forcefully. The backlash is against people who don’t want their neighbors putting up a mid-rise. If someone owns the land and wants to do it, we need the housing!
If you continually push against any change, you end up displacing many many people. This is why bungalow owners who are against any changes are being looked down on.
“If someone owns the land and wants to do it, we need the housing!”
Who is this ‘we’ you keep invoking?
The poor, the minorities, the middle class all being forced out of Portland due to spiraling rents because landowners are selfishly stifling development in inner hoods when there’s exponential demand.
And before you say the rights of those there first trump the newbies, people are displaced when rents rise. Long term renters. That’s not fair to them, but apparently, we should just bow to the bungalow owner who doesn’t want a shadow in their yard.
“people are displaced when rents rise. Long term renters.”
Rent control would address this very real situation far more directly than your raze & build until the cows come home approach.
No, inclusionary zoning (sliding scale rent control based on income and inflation) and razing and building are BOTH needed. If we stifle one or the other, there will not be any income inclusive neighborhoods. SF only did rent control, and there are many folks who can’t afford to live in the city.
These prospective poor residents must be considered as much as anyone else. We should not create a gated community for the rich. I’m sorry, but blocking any part– development or inclusionary zoning– will make Portland unlivable for many. The time to act proactively is RIGHT NOW. That’s why people seem really intent on convincing you. Because they are getting priced out as we speak.
you might want to read this article in yesterday’s Guardian by Paul Kingsnorth. At first it might not seem related, but if you read the whole thing I think you’ll see why I find it so pertinent. And I thank rachel b again for her thoughtful post above which I see mirrored in this piece.
Here’s just one passage:
“The people of any nation will always want the right to control their own borders and decide on the direction of their culture, and England is no exception. But that majority has its own questions to answer, too. In a nation whose population is ageing, and whose people consistently demand more and cheaper stuff, who is going to do the heavy lifting? If you want a cheap nanny and your cut-price supermarket vegetables picked in all weathers for the minimum wage, then someone has to do it. There is no doubt that large-scale immigration changes the shape, texture and potentially the identity of a nation, but so do out-of-town retail parks, coffee chains, theme pubs, second homes, gentrified cities and privatised streets. If you don’t want the population movement, you don’t get the cheap, easy consumer lifestyle it facilitates. Which will you choose?”
JEG, you seem to be favor an approach (let developers build tall buildings with small apartments) that keeps failing in the sense that rents have not decreased. Why do you keep advocating for a method that keeps producing bad results? High school economics (more supply, lower cost) doesn’t really apply to Portland Real estate, in part because of 1. greed 2. the fact that developers caused the last recession and are still dumb 3.
the new buildings are expensive because the cost per sq. foot is higher once you start paying for the steel that holds the tall buildings up.
SE Divsion is currently a playground for rich diners and over-extended renters willing to pay 1500 for s sttudio. Go ahead and sympathize with the warm-hearted folks at Urban Design Group as they get to over-ride anything the current residents have to say about design and size.
Your goals are good, but you keep watching the methods you choose to achieve them fail. Time to wake up an smell the coffee. Mayor Hale’s friends are getting rich and the city has a major gentrification problem
and you just want to “stay the course” towards building more expensive housing stock and demolishing starter homes for families.
Meanwhile, the needs of young families and the majority of Portlanders (who favor detached sfh) are ignored. People who can’t buy a house in a decent area of Portland are moving to the suburbs and increasing congestion.
Portland’s not this amazing mecca where people will be willing to make all sorts of sacrifices for a few cultural amenities that are being duplicated in the suburbs- food carts, brew pubs etc. The transplants will grow up and want a car and kids and a house. Hello, Beaverton.
Portland will be left with an over-supply of expensive cramped apartments that are hot and noisy in the summer. Once the investors stop making money on these towers, maintence will be cut back and voila- you have a slum. At that point rents will drop but the neighborhoods will suck.
“you would be for density and not sprawl”
“We must build densely or give up the UGB.”
“we need to demolish to increase density wherever we can or we will have spiraling rents.”
“That means inevitable demolition to allow for more housing stock.”
“We should not create a gated community for the rich.”
Everything is urgent and absolute and zero-sum with you. Where’s the middle ground? The diversity? The win-win? I reject your framing of this. It reminds me of those who crow about the supposed death of social security. There are not enough young people paying into the system. We need more population growth to prop this up!
No, if the system is poorly designed, if propping it up makes everything else worse, then stop digging the hole deeper! Allow that the challenge of the day is to design a better system, something that avoids all these lose-lose traps you keep setting for us.
We are going to be a climate refugee camp in a few years. So, I behoove you to change your mind about the urgency going on here. Urbanization is a path toward preserving ecology. Espcially if it is done right, with a boundary to avoid sprawl. We shouldn’t continue to allow suburbs to be the only model for “affordable” housing.
Lots of terrible things have been done in the name of urgency.
Have you forgotten all the mischief committed in the weeks following 9/11 by our elected representatives? We can do better, should hold ourselves to a higher standard.
“Everything is urgent and absolute and zero-sum with you. Where’s the middle ground? The diversity? The win-win? I reject your framing of this. It reminds me of those who crow about the supposed death of social security.”
Or the death of the automobile? 🙂
(But seriously I’m with you on this one).
“…due to spiraling rents because landowners are selfishly stifling development in inner hoods when there’s exponential demand.”
I’d love to hear more detail about this ‘stifling’ of development. Also, why has the demand for inner hoods grown exponentially? Job growth? Housing demand is generally shifted toward lower-priced areas, hence when UGBs or max density drives rents up sprawl results.
I seriously would like to hear more, but I would also add that there are additional reasons that rents are spiraling, and they include 1) absurdly low interest rates, 2) demographic shifts (specifically cash-flushed empty nesters downsizing), and 3) a point in the economic ‘recovery’ curve (I’ll use that term loosely, if we want to talk about QE and the printing of money, etc.) where Portland is growing both venture capital and capital reinvestment (read: jobs).
‘Also, why has the demand for inner hoods grown exponentially?”
My hunch is that it has everything to do with the obscene amount of money that can be made by redeveloping properties in these inner Eastside parts of town. Jeg treats this pressure for housing as exogenous, but I see the other side: a cultural propensity to engage in whatever activity promises a fat return on investment. Someone offers a nutty amount of money for my property (a 66×100 lot sold near me for over half a million. There was a house on it but the developer guy razed it to build two ugly-as-sin three-story cardboard boxes) many people apparently are willing to take the cash over sticking with their community. As long as we are predisposed to think of our places of residence as poker chips, if the circumstances are right, we’re not going to make much headway.
Absolutely! The way I read that is there is a ‘greedy developer’ looming in most of us, for the right price. Toward the end of the dot-com boom a law was put into place allowing a $500K (married) / $250K (single) capital gain to be taken fed tax-free if you sold a house after living in it for 2 consecutive years or more (Obama did away with this in 2009). Combine that with falling interest rates, the boomers ‘coming of age’, and a mass influx of stated income loans and you had a recipe for 2008’s real estate bust and today’s exaggerated housing prices. (This is further exaggerated by the current influx of Chinese wealth hedging on American properties, and what the gubment allowed banks to do / not do with their foreclosed properties when we bailed them out in `09…).
Of course, the flip side of this problem is that once you take these gains (as a seller) in one location, you pretty much need to relocate to a cheaper location and/or downsize to reduce your burn rate. While living in Oregon from `98-`09 what I noticed is that, starting around `05 or so, it seemed like this location was Portland. (Even my good friends who had lived in Beaverton for ages sold their place and rented in the Pearl while they built in Hood River before selling that and moving to Maui, riding the wave so to speak).
And, as I mentioned before, cities and city planning agencies like the revenue from growth. I own a condo in a duplex that was turned into a quadplex and condo-ized, and my property tax on that one unit is about what the previous property owner paid for the entire building – same footprint, ~3x revenue growth (+ a few more cars…).
“against any changes”
It’s not being against “any” change. It seems to be a few specific changes that a specific group of people wants. And not everyone (or in some cases even the majority) agrees with them.
It’s the all or nothing, militant tone that is more the issue.
I get it, believe me I do. I like old things, But cities are living things, they change and adapt or die….it’s that simple.
I grew up in Detroit, and that is a city that hasn’t been able to- and despite all the recent news, will never be able to rebuild. the damage is pretty much too far gone and since I left nearly 25 years ago, the news has been nothing but a stream of plans to save the old man- and not one of them has worked.
A huge part of the reason I love Portland is the fact that it has to continually rebuild itself, it’s the law. The UGB is perhaps (since we’re talking history originally) one of the really big deals for Oregon in it’s history. It was a groundbreaking piece of law, and still is. And quite frankly I’d say it’s one of the most important things that has been invented in urban/civil planning since the public park. It forces adaptation.
Without it, Sellwood, Pearl, NW, Alberta, Mississippi would have never been improved they’d be even more rundown and neglected than they were before. Downtown would likely be largely deserted. And the city would have been sandwiched between burbs extending likely from Salem to Longview.
The UGB has promoted Gentrification for about 40 years now. And there were hick-ups on the way. But now that we’re one of the “cool” towns the pressure is on in ways it hasn’t been in the past. And once again the UGB will take care of it.
There are definite drawbacks to rebuilding constantly, but those drawbacks are not nearly as bad as the drawbacks from not doing so.
I get really annoyed by the use of the word character. I don’t know if any Portland neighborhoods are uniform enough in their architectural style to have a “character”. And what Portland are you trying to preserve? It seems to me like everyone who throws around these terms want Portland to stay the way it was when they moved to Portland. I’ve lived in in Portland on and off since the 90’s and I have to say I am VERY glad they didn’t freeze development back then. We have no way of knowing what Portland can be in the future if we don’t allow change. I am excited at the prospect of a vibrant diverse and dense Portland where everyone who wants to can at least afford a small apartment. The only alternative is SF and anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.
Besides I didn’t make any statement in the one you commented on which implied anything as a course of action. I was merely asking a question and offering my opinion on what is “historic”.
As I said in an earlier post. I own a 1927 4 square, it was most likely built from a kit ordered from a mail order service like Sears. Every other house on the street is pretty much the same house, each with slight differences which were likely add-ons at dates later than it’s original construction. By local standards they’re pretty old houses, but they are not rare, they aren’t historic, and quite frankly I don’t really think historic is an applicable term most houses in the Portland metro region.
And despite what you might think. I like my house, I like it’s small size, I like the neighborhood, I’m pretty happy with how things are now. I’ve worked hard over the last 15 years on it, improving it – and the neighborhood. I got a lot invested in it in time, money, and quite literally blood, sweat and tears in it.
But despite all that, I’m also excited to see the neighborhood (and the surrounding ones)starting to live up to the potential that I saw in it before anyone else did, I’m excited about it’s future. It’s not going to die, it’s not going to just get by, it’s going to thrive.
And yes with the right offer, I’ll gladly walk away and find the next house and neighborhood that with a little love and hard work could then also find its potential. I seem to be pretty good at it since I was living in NW in (92), Alberta (94), and now Division (99) before they took off.
Hi gutterbunnybikes–I was responding only to your comment under which I, er, commented. It led me to believe you didn’t see any value in Portland’s existing structures/neighborhoods because they didn’t meet your criteria for “historic” or important. I’m sorry to have misjudged you–wasn’t responding, actually, only to you or your comment. My remarks encompassed anyone I’ve perceived here as devaluing Portland structures and OK with raze-and-rebuild.
I’m completely flummoxed by anyone looking forward to more density. It may be a necessity, but (as far as I’m concerned) the more people packed into any given space, the greater the hell. Hence, it is a necessary evil (apparently). To me. 🙂 I can’t bear to go a lot of places I used to frequent in Portland anymore because they’re so packed with people, it’s no fun. Despite my love of the old, introverted Portland (as opposed the festival-obsessed one of today!), I think I’ve made it plain I’m very open to the ideas put forth in this story. I just really dislike the tone surrounding the whole “get out of the way! wipe the slate clean! make room for the new!” of many newcomers now.
p.s…only here sporadically–apologies for the slow response
History and architecture and sense of place are not meaningless to me, but as a poor renter, my personal priority is:
Affordability uber alles.
You probably need to go to 75 years to make your point.
50 years is only going back to 1965. There were a couple of huge building phases (usually post WWs) that far pre-date that.
Eli Spevak for mayor! And while we are at it, let’s reform Portland’s outdated weak mayor-strong council structure so we can get him some real power to implement these things!
For all you BikePortland readers who really want to see the “shift” away from auto-dependency and towards bikes, peds, and transit: we won’t get there until we reform our sprawl-inducing zoning rules. Eli’s done the research and these fixes would move us farther down that path. Let’s all get behind implementing these changes in the next zoning code update!
I prefer a council as opposed to a strong mayor… too much chance for a bad apple to throw wrenches in everything. Trojan horse conservatives.
Do these infill housing options include space for a “victory garden”? Everyone should have some space available for a garden, once it’s built on the option is gone for ever. Real local food is as much of a necessity as green affordable housing.
Up until last year, that 11 bedroom was an alternative high school. It’s a pretty sweet piece of property, though suffered recent fire damage. A true Portland gem that will hopefully become multi unit housing.
In the twenty years I have lived in my neighborhood, the biggest and best change has been the young couples moving in and starting families. My area is still considered affordable and there is a good elementary school near by. Greater density does not help these families or anyone else here. It will not make the neighborhood a better place. People making long term commitments and investments makes the neighborhood better. Stability is good.
Most families seem to like having back yards with gardens. And it adds to the quality of life.
Making housing affordable for those living and working here with lower paying jobs, especially families, is a worthy goal.
Making sure kids can get to a good school safely is a worthy goal.
Making sure housing is affordable so twenty-something portlandia-loving types can move here and live close in is not a worthy goal.
“Making sure housing is affordable so twenty-something portlandia-loving types can move here and live close in is not a worthy goal.”
You are conflating poor and minority with millennials. Millennials also include poor and minority individuals. Not everyone is white and upper middle class, yet you’re lobbing hatred at a group that is not even close to why we need more housing– they are what the media portrays as an image of Portland, not what it actually is. You can claim density is anathema to the “reality” of Portland, but if we don’t build densely we exclude the low income and minorities. Claiming single family homes are stable while the poor live on the fringes in what is going to more and more resemble slums is not anything I’d consider stable. Stop over preserving to the detriment of the poor and lower middle class! You don’t deserve an elysium in the center of Portland just because you own a quarter acre.
Without rent control or inclusive zoning any of the building your proposing is going to do absolutely NOTHING to help the groups you claim to be so worried about. Perhaps that should be the first thing you go after. Increasing density and building more units will be nothing more than a boon for developers (and the upper-upper middle class residents they cater to).
“Increasing density and building more units will be nothing more than a boon for developers:
And for the supply of housing. If we *don’t* build anything, of any income range, even more will be priced out due to an induced shortage.
If your theory is right, since we have built so many new apartments, we would expect to see rents easing by now. But they haven’t. Why are rents high?
Some say because new four story buildings are so expensive compared to the three story buildings. The new density is crowded, noisy and expensive and it may be less popular than you think.
DC has seen stabilizing rents due to new construction. This tells me we aren’t building enough to meet demand. And I’d take density in the city over suburban sprawl into the forest ecosystem and farm land any day.
Your theory has not worked for Portland or any other city with the possible exception of DC (we don’t know if competition from the suburbs is the reason for the slight pullback in high rent). Also, you may want to go back and study our region’s mayors objections to new metro density rules. Canby is complaining that Portland’s lack of the most desirable units (single family homes) is pushing people who want a sfh into longer commutes from areas like Canby.
Metro’s own surveys show that all groups prefer SFH to shared walls. Portlanders are not on board with New Urbanism.
My plan: preserve starter homes, and keep most of the new multi-family stock under three stories, thus slashing construction costs.
Or, we could just fire Charlie Hales and get some real leadership in this town, instead of a streetcar lobbyist who gets all his power from real estate developers.
Folks! I’m not a huge fan of capitalism, but supply vs demand does work, and demand has not kept up with supply. Remember when the crash happened and everyone doubled up? Many in the development/real estate industry went bankrupt, and condos on the south waterfront were going for a song. If developers guess wrong and overbuild, that would be great for affordable housing in this down. Let them do it!
According to PSU’s Portland Center for Real Estate Quarterly, in 2015 “Portland’s attractiveness to Millennials and burgeoning employment growth will probably contribute to apartment demand continuing to outstrip supply”
Not that the grad student who wrote this is the final word, but this is what at least some developers believe is at issue. From their perspective overbuilding is a problem. From our perspective as consumers, it would be fantastic.
These are good points, but I’d add that supply and demand aren’t the only two factors in the equation. Currently there’s a free flow of cash due to (extremely) low interest rates and reformed lending regulations that allows both development due to a higher number of developers able to fund projects, and the ongoing business growth that is attracting people to the area and sustaining influx. If this cash flow slows or stops, for instance due to inflation, deflation, or another regulatory overhaul, then supply and demand won’t weigh so heavily into the equation.
As an aside, I agree with davemess’s point – without government intervention (HUD qualifications, rent control, etc.), none of these factors tend to alleviate the problem of creating/allocating housing for minimum wage workers or the unemployable, or managing the conversion of already-affordable units. (This is a HUGE problem where I live, basically down the street from that new Jobstrosity that Apple is building – my neighbors are seeing rents jump from $2100/mo to $3400/mo for 3/2 houses, and nearby another 1000+ units are being built with rates that are not any cheaper).
Agreed, Pete, housing subsidies are needed, and I’m a huge proponent of housing first policies. I read somewhere that there was a moment in the 70s, for about 50 seconds, when there was more public housing than need. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we got there again? Or, wouldn’t it be even more amazing if we could have reparations for slavery (cf Ta Nehisi Coates) and a redistributive tax system that limited the gap between the rich and the poor to, say, a 1:4 ratio? Maybe then the poor could enjoy the privilege of buying with their own money the housing that they preferred instead of being stuck with whatever political compromise solutions could get passed (as the author of Social Security put it, programs for poor people are poor programs). Ugh. Anyway, a girl can dream.
Way to cherry pick a quote!
They’ll increase housing supply (without any type of rent control or inclusionary zoning) for a VERY specific slice of the population, mainly those who are upper middle to high income earners. These new buildings are going to do NOTHING for decreasing rents and nothing for allowing low income residents to move back into these neighborhoods.
I have to disagree with you davemess. If rich people moving in didn’t move into swanky new LEED condo buildings, they would just buy up existing stock and remodel it into swankiness, leaving less ratty housing stock for those of us who need it to be ratty to afford it. Capitalism is cruel and unjust, and usually too complicated for the d*** economists who build the models that define economic policy. But this is not rocket science. Portland is not just a city, it is part of a larger country which is turn is part of a deeply unequal world economy, and forces driving the wealthy into costal cities aren’t going to be turned away by anything so simple as not allowing more swanky housing stock. Of course we need inclusionary zoning as well, to put, to as great a degree as we can, a brake on out of control class segregation. But it isn’t enough without greater supply.
I believe that you are over-simplifying capitalism and not distinguishing between “efficient” and “inefficient” markets. Grass seed is an efficient market (responding quickly to changes in demand) and real estate is an inefficient, bubble-driven, herd-mentality market. Take a look at Professors Case and Schiller research on real estate.
If we taxed rich people properly and did not waive property taxes in the Pearl-they would not flock here or they would have smaller housing budgets.
Portland offers perverse incentives.
You make great points Mamacita. I’m a fan of Case and Schiller, though I haven’t read enough of them. And obviously we should tax the rich. I’d love to see a 1:4 ratio between the incomes and wealth of the richest and poorest in this country–even making the rich pay the same percent tax as the poor instead of less than the poor would be a good start. But as for the Pearl, I’m pretty sure I disagree with you, even though every time I go there I feel intense class resentment. The larger tax structure in the US heavily subsidizes the creation of suburbs and sprawl, even though that places a great deal of strain on cities seeking to provide basic infrastructure (fire, schools, utilities, and public transit). If Portland is going to go a different way, they have to do something to balance out those perverse incentives. Have they done it perfectly? No. Have they placed the interests of Portland’s business community over the needs of the homeless and the disenfranchised? Yes, to an unconscionable degree. But encouraging inner city density, and making that density attractive to the wealthy as well as the middle class and the poor will, I am convinced, make running this town more affordable over the long term and I can’t do anything but support that.
Also, in the end, I don’t think my oversimplification is wrong: there is not enough housing supply. There are outlier markets where, because of whatever perverse larger economic or political forces supply is simply too great and you can buy a house for less than the cost of building one (Detroit, Buffalo), and on the other hand where supply is insanely tight (San Francisco, and to a lesser degree, Portland). Not allowing many avenues to meet that demand seems to me the height of perversity.
Indeed, even on the larger scale having so many tax deductions for home ownership is a reason I own, and some of my friends even went on a buying spree when they lost their jobs because landlording was far more lucrative than wage-slaving (one friend owns 9 HUD properties!). As I’ve mentioned before, in 2009 there was a law done away with that allowed married/single people $550k/$250K cap gains fed tax free (I think it was enacted in 2004 or so?). That was a game changer, coming at a time when the boomer generation wanted to downsize, had long paid off their $30K houses now worth 12+x that amount, and mortgages could be had by anyone for ~5% with 0 down.
On the other side of the fence we address the problem by, what, raising minimum wages (which threatens small businesses and hiring)? Yeah, ‘capitalism’ isn’t really the free market enterprise it’s sold to the rest of the world as…
“Making sure housing is affordable so twenty-something portlandia-loving types can move here and live close in is not a worthy goal.”
The 11 bedroom house is the former Open Meadow High School, right? Last I looked the property was for sale, marketed as a developer’s dream. Do you know the plans for the property? I’m all for high density, but turning a beautiful historic property on the Willamette Bluff into McMansions would be a shame.
Lots of great ideas here, except the household definition thing is a solution in search of a problem: code allows an entire family plus five non-related individuals. The Zoning Code says nothing about who is married to whom, and watching a straight man wave the gay flag, when it’s a red herring to begin with, is more than a little irritating.
re: “code allows an entire family plus five non-related individuals. The Zoning Code says nothing about who is married to whom, and watching a straight man wave the gay flag,”
??? ??? ??? ???
If the zoning code says a married couple plus five non-related individuals is lawful, while a cohabiting unmarried couple plus five non-related individuals is unlawful, the zoning code VERY MUCH says something about who is married to whom.