Affordability alliance? Some neighborhood leaders back low-impact infill ideas

Posted by on March 17th, 2015 at 10:37 am

Townhomes, like these on SE Ankeny, are currently the most common middle ground between apartments and single-family homes. Some neighborhood leaders want Portland to provide more options for moderate levels of density.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

A slate of ideas for increasing Portland’s housing supply with fewer visual changes to its central-city neighborhoods is getting warm reviews from influential neighborhood association leaders.

The list of policy proposals, compiled by local indie developer Eli Spevak last month after a conversation with Tamara DeRidder of the Rose City Park Neighborhood Association, includes concepts such as legalizing internal divisions of existing houses and scaling transportation, sewer and parks fees based on home size.

The general theme of the proposals: allowing more housing in Portland that offers more density than single-family houses but less than four-story apartment buildings.

“There’s different ways of creating affordability that we haven’t really brokered with,” DeRidder said in an interview Monday. “There’s a massive in-between.”

Spevak developed the concepts as a response to the seemingly ever-rising demand for homes in Portland’s bikable, walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods that were developed before the automotive age. Widespread construction in those areas hasn’t been enough to keep up with population growth, meaning that many households are already sharing homes in order to keep up with fast-rising rents while others are being priced out of the areas.

Many neighborhood associations, meanwhile, say demolition of old homes is also a significant policy problem.

Spevak says that’s because developers’ easiest way to maximize profit in a single-family neighborhood is to build the largest possible house and market it based on its massive square footage. He hopes to create a different road to profit: putting multiple small units on a property.

Internal home divisions — which Spevak says were legal for any house in Portland before World War II, leaving many still in place in older neighborhoods — would be plausible projects for current homeowners looking to become small-scale developers themselves.

A large older home that’s been converted to a triplex.
(Photo courtesy Eli Spevak)

“You’ve got aging Baby Boomers who are looking for ways that they can also put another person on their property,” said DeRidder, who works as a private planner by profession. “If you’re able to do it internal to the existing structures, then you save a lot of money and you don’t have to charge as much.”

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The Sunnyside Neighborhood Association voted last year to endorse an earlier draft of Spevak’s policy proposals.

Heather Flint Chatto of the Richmond Neighborhood Association is a critic of Portland’s strategy of allowing significantly more intense development on larger streets such as Division than in the surrounding single-family neighborhoods.

“By concentrating it all on our corridors and centers we’re kind of missing some less impactful townhouse-style designs,” Flint Chatto said. “That has a much lesser impact on our adjacent development.”

“There’s this deep sense of loss and trauma that people are going through right now, I think citywide,” she went on. “At every turn I see a really huge modern building.”

Flint Chatto, who also works professionally as a planner, said her main concerns about new development are “congestion, increased crime, loss of affordability,” and that all of those would be lessened if new investment were scattered more evenly through neighborhoods rather than concentrated on corridors.

“It’s scary to me how things are going in Portland in terms of affordability, and I think it should be a front-burner priority.”
— Linda Nettekoven, Hosford-Abernathy Neighborhood District Association

She said the rapid transformation of Division in the 30s blocks has meant “going from $10 jeans on Division to $175 jeans on Division in the space of a year.”

“You run into people at the food carts because those are the businesses that people can afford,” she said. “They can’t afford to live and use the businesses in the neighborhood now.”

Linda Nettekoven of the Hosford-Abernathy Neighborhood District Association agreed.

“I think at the moment it’s scary to me how things are going in Portland in terms of affordability, and I think it should be a front-burner priority,” she said.

Nettekoven said Spevak’s goal of increasing housing supply without major visual changes to a neighborhood might depend on projects being “in the hands of the right kind of builder” and worried that rules for increasing the number of homes on a property “can be an excuse to do something that doesn’t necessarily have a benefit.”

But she said that in the right circmstances, Spevak’s ideas seemed appealingly familiar.

“A lot of those things already exist in Ladd’s Addition, for example, where I happen to live,” Nettekoven said. “You’ve got houses of different age and scale mixed together and hopefully harmoniously.”

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64 Comments
  • Avatar
    Oregon Mamacita March 17, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Pinch me- I must be dreaming- a developer who I don’t disdain…

    Yes to these general ideas.

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    TonyJ March 17, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Sunnyside Neighborhood sent a letter in support of Spivak’s ideas to BPS last year. SNA supports a balanced option of sustainable infill AND concentration along commercial corridors (in January and February, the SNA board voted to support and expand the cities plans for mixed use urban intensity along Belmont and Hawthorne).

    I find the comments of some of these other neighborhood leaders a bit disingenuous as they claim to be concerned about affordability, but their most recent (and successful) actions have been to require more onsite parking (increases cost), demand smaller residential buildings on Division and Hawthorne (reduces supply), and fight higher levels of density on those corridors (reduces supply).

    People aren’t eating at TidBit and Good Food Here cart pods because the food is cheap (IT’S NOT) they’re eating there because the food is exciting and the atmosphere is active and interesting. They are eating at food carts that are there because there are lots of new people and activity in the neighborhoods.

    The ideas Eli is proposing are great. If you like them and you’d like to see them happen, get out to your neighborhood association and support these ideas and similar ones, otherwise you might be surprised at what actually comes out of those organizations.

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      maccoinnich March 17, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Agreed 100%. Maybe I misinterpreted the previous guest post, but I got the impression that Spevak was proposing additional options for development, not a wholesale change in development policy. I certainly hope so. There is no way the city can accommodate its growth needs with ADUs and internal conversions alone.

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        Eli Spevak March 17, 2015 at 1:42 pm

        Yes – I”m proposing some additional development options that, if legalized, would bring back some traditional forms of affordable housing and might steer the market to types of in-fill development that are more discreet, affordable, and right-sized than what’s going up in neighborhoods today. Between me and other planning activists in town, it would be easy to come up with lots more ideas than the ones I pitched in my guest opinion piece. I purposely winnowed the list to a few specific ideas for which there seems to be pretty broad consensus. So if there’s agreement on this short list of changes, let’s make them. Our work won’t be done, but we’ll be further along than we are today.

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          TonyJ March 17, 2015 at 8:48 pm

          I don’t think, and please correct me Eli (and forgive me for my typo with your last name) if I am wrong, that Mr. Spevak is opposed to the mid-rise development on the corridors. My understanding is that his proposal is much more about slowing the teardown of existing homes in between those corridors (and elsewhere) by making better use of the land and structures we have.

          I think you might be attributing some of the comments made by Richmond, HAND, and Rose City neighborhood activists to Eli.

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            TonyJ March 17, 2015 at 10:31 pm

            This comment is orphaned as the one I replied to disappeared, so it is a little disjointed.

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            Eli Spevak March 17, 2015 at 11:46 pm

            Hi Tony et al,

            I haven’t weighed in much on the centers/corridors density and height debates. But you’re right. I think we need more and better choices for slipping discreet density into neighborhoods AND to support relatively dense/tall housing and mixed-use forms in centers and corridors.

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              Doug Klotz March 18, 2015 at 1:24 am

              I agree with Eli, and would add more detail. If we’re serious about avoiding that sharp difference in heights we now see, the transition could work better if, at the least, the higher, denser buildings on transit streets are allowed to be a full block (200′) deep, so the height transition often occurs at a street, rather than at back yards. And to take full advantage of the transit and shopping on the arterial, the next block could be apartment zoning, like R-1. Then, buildings could step down to rowhouses, (with ADUs). (This is a little messier if long (deep?) blocks exist behind the transit street)

              That is, IF a gradual transition (and an increase in housing units) is what is sought!

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    Justin Morton March 17, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Half the city wants affordable housing. The other half wants more parking. The city is really going to have to choose between the two.

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      Oregon Mamacita March 17, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Why are the no-parking apartments so expensive, then? Why are rents rising instead of falling? Why are fights breaking out in Richmond because
      restaurant patrons and new residents drive to the area? Don’t swallow the lies the developers tell you. Parking spots reduce profits. That’s just fine
      with me.
      BTW- do you know any blue collar people that need cars? Affordable housing for working families means parking spots so Dad can get to the construction site and Mom can work that swing shift. If you don’t know any blue collar families that need cars you’re not getting out enough.

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        Alex Reed March 17, 2015 at 12:53 pm

        The new no-parking apartments are so expensive mostly because they are new, and partially because legal restrictions on building housing in our area result in builders only building higher-end developments in order to get the most profit out of the housing units they can get through the legal system. If more housing units were allowed to be built, many more of them would be mass-market and lower-end.
        http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/12/11/filtering_vs_gentrification_how_to_get_urban_growth_without_displacement.html

        Rents are rising instead of falling because the Portland area still has a significant backlog of housing units to be built in order to match population growth since 2005. It’s like adding more cars to the global economy while leaving oil production the same: oil (housing) gets more expensive, and some people – poorer people, mostly – economize by carpooling (living with more roommates), etc. http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2014/10/is_portland_building_enough_ne.html

        (Political) fights are breaking out because some longtime residents feel they purchased a right to free, easy-to-find on-street parking when they bought/rented their house.

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          Oregon Mamacita March 17, 2015 at 2:23 pm

          Alex. the parking wars happen when driveways are blocked and streets are impassable due to the congestion from cars. Have you been around SE Division lately? It’s pretty awful, and the problem, as you know, has spilled over to SE Clinton.
          We don’t have good planning in Portland. The problems should have been forseen and developers profits should not have been priority number one.

          I see the same old solutions proposed and those solutions are failing in real time as we watch. Vision Zero to me means PBOT and BPS are in an idealogical fog and do not notice the real social tensions boiling over.

          Wake up and smell the coffee- new residents own cars and those Beaverton developers like Remmer are just maximizing their profits by expecting new residents to compete with restaurant patrons for parking.
          It is an unfair mess.

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            Jayson March 17, 2015 at 4:18 pm

            “social tensions boiling over”? Wow. What I see are a handful of really cranky ill informed older residents (and some newer ones) who dread the thought of sharing public streets efficiently.

            “I see the same old solutions proposed and those solutions are failing in real time as we watch.” The solution is to price street parking according to demand. I haven’t seen that actually implemented anywhere other than downtown – have you? I don’t see people complaining about parking in downtown where parking charges are in effect…

            These type of comments continue to be a mix of melodrama and misinformation. No thank you.

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              davemess March 17, 2015 at 5:03 pm

              I’m wondering that if paid parking on the east side was implemented if you would have more people who live in parking-free apartments object to it than single family dwellers.

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              rachel b March 18, 2015 at 10:29 am

              “Cranky, ill-informed older residents?” How very black and white of you! This irritable dimwit just happens to be with you on making people pay for parking—as much as possible. I’m also completely behind the ideas discussed in this article. I can feel that way and also tell you that it’s the opposite of irrational to be attached to your home/community. It’s human. It’s even cat, fern and slug. We like home. Maybe you’re a nomad and you don’t, though you seem to be very much behind making Portland a home in a way that satisfies you. I can understand that, though I don’t agree with your vision of Portland-home. Can you imagine anyone ever wanted to move here before you, to our dumpy bungalow wasteland? Try. I can appreciate your seeing A New Portland as a great thing—I can put myself in your shoes. But I don’t feel the same way about all the change, at this point. 2008 was the tipping point for me. I was your model citizen Welcome Wagon up to then. From where I sit, locals have been pretty decent overall about all the change happening—it’s been happening for a long time now, at an ever-accelerating pace. We’re a pretty welcoming bunch, overall. Feeling the strain and saying something about it should be something anyone here feels free to express without threat of insults or condescension. It’s part of the picture, part of the story of what’s happening in Portland. We probably agree on a number of things but it’s no fun to talk to someone seemingly intent on making you into a cartoon.

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                Anne Hawley March 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm

                Rachel b, I hope you drop back by to read this, because I’ve thought a lot about your comments, and you’ve shifted my thinking. If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago to define my stance on infill and density and in-migration, I’d have given you the standard urbanist response: come one, come all, Portland is cool, we can make room, denser is better, and so on. And I still mostly feel that way.

                I believe more population growth here is on balance a good thing, and probably inevitable for the foreseeable future. I’d like to think that 21st century Portland is actually a better place than the hidebound, Rose-Festival-Queen-electing, provincial town of my long-ago youth. I hope that newcomers who have voluntarily sorted themselves to Portland are attracted here by something fundamentally Portlandy that they can’t and don’t want to change.

                But I’m a native Portlander, one of what feels like a diminishing minority around here, and I’ve felt the sorrow and loss of seeing old houses demolished for bigger new ones. I’ve watched and mostly cheered the enlivening of old neighborhoods, while at the same time feeling increasingly ill-at-ease on my native ground as newcomers with an unfamiliar and sometimes alienating concept of Portland pour in. It was valuable to me to have these feelings put into words and defended here on BikePortland.

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                davemess March 18, 2015 at 1:12 pm

                “I hope that newcomers who have voluntarily sorted themselves to Portland are attracted here by something fundamentally Portlandy that they can’t and don’t want to change.”

                That’s what I don’t completely get. Many people who proclaim to love the city and that they moved here for what it is/was want to change it, which would likely diminish (at least at some level) a lot of the things they liked about it. I’m not against change, but I find this stance a little strange. And the shock and anger some of them seem to express that others who live here wouldn’t agree with them is just odd.

                We have dense areas like the Pearl and South waterfront, and those areas haven’t completely lit the world on fire in demand (though the Pearl is clearly coming around). I agree that we can dense up some areas of the city, but I just worry that blanket approaches will hurt areas where it doesn’t make sense right now.

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                maccoinnich March 18, 2015 at 1:25 pm

                The population of the Pearl increased from 1,113 in 2000 to 5,997 in 2010, a 438% increase. Given the amount of new buildings currently under construction in the Pearl I’d expect a similar jump by 2020. So I’m not sure how you conclude that the Pearl hasn’t “lit the world on fire in demand”.

                As someone who moved here from another country, one of the things that attracted me to Portland was that it’s a city with a dense and walkable urban core, and not endless suburbia with a hollowed out core like many other American cities. This is a direct consequence of the land use policies that have been in place since the 1970s and not some recent change that’s been forced on the city by a bunch of newcomers.

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                rachel b March 18, 2015 at 3:13 pm

                “I’ve watched and mostly cheered the enlivening of old neighborhoods, while at the same time feeling increasingly ill-at-ease on my native ground as newcomers with an unfamiliar and sometimes alienating concept of Portland pour in.”

                Thanks for your post, Anne—much appreciated, and very well said. I get a lot out of your posts generally. I miss the old unhip Portland more than you, perhaps, but then I am an enemy of hipness.

                “That’s what I don’t completely get. Many people who proclaim to love the city and that they moved here for what it is/was want to change it, which would likely diminish (at least at some level) a lot of the things they liked about it. I’m not against change, but I find this stance a little strange. And the shock and anger some of them seem to express that others who live here wouldn’t agree with them is just odd.”

                That really says it, davemess. I find the anger at anyone who’s not elated over the constant rapid-fire change oppressive and perplexing. I’ve noticed it even in the tone of WW these days—never in a million years would I have foreseen them publishing “Here’s What Makes Portland the Bestest EVER!” kind of articles, and so many of them. And if a commenter dares dissent (and snark used to be the WW commenters’ stock in trade) a dozen peppy “Yay, Portland!” newbies will clobber them to death. It is a huge sea change in the people, and I think that answers your question. I think the attractors have changed here, and hence those attracted. To me, it feels like Portland was an introvert and now it’s adamantly an extrovert.

                And maccoinnich–Yes—we—most of the locals here on this site, I suspect, supported this UGB you speak of. We were integral to making this the place you wanted to be, where seemingly everyone and their dog now want to be. I, along with so many Portlanders going way back, am as green as they come. You’re inheriting what people who lived here before you made. You’re reaping the benefits of the work of the people you and several others here excoriate. This place became the place everyone wants to be because people who’ve been here a long while valued quality of life issues and voted our priorities and did the work. What’s the problem? Why’s it so reprehensible that we’re reacting naturally to external stressors–in ways that scientists, sociologists, anthropologists have all noted and that we witness in species other than ours when abrupt habitat change occurs? Why is it wrong to express it? We’ve been making and making and making room. Can’t we say “ow” at some point when it hurts? It doesn’t make us not tough enough or generous enough or pragmatic enough. I will arm wrestle you any day. 😉

                I don’t expect you or anyone else to agree with me but quality of life is worsening here, in my view. If I could move from Portland right now, I would. And I never thought I’d say that. There is such a thing as too many, too much, too crowded, too polluted, and a tipping point. I happen to think we passed it in 2008. I know more people are coming (and I think prognosticators are seriously underestimating how hard we’re going to be hit by climate refugees. The only thing that’ll stem that tide is our own drought). We are going to struggle to accommodate them. I agree more housing is necessary. I am not an enemy of all change. I’m just saying what it’s felt like, what it feels like. That’s all.

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                davemess March 18, 2015 at 6:37 pm

                2000-2010 is not a fair sample at all though. You’re taking all the years that warehouses were converted to housing. I’m talking more 2010-2014? Have we seen a crazy boon of new buildings in the area, similar to what we’re seeing all over the eastside? Or was this simply a case of the lowest hanging fruit being built from 2000-2010, and there being less demand?

                I’m honestly curious, I haven’t studied the Pearl very thoroughly.

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                maccoinnich March 18, 2015 at 7:29 pm

                There is a development boom happening in the Pearl right now that dwarfes anything happening in the Eastside, with the possible exception of the Lloyd superblocks. Along NW Overton St there’s a 28 story tower, a 26 story tower and a 16 story tower all under construction. The Pearl has over 1,600 residential units under construction or in the permitting pipeline, and another 650 in the Riverscape area (technically in NW, but immediately adjacent to the Pearl). That’s not even counting some pretty large buildings that have been completed since 2010.

                Absent a deep recession that strikes very soon, I would expect the population of the Pearl in 2020 to have increased at least by the same numbers it did between 2000 and 2010.

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            Doug Klotz March 17, 2015 at 4:22 pm

            I live 5 blocks from Division, and travel on it regularly. The streets are not impassible, whether biking, walking or driving a car. They’re just slower than they were. (I am also 3 blocks from Hawthorne, and patrons of Hawthorne businesses regularly park in front of my house. None has blocked the driveway yet.)

            I find that Division is pretty great, not pretty awful. I love the sidewalk activity, all the people crossing the street. I go to Hedge House, Division Hardware, Star Salon, Cibo, and Imperial Taproom, among others. I’ve never had trouble finding a parking place for my bike. I think that whatever planning led to Division developing this way was a blessing. When I moved here 29 years ago, I hoped Division would develop into something more than the abandoned gas stations and parking lots it was then, and am happy it did.

            I’m sorry to hear you would prioritize easing “social tensions” with plenty of free parking, over an effort to reduce roadway crash injuries and deaths, which is what Vision Zero is about, unless it’s because you think the “parking wars” will escalate to violence as severe as the crash data in the city show for roadway injuries and deaths.

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              Terry D-M March 18, 2015 at 4:15 am

              Just tonight at North Tabor parking versus we will “Turn Into Division” discussion took place. Most wanted Glisan to turn into Division with the understanding that meant metered parking and residential permits. They were LOOKING FORWARD to this change that will happen.

              There was one resident who took to opposite view, and that parking should be mandated for all units as she “didn’t want to pay for parking permits,” yet she wants North Tabor to “Remain affordable.” We have to choose, and I will always fight for, and choose, people over parking. We have a great mass transit and we are working on a world class bikeway system, society will adjust…after some growing pains.

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            Alex Reed March 18, 2015 at 9:29 am

            In my view, the developers are the main *cause* of the Division parking congestion and thru-traffic and parking spillover to Clinton, but it is not their *responsibility.* Development and neighborhood change are things that happen in a city, and it’s better government policy to mitigate the ill effects rather than heavily restrict development. I think PBOT should take steps such as pricing parking near Division, instituting permit parking, and adding auto diverters on Clinton. The ultimate problem is a lack of political will to make these policy changes that will anger some residents and business owners but overall result in a better neighborhood and city.

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        Huey Lewis March 17, 2015 at 3:08 pm

        I live in a house of 4 adults, all over 30, all making less than 30k a year. None of us drive to work.

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          davemess March 17, 2015 at 4:49 pm

          The Portland dream.

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            Huey Lewis March 17, 2015 at 5:20 pm

            Uh, yeah. Totally dreamy. Don’t pinch me, I’d like to never wake up. Over-educated, underpaid and underemployed. What a life!

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          mh March 21, 2015 at 7:16 pm

          How many of you own cars that you park in the public right of way? I’m an all-season bike commuter, with a car that lives on the street. I’m guilty as hell.

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      Todd Boulanger March 17, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      Yes the age old American tug of war: housing for cars or housing for people.

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        jeg March 17, 2015 at 8:01 pm

        It’s the battle between the land owners and their indentured servants. How much can we squeeze the renting class while ever expanding our land rights. It’s disgusting and we need to quash it in this city.

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          davemess March 18, 2015 at 8:25 am

          This is just a little over the top……
          You do know that many people in the inner east side pay more in rent than a large swatch of the mortgages in Portland, right?
          Affordability doesn’t equate to “I can live wherever I want cheaply”.

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      davemess March 17, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      Except most of the half who wants affordable housing also wants parking. It’s not exactly as clean as you’re describing it.

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        9watts March 17, 2015 at 5:19 pm

        I’m not sure we know this, davemess. A quarter of renters in the part of Multnomah Co. I’ve looked at closely (Michael can correct me if this is different for the county as a whole) don’t own any cars. And those who do have significantly fewer cars per capita and per household than do homeowners in census tracts where I’ve looked at this question (the inner Eastside neighborhoods we’re talking about here primarily). I don’t think we know enough about the social contexts across which automobile ownership is unevenly distributed to equate ‘owning a car’ with ‘wants parking,’ as if parking demand were a binary thing.

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          davemess March 17, 2015 at 7:53 pm

          Fair, but you’re only talking about a few small areas, which we already know have way higher biking rates than the rest of the city.
          I’m talking just the straight across the board numbers for Portland.

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    Terry D-M March 17, 2015 at 11:12 am

    It is not just Tamara IN RCPNA and Linda in HAND. After Sunnyside brought forth this package to SEUL’s T/LU meeting last spring, I bright it forward to North Tabor which also unanimously supported it last June. We submitted it as part of the comprehensive plan documentation.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/253464714/Proposal-for-an-Enhanced-Housing-Choice-Code-Update-Package

    In SEUL, many of the T/LU chairs really thought these are good ideas and that measures need to be taken to implement them. We should not only though update the zoning code to allow for these changes. I have also been floating the idea of TAXING demolition waste. Carrot and stick approach. Portland city leaders, and city council, needs to listen.

    I know that if these ideas had been implemented, instead of getting four skinny houses with one of North Tabor’s recent infill projects, we could have been able to save the higher quality 1915 craftsman…since the financial numbers would have worked for the developer. Under current rules, the costs did not pan out (according to them). We COULD have gotten three affordable units (a duplex and an ADU) instead of two $400K skinny houses.

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    Doug Klotz March 17, 2015 at 11:18 am

    These ideas are certainly important to implement, hopefully on a short timeline. Internal conversions, plus backyard ADUs, and perhaps 2-unit backyard buildings, can help increase housing in established neighborhoods.

    The city strategy Heather Flint-Chatto notes, of “allowing significantly more intense development on larger streets than in surrounding single-family neighborhoods” is a direct and anticipated result of Portland’s policy of preserving inner-city single-family neighborhoods intact. The natural growth of cities is for house conversions, and then apartment buildings, to filter into the neighborhoods for several blocks from the arterials. This results in a gradual step-down in intensity. A tour north of Hawthorne between 12th and 20th will show what this looks like when it was allowed to happen, before 1981. It is Portland’s “neighborhood preservation” policies that are responsible for the significant difference in intensity in other locations, not the height of buildings on the narrow corridors where they are allowed. Such policies also have an undesirable effect on affordability, as Michael Anderson’s previous columns have illuminated.

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    Heather Flint Chatto March 17, 2015 at 11:59 am

    A few clarifications as a bit of the context didn’t make it in the quotes above:

    I actually DO support the City’s corridors and centers strategy as a whole. However, I think Eli Spevak’s proposal has some important alternative housing approaches that can help balance this broad strategy and should be considered more.

    We have a lot of really intense development happening right now, and as an urban planner I am generally a supporter of infill and dense mixed-use projects as an important sustainability strategy. However, I would say we’re getting the density but not always getting *good* density.

    Really in many ways it’s NOT about the density, it is about DESIGN.
    Portland neighborhoods are experiencing unprecedented growth and development. Many say that we are “rebuilding our city” at an alarming rate causing a ripple of long-term impacts with neighborhoods at a loss for any intervention. We’ve embraced the expected 123,000 new households expected in Portland by 2035. However as we race to “build it so they can come”, there has been extensive community concerns ex-pressed that we are erasing community character and driving out affordable housing, long term residents and businesses, thus creating further economic disparity and gentrification.

    In addition to these very tangible physical impacts there are also fundamental social, cultural and emotional impacts experienced in the form of “root shock”. Author Mindy Fullilove’s book of the same name describes this impact as follows: “root shock is the traumatic stress reaction to the destruction of all or part of one’s emotional ecosystem — like the physiological shock associated with losing massive amounts of fluids due to injury — it threatens body’s whole ability to function.”
    Division Street has been an increasing focus of the media from this type of rapid redevelopment. This has happened amidst broad neighborhood outcry about the displacement of affordable housing and local businesses, skyrocketing rental rates, development in glaring contrast to existing community character and identity, increased traffic congestion, crime, and overnight transformation of 8 blocks without the residents having any meaningful ability to be involved in the major redevelopment of their neighborhood.
    In response, the Division Design Initiative has worked proactively to engage stakeholders in community dialogue, gather meaningful data that supports advocacy and policy changes, and develop tools and models that others can use and replicate to more effectively influence the planning and design of more livable and equitable communities.

    I would support proposals like Eli Spevak’s for more alternatives to incorporating additional housing within our existing neighborhoods as long as it is done in a sensitive and well-designed manner as one strategy that has a lesser impact than some of the recent development patterns. Currently by only concentrating it all on our corridors and centers, we’re missing some less impactful design strategies that can blend better within the fabric of existing neighborhoods such as attached townhouses or small cottage-style or courtyard housing designs. Allowing small ADUs in addition to conversion of attics or basements as additional units, and allowing conversion of larger homes to multiple units are good strategies to incorporate as well. Implementing these approaches can support perhaps a slightly less intensive development (such as on smaller streets) while still pursuing corridor increased density goals. It’s about finding that balance both for growth and density goals for accommodating future populations while maintaining livable communities for those here now too.

    We do need to do more infill and increase density, but lets think more creatively about how we grow that maintains the unique character and identity of what makes our Portland neighborhoods so special. I recommend incentives for more adaptive reuse of existing buildings and higher energy performance, more impact analysis, transportation demand management requirements, and increased design review would be further tools needed for our community’s growth management toolkit. The Division Design Initiative (DDI) has been working to advocate for these types of strategies including increased design guidelines to clarify community goals and priorities, support better notification and community involvement requirements, and more context-sensitive development. To learn more about DDI visit http://www.divisiondesigninitiative.org.

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      Joseph E March 17, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      “higher energy performance, more impact analysis, transportation demand management requirements, and increased design review”… will all significantly increase the price of new housing.

      Allowing houses to be subdivided into rental units, and new rental units to be build next to or behind existing houses, is an affordable way to get new housing without demolishing current buildings. Analysis, design review, TDM regulation are ways to make development more expensive, without fixing the city-wide problem: too little housing vs the number of jobs and the number of people who want to live in inner Portland.

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      rachel b March 17, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Great comment, Heather Flint Chatto! Thanks for all the great work you’ve done, you and DDI. And thanks for giving voice to the more amorphous, intangible negative impacts of Portland’s rapid change, for some of us–that shocked, lost and panicked feeling. I definitely feel it. It’s made even more unsettling and disturbing by the manic Portland party atmosphere all around. Sometimes I feel like I’m the one who just moved here, this city’s so alien to me now. And the oft-heard ‘get over it’ is really not helpful. So, thanks. Thanks.

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      Jayson March 17, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      I still don’t buy into the argument that Division is a poster child of what went wrong.

      How many businesses and residents were physically displaced by new development on Division? Very few from what I can tell and far more opportunities for new residents and businesses have been put in their place. While some may lament the loss of an affordable, unimproved single-family home, I lament the fact that some are throwing roadblocks in front of developers attempting to meet the needs of the region’s rental market and transforming our commercial corridors into places where people want to be and enjoy their surroundings.

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        maccoinnich March 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm

        Google Streetview is great for before and after comparisons. I personally much prefer the urban environment present on Division in 2014 (https://goo.gl/maps/oWCHR) to the one in 2011 (https://goo.gl/maps/HTCxe). What I see is lots of new places for people to live, work and eat, and I think that’s a good thing in a growing city.

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    davemess March 17, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    “Many neighborhood associations, meanwhile, say demolition of old homes is a significant policy problem.”

    Michael, we’ve talked about this before but it’s unfair to paint NA’s with a broad stroke, when in reality most of them (maybe almost all of them) are okay with some demolition. The resolution (which actually passed council recently) for most us was more about HOW demolitions are done (i.e. proper notification of neighbors about hazardous materials, etc.).

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 17, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Thanks, Dave – I agree that it’s important not to use too broad a brush to categorize NAs. My phrase here referred to the 42 neighborhood associations who signed the UNR resolution describing the “preservation of each neighborhood’s historical heritage and character” as being “of prime concern” and calling for various new requirements for home demolitions. I think it’s pretty reasonable to describe demolitions as the main policy problem identified by that coalition.

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        davemess March 17, 2015 at 4:59 pm

        Do you not think that many of those points are important? Especially the ones outlined in the 1st section?
        No where on that proposal does it say that they are trying to stop demolitions completely.
        I fear that you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
        I sat in a room last night with people that I know for a fact signed onto that resolution, and also are incredibly excited to work with Eli Spevak’s ideas.
        I think you’re just making this far too black and white (again).

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
          Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 17, 2015 at 5:11 pm

          Maybe you’re reading a hostility I didn’t intend into the sentence about demolitions? The reason I put it there was that Spevak’s proposals are crafted as ways to reduce unnecessary demolitions. To me, that’s what makes these proposals interesting; they seem to address the complaints of several different interest groups.

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            davemess March 17, 2015 at 7:56 pm

            Sorry if that came off too strong. I don’t think you’re being hostile, I just find some of your real estate stories to be a little too slanted sometimes, and that line seemed like a pot shot at NA’s (which already seem to get a bad rap on here) to me. I just don’t believe that being for better processes of demolition means you’re against demolitions and any type of density or change in the city.

            Maybe I’m just completely reading too much into it (and carrying over comments from the last time that story was covered).

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    Jim Labbe March 17, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Eli has got a great set of reforms for the land-use and zoning side of the equation for affordable, attractive infill. But he also has thought and written the financing barriers to smaller, more affordable and shared housing models:

    http://www.orangesplot.net/2014/07/07/proposal-partially-or-fully-assumable-mortgage/

    http://www.orangesplot.net/2013/09/18/solving-the-turnover-problem-for-small-owner-occupied-shared-housing-communities/

    New more, accessible, and transferable financing tools for the little guy could work hand-in-glove with his land-use and zoning changes to turbo charge the provision of diverse and affordable housing options in Portland.

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    Dwaine Dibbly March 17, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    The greenest building is the one that’s already there, right?

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      9watts March 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      If you don’t count the empty lot next door. That is even greener 🙂

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      jeg March 17, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      The greenest building is the one that, in the context of an urban area, allows for the most efficient use of resources while not destroying more wilderness/farm outside the urban area. A single family home in central Portland is far less green than a multi-family development replacing it.

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        9watts March 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm

        Efficient ≠ green, my friend jeg. Efficiency is one of the most direct ways to accommodate more (people, miles driven, 2x4s, concrete, asphalt). But since we now live in what Herman Daly calls a full world, we can’t really afford more of anything. Green = less, and you don’t get less by building more.

        Here’s my book recommendation for the day: Thomas Princen’s The Logic of Sufficiency http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/logic-sufficiency

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          jeg March 17, 2015 at 8:23 pm

          People need to live somewhere. Sprawl is not more efficient than density, no matter how you try to spin it. Building dense with transit is always the most green given our overpopulated planet. I am so tired of ambiance and history usurping the need for housing; I am especially tired of the convoluted rhetoric saying an existing structure is greener. It isn’t when we live in an overpopulated planet and the options are sprawl or build up.

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            9watts March 17, 2015 at 8:33 pm

            “Building dense with transit is always the most green given our overpopulated planet.”

            You’re missing the part about getting out in front of this lose-lose dynamic. The goal cannot be to build at a feverish pace in an attempt to catch up; that is doomed in a growth-enslaved society. I can’t champion building in the absence of a framework that seeks to identify and redress the causes of the present imbalance.

            “Sprawl is not more efficient than density, no matter how you try to spin it.”

            Is there some way to communicate with you outside of these binary growth shackles you keep ejecting in our direction?
            efficient – inefficient
            build up – sprawl
            right – wrong
            zero – sum

            It doesn’t have to be so grim, so leaden, so desperate, so urgent. If you let go of this dualistic view of everything the edges blur, people reappear, solutions that arise from conversation come into focus.

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              jeg March 17, 2015 at 8:49 pm

              “The goal cannot be to build at a feverish pace in an attempt to catch up; that is doomed in a growth-enslaved society.”

              You make the mistake of assuming there isn’t massive migration going on currently, and that the coming century will involve many climate refugees resettling in cities of our temperate/wet latitude. We must build.

              “It doesn’t have to be so grim, so leaden, so desperate, so urgent.”

              Unfortunately, it is and already has been for years. We need to play catch up with the coming catastrophe of climate change and global warming.

              The model of dense urbanity is the only one that can survive in our coming harsh future. Further, one area having demand means it makes sense to try to accomodate as many people as want to exist in a place. Denser living is greener, it is one part in a big web of necessary changes humanity needs to make if we’re going to survive the next few centuries.

              I get that you don’t believe preparing for climate change is this imperative; I feel sorry for your shortsightedness. I hope you start seeing why you are wrong, and this really is a game of running up against limits to see if we’ll survive as a species.

              Dense cities while leaving vast swaths to wilderness can help the ecosystem heal. Not further reverence to “history” only 100 years old and land stolen from tribes with history that goes back 10,000. It’s all absurd. We must protect the ecosystem. That means razing some craftsman homes. A few 100 year old homes are worth demolishing to preserve old growth forest. Density preserves open spaces elsewhere.

              I know all of this pushback is essentially the right trying to chip away at urban planning wins in this city. We must preserve our urban growth boundary to save the farmland and wilderness that make Oregon a wonderful place. A few homes huddled along a river in the north of the state are fine to sacrifice in my opinion, to make way for more housing density, to prevent suburban death sprawl.

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                9watts March 17, 2015 at 8:53 pm

                “I get that you don’t believe preparing for climate change is this imperative; I feel sorry for your shortsightedness.”

                You crack me up.

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                Doug Klotz March 18, 2015 at 1:25 am

                It should be noted that 9watts is perhaps the most prepared person in Portland.

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                soren March 19, 2015 at 5:06 pm

                I agree with jeg. By definition large multi-unit housing uses fewer resources, conserves energy, and discourages sprawl “manifest-destiny. I strongly believe that our goal should not only be to limit growth but to also reclaim ecosystems and habitat. A large increase in urban density is essential to achieving these goals in the medium-term (given current population level).

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              • John Liu
                John Liu March 17, 2015 at 10:08 pm

                Hyperventilate much?

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                davemess March 18, 2015 at 8:33 am

                I hope you live in a REALLY small apartment.

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                Serena March 19, 2015 at 11:11 am

                Green Metropolis by Mark Owen and Triumph of the City by Glaser both offer cogent explanations for why density is so essential. Glaser in particular argues that environmental regulations on the coast push development (and sprawl) to inland cities like Houston and Phoenix. It sounds plausible to me. His argument is one many readers of this blog would support: that national policies subsidizing auto-based sprawl need to be scrapped, and that environmental impact studies need to address the impact not only of adding or avoiding density in one place, but where those people who might otherwise move to an “environmental” city might otherwise go. Ie, would it be better to demolish historic buildings and parks in San Francisco to make high rises that could lower the cost of living in SF enough that people would move there from Houston? Maybe it would make SF somewhat less desirable and so lower prices on that front as well? It’s an interesting argument and one that it relevant to debates in Portland. Whether we agree with everything Glaser (who got his Ph.D. at UChicago and therefore can never be trusted 😉 says, his point that regulations at the city level have externalities beyond individual cities is well taken.

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            davemess March 18, 2015 at 8:31 am

            Did you know there are currently 65,000 acres that are undeveloped in Portland?

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              Randall S. March 19, 2015 at 10:16 am

              So about 76% of Portland is undeveloped? Aside from the fact that your numbers are probably inaccurate, so what? How much of the undeveloped area is in 500-acre tracts between the freeway and the airport? How much of it is in 0.05 acre tracts between existing structures? How much of it is on the far edges of the city?

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              davemess March 19, 2015 at 11:06 am

              Got that straight from the mouth of the Parks Dept. But yes, that doesn’t sound right now, doing the math. Regardless this city is really not that built out. So using the UGB as an argument is kind of a red herring. There is still lots of developable land (even if some of it is less desirable) inside the UGB.

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                Psyfalcon March 19, 2015 at 10:37 pm

                Isn’t there still an overgrown lot on Broadway near PSU?

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