Portland Century - August 18th

Advocate! Tell the city how to change residential infill rules

Posted by on December 18th, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Built in 1927, illegal to build today.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Whether you hate demolitions, love garages, yearn to live in a duplex or just think the rent is too damn high, now’s your chance to let the city know.

All this year, the Real Estate Beat has been writing about the ways that Portland could increase the supply of homes in its bikeable areas without totally transforming its understandably beloved residential neighborhoods.

In March, we shared local microdeveloper Eli Spevak’s prescription for affordable infill, which drew praise from neighborhood association organizers. In April, we explored one of those ideas: charging lower development fees for smaller homes. In June, we looked at 11 medium-density buildings built before Portland’s 1959 zoning reform and asked why they should be illegal.

Further back, we compared the growth patterns of 19 different metro areas since 1990 and concluded that the main difference between affordable and expensive metro areas wasn’t so much about whether they built skyscrapers downtown, but whether they allowed other areas to add housing at all.

And of course we’ve written many times about mandatory parking, including the requirement that almost every new single-family house in Portland have enough space for two cars.

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Not all BikePortland readers agree with our general perspective that it’s very important to increase the supply of homes in parts of the city that are currently bikeable, walkable and close to good transit.

But whatever it is that you believe, a city survey out until Jan. 12 wants to know your opinion:

This effort was prompted by a wave of concern about changes to Portland neighborhoods as our 10-year housing shortage has developed into a citywide surge in housing prices.

The advisory committee that’s handling the effort includes a variety of perspectives — including that of Spevak, who Mayor Charlie Hales recently appointed to the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.

“I think there’s potentially a deal to be made where we rein in somewhat the massing of homes in infill locations in exchange for a whole lot more flexibility on what happens inside them,” Spevak said Friday. “I think that’s a potential compromise point that can get us some more affordable housing.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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146 Comments
  • Avatar
    Alex Reed December 18, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Done! Thanks for highlighting this opportunity!

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    Endo December 18, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    People seem pretty upset about the increase in home prices, and also replacing old homes with new homes. The truth is that both of those things bring more tax revenue to the city, who can the spend that additional money on better bike infrastructure. Is that really a bad thing?

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      Alex Reed December 18, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      No, *that* is not a bad thing, but poor people being priced out of the inner parts of the city, and increasingly out of the city period, is a bad thing.

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        Chris I December 18, 2015 at 2:33 pm

        Exactly. We need to keep building more housing.

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          Alex Reed December 18, 2015 at 2:41 pm

          For sure. Unfortunately, 1-for-1 single-family home replacements are pretty common, and in many cases are all that is allowed by current zoning, and don’t count as “more housing,” just “more expensive housing.”

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            chris December 18, 2015 at 2:47 pm

            Row houses would be a good solution in the single family zones.

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              soren December 18, 2015 at 3:36 pm

              low rise apartments, cottage apartments, and garden apartments would also be a good fit in portland’s multi-family housing exclusion zones. and this is not mere speculation — portland’s exclusion zones contain many examples of these kinds of buildings that were built before generally wealthy residents put an end to socioeconomic housing diversity.

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            bjcefola December 19, 2015 at 1:19 pm

            More expensive than what?

            Someone with money wants to live where an old house is. What happens if it isn’t demolished? It’s gutted and likely added onto. The money that would have gone into the house making it more expensive at resale still goes into it making it more expensive at resale.

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            jeff December 21, 2015 at 4:42 pm

            more expensive? still cheaper than LA, Seattle, SF, etc. most of the in-fill I’ve seen in SE is taking out 1 house and putting in 2-3.

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    • Avatar
      daisy December 18, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      So a lot of houses have protection from huge increases in taxes, even when the houses are sold by original owners and new owners pay a lot more for them. This benefits older, long-term homeowners in neighborhoods where housing prices go up quickly (especially in gentrifying areas), but it also means that the wealthier and newer owners in these neighborhoods aren’t paying a lot in taxes.

      So all of this is to say that an increase in home prices doesn’t necessarily mean more tax revenue (if that’s the kind of money for the city you meant).

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        Endo December 18, 2015 at 4:58 pm

        First, when houses get demolished and rebuilt they get assessed at present market value, so that’s a big win for the city. Especially when they take a 2br house that’s falling apart and turn it into a 4br luxury home.

        Second, even if property taxes don’t go up you still increase the amount of wealth in the city, which gets spent on local businesses that increasingly cater to a wealthier demographic. Those local businesses pay taxes to the city.

        Either way, increasing the wealth of Portland residents and the cost of housing in the area means the city gets more money in its general fund to pay for bike infrastructure. That sounds good to me!

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        davemess December 19, 2015 at 8:59 am

        Yes, the property tax code needs to be redone. It’s completely inequitable and bizarre right now.
        Some neighborhoods recently gentrified are paying 1/3-1/6th of what others are paying, when their houses often have double the market value.
        The radical, arbitrary swings in property tax increases year to year are also majorly problematic. Legally the “assessed” value of a house can’t increase by more than 3% a year, but the actual tax seems to be completely unlinked to that, with some people seeing up to 33% tax increases in a single year, while their neighbor with a similar home will see a minimal increase. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, and city/state officials can’t even explain it.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 11:11 am

        I think most people would agree the tax system is at least somewhat broken.

        However, my understanding is that when a house is sold, the taxed value is reset, so the new owner pays a much higher tax bill than the previous one. This only matters when house values are increasing faster than some threshold, which they currently are.

        That means long-time owners tend to pay less than new owners, which different people might argue is good or bad.

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          bjcefola December 19, 2015 at 1:24 pm

          There is no reset at resale.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 9:26 pm

            If that’s the case, then most property owners are paying less than they “should”. That’s probably more fair, but sucks if you want better services than we get.

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              davemess December 20, 2015 at 8:47 am

              http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2015/09/measure_50_winners_and_losers.html

              It is not reset. Although I think that most argue that it should be.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 20, 2015 at 9:30 am

                Informative article. Thanks, Mr. Sizemore!

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                was carless December 23, 2015 at 9:06 pm

                The year following the passage of M5, my school district gutted the library, art and music programs. I hope Hell holds a special reservation for Mr. Sizemore.

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              jeff December 21, 2015 at 4:44 pm

              what “should” they be paying? taxes do not reset at sale. taxes reset with square footage increase or with entire replacements. most remodels keep up at least one existing exterior wall to avoid this issue.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 5:25 pm

                By should I mean without measure 5. Maintaining one exterior wall doesn’t represent a remodel in any real sense. That’s reconstruction.

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            rachel b December 19, 2015 at 11:15 pm

            The assessor may indeed come around after a sale–but I sense it’s haphazardly done. The assessor visit happened to us three times, three moves, very shortly after we moved in.

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              bjcefola December 20, 2015 at 9:43 am

              https://multco.us/assessment-taxation/property-assessment#Why

              What is an Exception event?

              Ballot Measure 50 limits MAV increases to 3% per year except under certain circumstances including, but not limited to:

              New Construction/Additions of more than $10,000 in one year or $25,000 over 5 years

              Remodel or significant rehabilitation of more than $10,000 in one year or $25,000 over 5 years

              Partitioning or subdivision

              Rezoning (where the property is used consistently with the new zoning)

              Discovery of omitted Property

              Disqualification from exemption or special assessment

              In these cases, the Assessor appraises the property to determine how much Real Market Value was added by the change(s) to the property.

              Sale of a property by itself is not an exception event that would allow assessed value to rise more than 3%.

              Here is a League of Oregon Cities white paper on property tax reform, page 2 describes how they want to revise the state constitution to allow reset on sale.

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            was carless December 23, 2015 at 9:04 pm

            But renovations can trigger a reset.

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    chris December 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I’m going to tell them that within the greater downtown area and in inner SE and Northeast, I’d like to see zoning changed to permit high-density mixed-use commercial/residential, with no height limits, setback requirements or parking minimums. That’s not going to happen, of course, but sometimes you have to make extreme requests in order to get medium results.

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      Dave December 18, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      You’re describing Vancouver, BC–and what on earth would be wrong with that?

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      daisy December 18, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      My neighborhood, Eliot, in inner N/NE Portland (N Williams Ave south of Fremont and the new New Seasons) allows mixed use commercial/residential along commercial corridors. We have tons of large buildings going up on Williams and Vancouver. Yes, there are height limits, and I believe some parking requirements. But perhaps the “medium results” you are looking for are already allowed by current zoning.

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        chris December 18, 2015 at 3:49 pm

        Haha, ok, in an attempt to be more reasonable, here’s what I’d see as “medium” results that actually have some possibility of being realized:

        On main streets like Williams, Vancouver, Miss or MLK (and even on designated bike boulevards/greenways like 7th or Tillamook), I’d zone that as mixed-use commercial residential with no setback or parking requirements (but restricted street parking), and with a height limit of ten stories. Side streets would stay strictly residential, but any multifamily housing up to two stories would be permitted. Garden apartments, rowhouses, duplexes and fourplexes would all be allowed.

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        soren December 18, 2015 at 6:29 pm

        it’s awfully nice of the landed gentry to allow the common folk to live on commercial corridors.

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          gutterbunnybikes December 18, 2015 at 8:20 pm

          Pre automobile, that is exactly how towns were designed.

          The center was the courthouse/city hall which was surrounded by a few blocks of mixed use commercial (shops below – merchants living in apartments over top, then usually a ring of mixed (houses and other services like schools, post offices, libraries) then on side of town was the industy/manufacturing mixed with housing for their employees which in poor residential section was usually butted up to the affluent neighborhood, which made it convenient for the house staff to walk to work.

          If you’re really looking to lessen the impact of the automobile on the urban environment, a good hard look into the pre-auto city design is well worth looking into. It made sense and by necessity had to be walk-able.

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            Pete December 19, 2015 at 8:47 pm

            The workers were in the ‘affordable housing’ typically on the east side of industrial cities, while the owners and managers tended towards the west (not coincidentally with more space around them). This was because the prevailing winds in North America blow from the west, so the smoke and soot that belched from early factories was carried away from the nicer neighborhoods. 🙂

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  • Avatar
    AMA December 18, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Ugh. Question 2 is just a list of NIMBY complaints.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 11:22 am

      If reduced tree canopy, more expensive housing, and increased traffic are things that NIMBYs complain about, sign me up!

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        rachel b December 19, 2015 at 11:53 pm

        Hear, hear.
        Signed,
        The Landed NIMBY Bobbie Gentry

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    Pete December 18, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I gotta ask, was it built as a duplex in 1927?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 18, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      I don’t know, but duplex conversions have also been banned except on corner lots where the doors face different directions. So definitely illegal.

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      Doug Klotz December 18, 2015 at 7:51 pm

      I would say that it was. The symmetrical layout, the two doors that just fit under the porch, etc, all point to it having been built as a duplex.

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        Alan 1.0 December 18, 2015 at 8:07 pm

        and two chimneys

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        Pete December 19, 2015 at 8:32 pm

        Sure appears that way, but it could have been remodeled to its current appearance. Those windows are definitely not original. I was just curious if someone knew. For heating purposes it would have been unusual even as late as 1927 to have separate exterior entries; the older houses I’m familiar with have breezeways with multiple entries inside of a single exterior door. Having a chimney on each end of a single-family house wasn’t unusual either. I’m no architect, though I’ve remodeled old houses (on the east coast, and helped with a beauty in NW Portland (which is now a legal triplex)).

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  • Avatar
    dan December 18, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Alex Reed
    No, *that* is not a bad thing, but poor people being priced out of the inner parts of the city, and increasingly out of the city period, is a bad thing.Recommended 5

    I’m curious, what percentage of their rent would Portlanders be willing to pay in order to subsidize below market rate housing so poor people can stay in the popular neighborhoods? What % additional taxes for home owners?

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      davemess December 19, 2015 at 9:09 am

      That’s going to be super tricky. You would have to define “poor”. There are a lot of people out there who would likely oppose something like this if the definition wasn’t pretty low. Many in this city have chose to compromise and moved to neighborhoods/areas they can afford. I think you would have a hard time convincing them to subsidize people who weren’t willing to do that.

      While I can appreciate the argument that an economically diverse neighborhood can be a good thing, I think this would be a VERY difficult sell. I probably would not support it.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      I’d be willing to pay some to ensure we have affordable housing. However, for every person who gets a subsidized place in a popular neighborhood, that’s one less place for a non-subsidized person/family, so I could understand why such a scheme would make some uneasy. Someone would have to choose the “winners” and that’s always dicey.

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        BeavertonRider December 20, 2015 at 10:03 pm

        We have lots of affordable housing, it;s just not situated in the more popular neighborhoods. Now, what is wrong with that?

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          davemess December 21, 2015 at 12:19 pm

          Fives years ago, I would have completely agreed with you, but that’s not really the case anymore. Look around. Even less popular outer location have gone up a lot recently.

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            BeavertonRider December 21, 2015 at 6:26 pm

            So what? I mean, really, what is the big deal here?

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              davemess December 24, 2015 at 3:34 pm

              The point is there really isn’t much “affordable” housing left, even if you’re going out to the far reaches of the city. And with the low wages Portland has that is a problem. When “middle class” people can’t afford to live in the city, we have an issue.
              It’s a really tough situation. Some want to just let the market do what it wants to do, while others want to make sure that we’re not just pushing everyone who makes less than $75K/year out to the far suburbs.

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    Dead Salmon December 18, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    So the poor should be able to stay in popular neighborhoods? Should they also be able to stay in rich neighborhoods and live in mansions?

    Is it OK to add fees and taxes to rent and property taxes to the point that some people who worked hard and made good life choices are forced to move out of their apartment or home so that people who made bad life choices can have their apartment or home as subsidized housing? I don’t think so but that is exactly what would occur.

    How many bike shops, or other businesses, need higher property taxes? How many college students need higher rents?

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      pink$$ December 19, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      Are you saying that all poor people made bad life choices? And since they haven’t pulled themselves up by their bootstraps yet, they chose to remain poor awaiting government subsidies not to get priced out of their neighborhoods? I don’t think so, but it sure sounds like what you might be saying.

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        Dead Salmon December 19, 2015 at 9:05 pm

        Doesn’t matter who chose what, are you saying you want to tax decent hard working folks out of their homes so po’ folks can live in them? Most folks are struggling today to make ends meet – they do not need more taxes.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 10:56 pm

          I hear what you’re saying, but I think you need to say it better. Some of the hardest working people I know are quite poor, and are also very decent.

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          pink$$ December 20, 2015 at 11:24 am

          Also some of the least hardworking people I know are college students whose parents pay their rent from out-of-town, so…

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      BeavertonRider December 20, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      Well, that is what many here are saying. That some neighborhoods are not perfectly proportional is a signal that something is wrong and that some of the, uh, well-off people have to be pushed out. Now, you see some variance among the people here – from some who run up to the line of throwing those people out to make way for poor folks to those who would use the City’s tax and regulatory framework to, um, encourage those people to move out of the way.

      But, yeah, in a nut, many here look at a neighborhood and if there’s not equal representation then the City must tax others more to subsidize still others more because the poor have a “right” to live in nice neighborhoods.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. December 18, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    There should be a rule that no demolition can occur unless it increases density. A good example of this is at 41st and Clinton, where one house on a double lot was demo’d, and the lot split into three. Now there will be three houses where there previously was one.

    This can also help with affordability, since smaller houses are usually cheaper. Plus, the developer can make more money selling three houses instead of one, so it benefits the seller, the buyer, and the neighborhood.

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      davemess December 19, 2015 at 9:01 am

      I don’t think it will really affect affordability too much, as a newer house is always going to be a fair bit more expensive than an older one (even if remodeled).

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. December 19, 2015 at 11:35 am

        To clarify, I was referring to the fact that three smaller houses are individually cheaper than one big one.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 3:21 pm

          We’ll know for sure when hey go on the market.

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          Pete December 19, 2015 at 8:48 pm

          And, they typically would produce more tax revenue for a city.

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          davemess December 20, 2015 at 8:49 am

          But not necessarily cheaper than the house that was originally there.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 11:18 am

      When those new houses are built and on the market, please report back if they fit your definition of “cheaper”. And if they use the same crappy design /shoddy materials that many builders are using, I’m not sure it will be a win for the neighborhood.

      But we’ll see!

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    SE December 19, 2015 at 7:42 am

    I thot this was a bike blog site ?

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      Pete December 19, 2015 at 8:36 pm

      denseportland.org is still available!

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        jeff December 21, 2015 at 4:51 pm

        I’d be willing to be 50% of the people commenting don’t own their own home or have any real knowledge of the real estate market or property taxation in PDX.

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      soren December 21, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      Why do you think discussion of city planning that encourages cycling should be off limits on a cycling blog?

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        Pete December 22, 2015 at 7:45 pm

        There are those who believe removing a requirement for off-street parking discourages automobile ownership, and those who believe it just increases on-street parking, making the city less bike-friendly.

        It’s a relevant debate, sure, but biases on this site do seem to come out strong in these articles.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty December 19, 2015 at 10:55 am

    I think the “illegal house” pictured could, in fact, be built in R2.5 (or denser, which is what a lot of inner SE is zoned, not sure about other areas of the city). If so, I think the caption is misleading.

    Maybe a better caption would be “illegal to build in certain zones”.

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    mark December 19, 2015 at 11:55 am

    SE
    I thot this was a bike blog site ?Recommended 2

    Interesting. I am guessing you are being sarcastic? Just in case not, the two are interconnected. Urban infill equals more walking and biking.

    That said, these are all nice..but the reality is..until true infill housing is built, there will be no reduction in housing cost.

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      Granpa December 20, 2015 at 8:57 am

      Yes, the two are interconnected, but the stool has more than two legs. Transit and public transportation are possibly more integral to density than cycling. This blog generally addresses Tri-Met with venomous dislike, but since they are connected, should BikePortland.org get a transit editor?

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    Dead Salmon December 20, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Wonder how this will affect the cost of rentals? Says it will increase property values. Doesn’t say much about cost of renting.
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-12-20/obama-abruptly-waives-1980-foreign-investment-real-property-tax-act

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    Mark December 20, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Let’s not kid ourselves here. It’s not as if affordable housing is going to pop up in popular neighborhoods regardless of building codes. That land is perceived as valuable per sqaure foot. Unless the city is willing to pay millions for people to live in these trendy places…it ain’t happening. Even if they tripled the housing in these trendy areas…people would just move in from out of state to take up residence in those areas. Portland and Seattle currently have that cool reputation and they are both cheaper than NYC.

    I lived at 39th and glisan for a few years a decade ago for 550 bucks a month. Now that area is far…far more. It was pretty cool before the cool people moved in. We moved out…bought a house. We moved on. Should the city pay for folks to live there?

    Build more housing. Lots of it. But…it will only blunt the cost a little bit. The price per square foot will change only a little.

    So…as long as Portland is uber cool… The price per square foot will go up. And…portland taxpayers will pay more to.subsidize the coolness they fostered. It isn’t sustainable.

    All his adu talk is about enriching owners and investors. I am all for it. Let’s just call it what it is.

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      Alex Reed December 21, 2015 at 8:48 am

      Not true. Chicago is much denser and has a much higher population and median income than Portland, and its housing costs are significantly lower. Why? Because Chicago allows developers to build a LOT in its downtown area – their recent building boom has made the south waterfront, the Pearl, and the Lloyd all look tiny. Sure, coolness and the software industry has an impact, but the fact is that coastal cities have drastically limited the ability of developers to supply housing, and the unsurprising effect is that housing prices have skyrocketed.

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        Mark December 21, 2015 at 8:54 am

        What’s not true, exactly?

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        dan December 21, 2015 at 10:17 am

        Anecdotally, my housing costs while living in Chicago were higher than what I paid here in Portland while renting, for very comparable situations.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 11:39 am

          My sense is that housing in Portland has been cheaper than other cities for a long time, and that is now changing. For all the hand wringing, we’re still the cheapest major city on the west coast, and rents are still lower here than many cities elsewhere in the US.

          I am not saying it is good that rents are rising, but it is perhaps inevitable.

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            davemess December 21, 2015 at 12:22 pm

            But Portland also has a MUCH lower income level than those other West Coast cities.

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              dan December 21, 2015 at 12:43 pm

              Indeed.
              I wonder where Portland falls as far as un or under employment levels when compared to those same west coast cities.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 2:06 pm

              So how does it play out? Housing can’t outpace wages forever.

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                davemess December 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm

                I guess we’ll see.
                More people working remotely, and more out of state people (with more money) moving in can probably sustain this housing boom for at least a few more years.

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                jeff December 21, 2015 at 4:52 pm

                and its forecast to according to our realtor.

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                BeavertonRider December 21, 2015 at 6:29 pm

                It plays out with population inflow slowing down or reversing and a lower proportion of the local population being poor and unemployed. Win-win.

                Further, if the City of Portland were to stop behaving as an illegal Sanctuary City, you’d also see the benefit of unskilled and underskilled illegal immigrants coming here and taking jobs and being exploited by local construction contractors. Another win-win.

                I don’t see the problem with either one of these happening, but for some, it seems like it’d be a tragedy.

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        Alex Reed December 21, 2015 at 1:39 pm

        What I was saying wasn’t true was your assertion that more units being built could never cause prices to decrease. It’s politically unlikely, but allowing a truly large building boom could indeed cause rents to go down over the next few decades.

        In the Chicago metro, the median household income is slightly more than in the Portland metro ($60,564 vs. $59,168) while the median home price is far less ($187,100 vs. $281,400). That’s a huge difference in terms of housing affordability. In my opinion, it’s largely because of zoning.

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          BeavertonRider December 21, 2015 at 6:31 pm

          Exactly. The City of Portland and it’s progressive/liberal residents are the reason for high rents and high home prices. When you over-regulate and over-tax something, you always get less of that thing. In this case, over-regulation by the City causes housing costs to go up. It’s quite a simply thing to understand when you drop the ideological blinders.

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            davemess December 22, 2015 at 7:12 am

            It must be really hard for you to live in this area.

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          mark December 21, 2015 at 9:44 pm

          Ok, what I am saying is..the number of units required to artificially push the price down is far more than anyone..even the most liberal of Portlanders wishes to see. Plus…like someone on here said on another post…developers don’t want to be stuck with south waterfront again. The real problem is…the city gets involved and does tax deals to artificially push development. If that could stop….yeah right.

          The real answer is to remove restrictive zoning and allow whatever development the market will allow. But…folks who spent a lot of time and money…getting their Portland dream home in the perfect neighborhood…and the perfect neighbors…

          Don’t want a 40 story complex next to their home.

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            Alex Reed December 22, 2015 at 7:18 am

            I agree that it’s politically unlikely – single-family homeowners are a formidable political force because we are numerous, on average wealthier than the average Portlander, and pretty much every politician tends to be a single-family homeowner too.

            But – I think “40-story complexes” in what is now single-family areas is not necessary, in fact given that the tallest building currently standing in Portland’s downtown is 41 stories, I’d call it extreme hyperbole. Simply allowing two-to-three-story garden apartments, courtyard apartments, rowhomes, plexes, etc. in what are now single-family areas would drive down prices tremendously.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 22, 2015 at 7:26 am

              So what you want, effectively, is to rezone R5 to R2.5.

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                Alex Reed December 22, 2015 at 8:25 am

                R2.5 allows duplexes, skinny houses, and I think rowhomes – though not especially svelte rowhomes. Not triplexes, sixplexes, or small apartment complexes. Also – the parking requirements de facto limit most of these building types from actually being built (not necessarily because they’re impossible to build w/ the parking, but mostly because they’re too expensive, ugly, & undesirable to live in if built with parking) so they would need to be changed too.

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                Alex Reed December 22, 2015 at 8:27 am

                What I meant to say – “the parking requirements de facto limit most of these building types from actually being built IN LARGE NUMBERS”

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 22, 2015 at 8:32 am

                So, convert R5 to R2?

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    mark December 21, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Hello, Kitty
    When those new houses are built and on the market, please report back if they fit your definition of “cheaper”. And if they use the same crappy design /shoddy materials that many builders are using, I’m not sure it will be a win for the neighborhood.But we’ll see!Recommended 2

    Do you need to use a massive amount of raw material, as older housing did, to accomplish an energy efficient design?

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      That’s a difficult question… you also have to consider the embedded energy in the built structure. I have not seen compelling numbers about whether it is better to retrofit or rebuild. Maybe someone else here has.

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        soren December 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

        As I recall, for equivalent buildings it can take 10-50 years for energy efficient construction (e.g. greenpoint platinum) to offset the CO2e cost of construction. That being said, replacing a few old pdx homes with a platinum-rated apartment building is a no brainer from a sustainability standpoint.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 5:17 pm

          That’s not what’s happening here.

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          mark December 21, 2015 at 9:39 pm

          I don’t care about that. I care about the current energy required to heat and cool the place.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 10:02 pm

            If you’re looking at out-of-pocket costs, that’s all that matters. If you’re looking at sustainability, you have to look at the whole package.

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            • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
              Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 22, 2015 at 11:19 am

              …including, presumably, the energy costs of someone living in suburban Houston because they couldn’t afford to move to the Portland area because we didn’t build enough homes here.

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                dan December 22, 2015 at 2:28 pm

                Really? Can you explain why?

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 22, 2015 at 6:18 pm

                So for every Texan we don’t house, we incur environmental debt? What about Floridans?

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                davemess December 24, 2015 at 3:37 pm

                I’m sorry Michael, but that seems like a stretch.

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        jeff December 21, 2015 at 4:53 pm

        what is “embedded energy” exactly to you?

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 5:22 pm

          It’s the energy represented by the fact that the building exists, and doesn’t need to be built.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson December 21, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Welcome to the downside of prosperity and popularity! Lack of affordable housing. Its universal. In ’85 we had considered moving back to my old stomping grounds in San Francisco, Potrero Hill, but already rents were beyond reach, twice what Portland’s turned out to be.

    And when we returned to PDX in 1986 at the tail end of the Regan Recession here, there was no lack of one bedroom apartments for rent at little over $300 per month in NW. I had no job, just a CA unemployment claim, but no problem!
    A few years later when we decided to buy a house, NW was out of our modest range, so we looked on the eastside and moved “beyond the pale” to SE 46th and Salmon to keep well under our $100K limit. That was ’92.
    Now we were on the wave, sold that place four years later for almost twice what we paid for it and bought our place in inner NE. And then things really took off! with barely a pause for the Dot Com Recession or the Bush Great Recession of 2008-9. Of course, we could not afford our place now! True for many folks in the old close in neighborhoods.

    OK, get to the point! If you don’t want to be priced out of a successful and attractive place, find something to buy/own, otherwise unless your income is heading up, you will have to move to new, cheaper territory…and in the process help transform that neighborhood into something “cool” with cafes, bike shops, better schools, transit, bikeways, etc.

    There is really no stopping this, short of another Great Depression or the collapse of Capitalism!…more or less the same thing. Meanwhile every vacant lot, every parking lot on every transit corridor (and a full block on either side? right?) must be built up asap with as many rental and for sale units as can be squeezed in, mostly with private money that is looking to make a profit. Put SDCs on these units to help fund affordable housing as well as for parks and transportation, and get inclusionary zoning going.

    This will be great for transit, for walking, for local retail, for biking, for everyone, in short, but commuters who foolishly insist on driving through from further out. And forget more parking. It adds cost, attracts more cars and is ugly to boot. Let’s celebrate the success of the city! and the coming end of the motor age! but do our best to help everyone join in as much as possible in the celebration.

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      soren December 21, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      “OK, get to the point! If you don’t want to be priced out of a successful and attractive place, find something to buy/own, otherwise unless your income is heading up, you will have to move to new, cheaper territory”

      You got lucky. I know plenty of people who bought in Portland and foreclosed or short-saled and are still repairing their cratered credit.

      And the fact that Dean Baker and Robert Shiller both believe that west coast cities are in bubble territory again should given anyone who wants to buy now pause.

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        davemess December 21, 2015 at 7:08 pm

        Lucky? Sounds like Lenny was very cautious and didn’t over-extend himself. Sure there is always maybe a little luck that you don’t lose your job, but the beauty of a mortgage is that (outside of a massive property tax increase) you pretty much know exactly what you will pay for the next 10-30 years.

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          soren December 21, 2015 at 7:23 pm

          It’s always a good time to buy a house!!!
          (The average person lives 6-8 years in a house they rent from the bank.)

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            davemess December 22, 2015 at 7:17 am

            And yet all some on here seem to complain about is how rent is out of control.
            Sounds like people should just move out of Portland completely since they can’t/shouldn’t rent or buy here.

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              soren December 22, 2015 at 12:02 pm

              the only viable solution to the rental crisis is direct or indirect housing subsidies via income redistribution.

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                dan December 22, 2015 at 2:23 pm

                So, again, how much are you willing to pay? How much are Portlanders in general willing to pay? Figure that out and we can decide how ‘viable’ a solution it really is.

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                soren December 23, 2015 at 11:49 am

                So you are arguing that zoning inequity comes down to greed. I agree.

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                soren December 23, 2015 at 12:03 pm

                And to answer your question I am willing to pay quite a bit…but I think that an indirect subsidy, such as, upzoning almost all of inner Portland would be a good start.

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        Jeff Snavely December 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm

        I wouldn’t call agreeing to a mortgage that you can actually afford luck.

        Across the country, I’m hearing that the poor can’t afford to live downtown anymore. I’ve yet to figure out why that’s suddenly a “crisis”.

        Most of us are familiar with the thought process. You consider moving to Manhattan, or San Francisco, or buying a beachfront house somewhere only to realize you can’t afford it. We rarely give it a second thought. We simply move down the list until we find somewhere we an afford. At no point do we demand some sort of public action.

        Don’t get me wrong. I do have sympathy for people that are priced out of a market. I just don’t think that government action is going to prevent that from happening. When we try, people are still forced out of town, it just ends up being the middle class instead of the working poor. It’s different result, but I wouldn’t consider it a better one.

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          Nick Falbo December 22, 2015 at 7:33 am

          And the reason this matters, the reason housing affordability is featured on a bike blog, is because the catchphrase in housing is apparently still “*drive* till you qualify.”

          Sure, encourage the middle class to live at 148th & Powell where it is still affordable, but they won’t be biking in to work anymore.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 22, 2015 at 8:11 am

            The problem is you can’t fit the city inside 39th, no matter what the density. So another answer is to create self contained neighborhoods outside the current urban core so people don’t all have the need to visit downtown every day. Sort of like what they are trying to do with Gateway.

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                Alan 1.0 December 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm

                Fascinating! The only place in Oregon that makes that Wikipedia list is Johnson City – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_City,_Oregon – an incorporated trailer court outside Gladstone, population ~568.

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                davemess December 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm

                Except that isn’t factoring in that most Portlanders don’t want New York/New Jersey density.

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                Alex Reed December 22, 2015 at 2:18 pm

                New Jersey density or San Francisco prices, choose one and only one….

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 22, 2015 at 6:21 pm

                We might get both… if Portland continues to draw newcomers due to low housing costs, there’s no limit to our potential!

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                soren December 23, 2015 at 11:58 am

                I’ve lived in several of those european cities with far higher density than NYC. In my experience, the quality of life in those cities is fantastic — on par or better than Portland.

                Madrid — 5,200
                NYC — 2,050
                Portland – 1,300

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                davemess December 24, 2015 at 3:41 pm

                Alex, I don’t think we have the job market to get to a San Francisco level. I think eventually the in-migration will drop off. It’s just a question of when.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson December 21, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Actually the lesson in my tale, is when you are priced out look elsewhere and buy low, get involved and make change (not money!). I helped “gentrify” Potrero Hill in SF and Northwest in PDX, and then finally caught the wave in what was in ’92 “outer SE.” And then there is luck.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 21, 2015 at 6:18 pm

      You can’t beat luck.

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      BeavertonRider December 21, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      The real point is mobility. If you’re priced out, don’t demand a handout or for the “rich” to be punished or to claim racism…move. Take action.

      I left Detroit due to an impending layoff and a massive loss on my house. I am one of the few it seems who takes action. Meanwhile, the liberal/progressive element here demand that I pay more to subsidize other’s decisions to stay in place despite not being employed or underemployed.

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    Alex Reed December 22, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Yes, I think R2 or R1 in a good chunk of the eastside combined with parking reform would have large benefits for the City:
    *Housing affordability.
    *More customers able to support more commercial nodes, meaning more grocery stores, banks, medical offices, and other essential services could be supported, meaning people could bike/walk/transit to their daily needs more easily, meaning people would be healthier and happier.
    *More frequent transit, and a few more lines, would be supported by ridership.
    *I also suspect that the additional services the residents would require would cost less than the additional tax revenue the residents would bring in. This because the infrastructure to serve them is largely built out. This would help city finances.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 22, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      Why don’t existing residents see these benefits?

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        Doug Klotz December 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

        Do you mean why don’t they see them now? To that the answer is that the density is not high enough to support all those services. Do you mean why don’t existing residents see the advantage of the increased density bringing these benefits in the future? I can’t answer that.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm

          Maybe people don’t think the benefits are worth the costs. People who chose to live in these neighborhoods probably chose them because they like them, not because they want them to become something very different.

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            Alex Reed December 24, 2015 at 3:06 am

            I believe you’re right. I also think the city as a whole is worse off because it allows current neighborhood residents such a strong voice in preventing denser development of R5 areas.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 24, 2015 at 6:39 am

              I think just the opposite – I believe in pushing decisions down to the people closest to them. In this case that might mean giving neighborhoods a strong say in how they developed. I don’t think planners unfamiliar with an area will make good decisions.

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        soren December 23, 2015 at 11:50 am

        Fear of inevitable change.

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    dan December 22, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Alex Reed
    I agree that it’s politically unlikely – single-family homeowners are a formidable political force because we are numerous, on average wealthier than the average Portlander, and pretty much every politician tends to be a single-family homeowner too.But – I think “40-story complexes” in what is now single-family areas is not necessary, in fact given that the tallest building currently standing in Portland’s downtown is 41 stories, I’d call it extreme hyperbole. Simply allowing two-to-three-story garden apartments, courtyard apartments, rowhomes, plexes, etc. in what are now single-family areas would drive down prices tremendously.Recommended 0

    Can you cite any data that would back up your claim that “homeowners… on average (are) wealthier than the average Portlander”? I’d be curious to see how that breaks down.

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      Alex Reed December 22, 2015 at 9:59 am

      This is 2007 data but the trends are so stark that I think the picture is still substantially the same. http://www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan/?a=270879&c=51427

      Average renter HH income – $28,064. Average owner HH income – $65,313. Yes, some of that difference is due to household size (one-earner versus two-earner households). No, it’s not all due to household size (owner HHs had more than double the average income of renter households so even if all owner HHs were two-income and all renter HHs were one-income, it still wouldn’t explain the whole difference).

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        mark December 22, 2015 at 11:36 am

        The other piece of that pie is market equity. Many a home owner would be happy to leverage their equity in a lawsuit if needed to maintain the equity. People renting have nothing to leverage other than their political voice to maintain whatever status quo.

        The reality is, infill and building of high density benefits the average homeowner much more so than the status quo. Builders are willing to pay a lot more for lots.

        The real barrier to density is that downtown Portland abuts these residential areas that refuse to change with the times and allow the density needed.

        40 stories might be more than the market can bear…but certainly 20.

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          Pete December 22, 2015 at 7:54 pm

          “Many a home owner would be happy to leverage their equity in a lawsuit…”

          Home equity is not free. To leverage it requires paying back compounded interest at rates substantially higher than primary loans. Also, have you ever been involved in a lawsuit? It takes a whole lot more than just money, and rarely does anyone come out ahead.

          I’d venture to guess that the majority of homeowners, if confronted with a considerable loss of property value, would opt not to sue but instead sell their property and move somewhere they could still live comfortably within their means. MUCH easier option.

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            mark December 22, 2015 at 10:50 pm

            Guessing you haven’t met grumpy homeowners with ever growing equity in a nice, quiet and white neighborhood that is under threat by “them”(in their mind).

            Moving is not easy by any stretch if you are well established, have children/grandchildren or just years in the location. What if people scoped out an area for years and finally got to move into that location?

            Especially if the equity is growing like a slot machine in this market, it’s an easy move.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 23, 2015 at 7:19 pm

              Do these grumpy racist people live in Portland? Most homeowners I’ve met here are pretty much like everyone else. Portland doesn’t seem overly obsessed with “them.”

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              Pete December 24, 2015 at 9:25 am

              I am a grumpy homeowner. I’ve owned homes for decades, in three different states I’ve lived in. The growth that you guys see in Portland is something I’ve witnessed in three different states over decades. I had a fight with the building department that let a city planner build a huge quadplex with inadequate parking in my driveway in Oregon, and now over a decade later I still have to knock on doors to figure out who’s blocking my garage door on my own property with their car.

              My point was simply that people have little to gain from lawsuits. They are costly – to both parties – and expensive. They are also incredibly emotionally draining, as well as time consuming, and if you have a full-time job you will have to take many days off. There is rarely any magic pay-off, and Oregon is notorious for land-use decisions that go all the way up to LUBA and then get overturned by the state supreme court anyway. I can’t think of a scenario where a homeowner would have a likely chance of winning a lawsuit against a builder or city, and in growth scenarios the homeowners property value tends to go up, not down, even if they find the encroachment scenario unpleasing.

              I don’t think you understand equity. People have huge cash outlays for things like leaky roofs, despite whatever equity they have. If they want to take a home equity loan, they’re looking at paying back significant interest. Same thing with mortgages. Biggest scam in the game is “refinance” – people don’t seem to understand amortization curves. 15 years into a 30-year loan, if you refinance you reset your amortization curve and start paying huge chunks of interest to the banks – that you had already paid at the beginning of your initial loan. A $250K house will typically cost a homeowner over $500K in a 30-year span, most of that in mortgage payments alone. If you don’t believe me go play with an online mortgage calculator and multiply your monthly payments by 360 months – and that doesn’t include taxes or insurance.

              (And yes, I understand the fact that homeownership is subsidized, etc., and there are definitely both financial and other benefits).

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty December 22, 2015 at 9:46 pm

        Is any of that difference due to age differentials? As people get older they tend to earn more, tend to become wealthier, and tend to buy property. What is cause and what is effect?

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          Alex Reed December 23, 2015 at 9:27 am

          I’m sure a good chunk of it is. So here’s a more complete statement – on average older, wealthier homeowners are more politically powerful than on average younger, less-wealthy renters.

          Even if some/many of the younger, less-wealthy renters will eventually get older, become wealthier, and become homeowners, the fact that our current political landscape inequitably favors homeowners over renters still seems like a problem to me.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 23, 2015 at 7:10 pm

            Equally, people who are more engaged are more politicaly powerful than those who are not. It is quite possible for younger pepole to be involved and influential (easily surpassing most homeowners). Some do this, most don’t. Hell, most young people don’t even vote. I really don’t understand why, as the young have the most to gain by influencing politics.

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            davemess December 24, 2015 at 3:47 pm

            There have been studies showing that homeowners tend to be more civically involved than renters (including local voting rates).
            That might be a piece of the puzzle.

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      bjcefola December 22, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      Ownership correlates with income. From the 2014 ACS data:

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    Dead Salmon December 22, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    One of the drivers of high rents is the fallout from the housing bubble: millions were forced to foreclose on their homes. The had to rent. Now, the lending standards are higher, their credit is still trashed, and there are millions of additional young people just getting to be old enough to rent. Lots of demand for rentals, plus limited supply of rentals, equals high prices.

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      Pete December 24, 2015 at 9:32 am

      You have nailed it on the head. I can introduce you to people who bought houses from banks when the so-called housing bubble burst – for the sole purpose of capitalizing on the situation you describe. They are doing quite well now.

      Also, I personally deal with lenders as an HOA president. They have absolutely tightened up their standards on condos especially, and they put me through hell every time an owner sells (two of four in the past few months in my building).

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