Esplanade closure begins February 1st

After years of building, Seattle gets a new year’s gift: falling rents

Posted by on January 4th, 2016 at 11:45 am

DSC 3249

New homes in Ballard, Seattle.
(Photo: Bejan)

The Portland metro area was one of the fastest job creators in the country in 2015, but a familiar neighbor has been neck and neck on that measure: Seattle.

The city to Portland’s north has ridden the success of Amazon and Microsoft, among others, to the country’s third-highest average wages. (Portland ranks 10th.) But all the money has come at a cost: Seattle rents are 20 percent higher than Portland’s, on average.

That isn’t likely to change any time soon. The most walkable and bikeable parts of Seattle remain even further out of reach for poor people than the most walkable and bikeable parts of Portland do today.

But Seattle’s recent real estate news suggests one way to at least stop rents from going even higher.

The trick, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal: give richer people somewhere to move that is not currently occupied by a less rich person.

This is from a Nov. 23 PSBJ article (written, naturally, from the perspective of a landlord or developer who would be horrified by falling rents):

It’s not demand that has Seattle apartment landlords worried. It’s supply. …

There are 22,000 units projected to open this year and next. Combine that with the 7,400 units developers opened last year – the highest level of production seen locally since 1991 – and it’s easy to see why landlords are concerned.

“It’s interesting right now because supply, I think, is definitely having more of an impact and a drag on the market right now more than anything else,” said Pettit during a Bisnow event.

There are some reports that occupancy rates in some newer buildings that have been open for a couple years are as high as 97 percent. Basically, the buildings are almost completely filled. But that’s not what Pillar Properties is finding when checking in with competing landlords. Their teams are telling Pillar’s that occupancy is actually only around 92 to 94 percent.

This means rents won’t increase at the rate that some sources say they will, Pettit said.

The issue of slowing rents is most acute in Seattle neighborhoods that are experiencing an unprecedented amount of development, according to Dupre + Scott Apartment Advisors.

And here’s a follow-up article from last week, drawing on more recent data:

The big warning sign for landlords is what the report says is “price resistance” in the most expensive submarkets: the downtowns of Bellevue and Seattle, including Belltown and South Lake Union, and Sammamish/Issaquah. After increasing during the first three quarters, rents dropped this quarter in all but South Lake Union, with the average decline hitting $59 a month. Further, when all of these submarkets are considered, the average vacancy rate increase was nearly a full percentage point.

Meanwhile, across all markets, more landlords are offering tenants sweeter incentives, such as free rent. The average value of incentives is $15 a month this quarter, which is nearly double what it was last quarter, when 16 percent of landlords were offering incentives. Now 20 percent are.


Portland is adding homes too, but rents have been anything but stable

Townhomes on SE Ankeny.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

For Portlanders, this news from Seattle raises a question: with all the building we’ve seen 2014 and 2015, could the same thing be happening here?

Not yet.

“Portland’s multifamily market continues on a tear without any signs of slowing down,” Portland real estate analyst Norris, Beggs and Simpson wrote in their third-quarter report on local multifamily rents. “Though the rate of construction has subsided, capital continues to flood the market.”

Here’s a chart from NB&S showing how rents have edged up only slightly for new units, while the rents for older units (euphemism: “seasoned”) have leaped more than $150.

Data source here.

The $100 per month rise in the price of the average Portland rental unit has been devastating for lower-income Portlanders. Remember 2014, when the Portland Business Alliance was up in arms about an “incendiary” citywide income tax for transportation that would have topped out at $900 per year for people making more than $333,000?

In the year that followed, the average citywide rent rose $1,200 a year.

Did you notice the Portland Business Alliance (which is the regional chamber of commerce) hitting the panic button about the effect that will have on the business environment?

Yeah, we didn’t, either.

Seattle has been adding people faster than Portland, but adding new homes faster still
DSC 3247

(Photo: Bejan)

If new building seems to be helping Seattle slow its rent increases, why isn’t the same thing happening in Portland?

Though it’s a little hard to compare one city’s building rate to another, one way to start is to use Census figures to calculate the number of new homes permitted per resident. Here’s what that looks like for Seattle and Portland over the last 10 years:

2015 data for Seattle assumes constant trend for 2015 based on first nine months. Data from Portland assumes constant trend for 2015 based on first eight months. Seattle data source here. Portland data from Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Census Bureau.

Over the 11-year period, Seattle has added 66 percent more new units per capita than Portland. That’s mostly because of the huge surge it saw in 2009 and 2010, when development in Portland slowed to about 1,000 units per year but 1,000 new Portlanders were still arriving every month.

A big reason Seattle has built more, no doubt, is that housing prices there have been higher. In a housing market that’s overwhelmingly funded by the private sector, the best way to create more housing is for the new units to be worth a lot of money. Unless taxpayers are chipping in too, that’s the only way it works, unfortunately.

So this isn’t a sign, sadly, that the current U.S. housing system is ever capable of returning the rent in a growing metro area to the level you might see in a metro area that isn’t growing. (The years of very low Portland rents, from 2005 to 2007 or so, happened mostly because Multnomah County was going through its first population decline in decades, caused by a severe, localized unemployment problem in the early 2000s.)

But this story from Seattle is a sign of the role new building can play in the housing market. Unless there’s an economic crash, building can’t make things better for poorer renters. But it can sometimes stop things from getting worse.

Most growing U.S. cities solve this problem by building their new homes at their outskirts. In the last 25 years, Portland has avoided this fate. Assuming we continue to do that, one of two things is going to happen:

  • Housing prices in Portland’s bikeable core are going to keep climbing and climbing, which will change what sort of people live there even more than rising rents already have, or
  • The buildings in that core are going to have to change even faster than they have been.

Happy new year, Portland. Pick your poison.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here.

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  • maccoinnich January 4, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    If Portland isn’t building enough housing to keep up with demand, I’m curious about what–if anything–can be done at a local level to change this. The most obvious answer would be to dramatically expand or remove the Urban Growth Boundary. But given that the increase in prices in the city cores is a nationwide pattern, I’m not sure that building more houses on the periphery would do much to alter affordability in inner Portland.

    Upzoning to create more development capacity in inner Portland might help, but seems unlikely. We’re coming to the end of the Comprehensive Plan process, which is for the most part leaving the status quo intact. There are some height increases proposed in Downtown, the Pearl and the Lloyd District, but no corresponding increases in maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which is usually the number that governs how intensely a site can be developed.

    The City could look at reducing the cumulative amount of fees that it charges developers, which add up to tens of thousands of dollars a unit. Again, this seems unlikely, given that they added extra fees for Parks last year, and this year are likely to add fees of around $32-38 to access bonus FAR (which is currently cheap or even free).

    Beyond that, I don’t know. It might even be that the local construction industry is running at maximum capacity.

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    • 9watts January 4, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      You and I have (tried to) have this conversation here before.

      “I’m curious about what–if anything–can be done at a local level to change this.”

      My answer is still the same: stop incentivizing businesses and people to move here. We have set up our society to require growth in everything if for no other reason than to pay off the interest on everything. It doesn’t have to be this way. We could just as easily choose to set up how our society works without positive interest rates and the expectation of growth (in people, economic activity, housing, rental rates, etc.).

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      • Zach January 4, 2016 at 10:18 pm

        stop it with the job shaming! maybe your trust fund allows you to live without working a well paying job, or maybe you’ve got yours, but don’t tell everyone to get lost.

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        • Mike Quiglery January 5, 2016 at 8:52 am

          No matter how hard you try you can’t stuff six pounds of shit into a five pound bag. There ARE limits to growth.

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          • Zach January 5, 2016 at 9:03 am

            There’s no such thing as a city that runs out of room. There’s a third direction people can live in.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 9:05 am

              Welcome, mole-people!

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              • soren January 5, 2016 at 11:45 am


                Do they look like mole people to you?

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 3:23 pm

                They look like personnes taupe.

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              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 11:48 am

                This gave me a laugh. Thanks, Hello, Kitty, I dig you keeping a sense of humor while professing your point of view here on BikePortland.

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              • davemess January 5, 2016 at 12:11 pm

                Come on, how does this not have another rec?!?!?!

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            • 9watts January 5, 2016 at 9:11 am

              “There’s no such thing as a city that runs out of room.”

              You can’t eat or drink space. Have you heard of the large state to our South? Californians are not going to be moving here because we have low buildings that could be taller, or because our rents are lower, but because they are, collectively, coming up against limits, limits to which we are all subject, sooner or later. And by continuing to fool around with policies that involve subsidies to those not here we hasten the time of reckoning, the discovery of painful limits.

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              • Zach January 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

                lol, have you heard about this amazing new technology called multi-level buildings? you can have people live above ground level! it’s a new techology but seeing rapid adoption.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 11:50 am
              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 11:52 am

                A quote from your article: “This basement boom is happening because wealthy Londoners feel like they have no other option. The most fashionable neighborhoods here feature these really narrow houses. And historic restrictions make it hard to add anything that you can see from the street. And so the engineers start digging.”

                It’s the government restrictions on building that are making mole-people out of Londoners, not any inherent physical limits.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 11:54 am

                The thing I hate about London is the utter lack of density!

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              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 12:01 pm

                Me too.
                London population density: 3,900/sq. mi.

                Portland population density: 4,375.1/sq mi.

                Yes, London’s borders include most of its suburbs so these numbers are not truly comparable. But finding a comparable number that doesn’t include Gifford Pinchot National Forest land in Skamania County in Portland’s denominator was not easy. The fact remains that London the metro area is less dense than Portland the city.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 12:03 pm

                Well, I have to give you credit for being the first person to suggest London isn’t a dense city. 🙂

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              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 12:10 pm

                Hello, Kitty, I have been to London. My impression was that it has a small dense core and endless suburbs. The suburbs are even more endless because they are interrupted by the Greenbelt, then begin again.

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              • maccoinnich January 5, 2016 at 12:21 pm

                That’s my impression of London too (FWIW, I’m from the UK). Central London is very dense. The Outer London Boroughs (which are not even yet the suburbs), not so much. As an example, the London Borough of Croydon has 11,000 people/sq mile. Sunnyside (one of the denser of Portland’s single family neighborhoods) has 12,307 people/sq mile. Neither comes close to Paris, whose 18th arrondissement (for example) has 80,000 people /sq mile.

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        • 9watts January 5, 2016 at 8:59 am

          I’m not familiar with that phrase: job-shaming. What does it mean?

          Get lost as I’ve always used the phrase means to tell people to skedaddle, to leave. I’m not saying that at all. If you had read what I wrote, I’m suggesting we stop incentivizing people-who-don’t-live-here from moving here, and businesses-that-are-not-here from moving their operations here. The phrase Get Lost doesn’t come close to capturing that, at least for me.

          And I’m not sure what my trust fund, or lack of trust fund, has to do with maccoinnich’s question or my answer. Can you explain?

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 9:02 am

            Perhaps we should start by ending tax incentives and the like designed to attract companies. I haven’t heard about this for a while, but I think it’s a disgusting use of tax money.

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            • 9watts January 5, 2016 at 9:11 am

              We agree!

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 9:15 am

                Sorry… I’ll try not to do that again.

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          • Zach January 5, 2016 at 9:05 am

            Saying that jobs should be anywhere but Your Back Yard is the height of privilege. Saying that others don’t deserve jobs and jobs should buzz off is privilege. The FYIGM attitude is incredibly distasteful.

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            • 9watts January 5, 2016 at 9:16 am

              “jobs should buzz off”

              There you go again. Is there some special need you have to keep inverting what I am saying?
              Buzz Off, in common parlance, just like Get Lost in your earlier angry retort, refers to things that are hear being asked to leave.

              I also said nothing about others not deserving jobs. The problem I am trying to direct attention to is our elected officials’ our system’s inbuilt compulsion to attract both people and businesses-that-might-offer-jobs to relocate here. Perhaps you could trouble yourself to speak to what I have been saying rather than some inverted caricature that you find outrageous.

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              • Zach January 5, 2016 at 11:31 am

                how about we go back in time and get whoever your employer is to move somewhere else? how would you like that? job shaming in portland, seattle and SF is incredibly high, along with neo-nativist tendencies which otherize people from *the same country*.

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              • soren January 5, 2016 at 11:41 am

                “neo-nativist tendencies which otherize people from the same country”

                I’ve struggled to vocalize what I find so troubling about the “I’m a Portland native” meme and you absolutely nailed.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 11:48 am

                Is it ok to “otherize” people from different countries?

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              • 9watts January 5, 2016 at 12:57 pm

                I am self employed. I move where my employer moves, which is not at all these days, thank you very much.
                You still haven’t defined this term you keep throwing around: job-shaming. What is that?

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    • dan January 4, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      The local industry is indeed at or even beyond capacity. We have more work in our pipeline than we may be able to handle. It’s near impossible for GC’s or subcontractors to higher enough qualified trades to make schedule. There’s a premium cost for labor right now which is only adding to the problem. Many developers are only now realizing it’s not 2008 any more and sub’s can and are charging full price for labor and vendors are doing the same on materials.

      P.S. If you’re a skilled trade or experienced management, we’re hiring.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      “The increase in prices in city cores is a nationwide problem” – are you sure this is true? Seems to me that it’s mostly a problem on the Acela corridor and California coast, where (according to the charts linked above) the suburbs have allowed almost zero population growth.

      I don’t know whether or not city-center prices are rising fast enough to be a major problem in Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Charlotte, etc.

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      • maccoinnich January 4, 2016 at 3:28 pm

        My language might be more specific than it should have been. (Although Acela corridor + California does represent about a third of the population of the US.) It does seem like city cores are growing nationwide. Whether this is happening quickly enough to cause dramatic price rises everywhere isn’t something I know enough about.

        My point though was that even if we were to allow unlimited growth in the suburbs, I don’t think it would have enough of an effect on inner Portland. There would still be a higher level of demand to live in the city core than there was a few decades ago (when inner Portland neighborhoods were seeing population declines, even as Washington County boomed).

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      • Joseph E January 4, 2016 at 7:57 pm

        Houston and Dallas still have very affordable rents, even near the core. Dallas has tons of cheap, flat land around it, but Houston is at least near the coast and big enough for usable land to be in short supply within commute distance from the core. But Houston doesn’t have Euclidian zoning (it does have building codes, parking minimums, etc) or FAR limits, so it is much easier to build new apartments and townhouses.

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        • Chad January 5, 2016 at 9:09 am

          Houston is near the coast the same way Portland is near the coast. There is a LOT of land that could be built out before space becomes an issue. That said, I don’t think Portland should strive to be the land of 2-hour commutes each way that Houston is moving towards.

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          • Brad January 5, 2016 at 11:40 am

            But downtown Houston and downtown Dallas suck and are not (yet) a very desirable place to live. Even to that end, though, their downtowns are on the up and up like downtowns all across the country. If Portland had no UGB, it might make houses east of 82nd cheaper, but it would do nothing for inner neighborhood prices. People want to live near downtown. The availability of a cheap new house 10 miles away is irrelevant if your main goal is to be as near downtown as possible.

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      • george January 5, 2016 at 9:13 am

        If you look at the H + T index, affordability (income vs housing AND transportation) is much more constant between US cities. Houston at 46%, Portland at 49%, New York at 39%, Detroit at 43%. the difference being that the “expensive” cities in the NE and the west coast hover around 30% of income going to housing, while midwest/southern/western cities its 20%.

        in portland’s case, our problem seems to be that nearly 20% of our income goes towards transportation, which is a bit high for our comparable cities.

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  • chris January 4, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Anecdotally, I’ve read that two of the three new apartments at Hassalo on 8th in the Lloyd District have only rented about 35 percent of their units. Most of these new buildings have a ton of vacancies. I wonder if we have already overbuilt, and if it just takes time for prices to adjust.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 4, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      That’s also what a Hassalo manager told me last week, though she added that the first building (Velomor) is 100% leased and the remaining two are two months ahead of their schedule (for whatever that’s worth). She said she expects Hassalo to be fully leased up by September.

      For operational simplicity I assume they wanted to fill up Velomor completely before starting to move people into the others, but I don’t know.

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    • BJCefola January 5, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      There’s a seasonality to the rental market. A lot of people (especially those looking for studios and 1bdrms) move in May/June.

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  • soren January 4, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Pick your poison.

    In general, single family residences waste energy, waste urban land, and enormously encourage consumption (2500 square feet of room for “stuff”). IMO, equating an energy efficient small apartment with inner Portland’s $700,000 bungalows is the epitome of false equivalence.

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    • 9watts January 4, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      Density is a ratio, energy efficiency is a ratio, and so is MPG. The UGB incorporates twenty years of anticipated growth. All of those ratios-which-have-become-policies elegantly avoid any cap on growth, on housing, on people. But without a cap we’re just whistling in the wind.

      Climate Refugees could easily blow our density hopes and calculations out of the water, overwhelm any pretense about what we used to call sustainability. There’s only so much water, land, food, etc. Why do you think we’re likely to get Climate Refugees in the near future? Because they’ve used up the good stuff, the cheap stuff, the water and arable land where they live now. This is a manifestation of limits, and density is not a solution to limits, but a short-sighted and ultimately futile effort to pretend that (absolute) limits have bearing on how we conduct ourselves.

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      • 9watts January 4, 2016 at 2:07 pm

        [I of course meant]…have NO bearing on how we conduct ourselves.

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    • davemess January 4, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      They also cut down on energy for travel that those owners might have spent living further out to get that type of house.
      This isn’t a single variable equation.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty January 4, 2016 at 5:34 pm

        And if you are going further out anyway, why not go bigger?

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        • davemess January 4, 2016 at 9:54 pm

          I think a lot of people go further out to go bigger anyway.

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    • Joseph E January 4, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      I agree; changing the built environment of inner Portland isn’t “poison.” Living cities change and grow. Go visit Detroit or the core of any other declining city to see the real alternative to change.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty January 4, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    “One of two things is going to happen…”

    Actually, there are lots of possible courses of action. Build out other urban centers, for example, and expand the bikeable cores around them. There are only two options if two are required to fit your agenda.

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    • Matt January 4, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      Right! Why does the downtown core have to be the measure of all things bike-able…

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    • soren January 4, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Long-time resident of inner Portland neighborhood: My rent just went up $300 and I cannot afford to live here any longer. What do I do?

      Inner Portland property owner: Tut tut, dear. I’m told that the Hillsboro urban center is quite charming.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty January 4, 2016 at 4:46 pm

        Or… Dude! I just scored a great unit in Hillsboro. It’s nearer my job and it’s totally bikeable! And it’s just down the street from that new cluster of restaurants, by that great brewery. So long, suckers!

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        • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 8:16 am

          Keep spinning that fairytale. I’ve biked around Hillsboro, and aside from the few blocks around downtown, it is not “totally bikeable” for anyone who doesn’t like biking right next to 35-40 mph traffic (which is, let’s be honest, the vast majority of people). The employment centers of Hillsboro are mostly accessible only via high-speed, high-volume suburban roads that few people will bike on without protected lanes. The suburbs have a lot of work to do before they’ll be even a passable facsimile of the walk ability and bike ability of inner Portland.

          Last -another downtown as lively as downtown Portland will probably never be created in the Portland metro area – so proximity to downtown is an irreplaceable amenity for some people.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 9:09 am

            I wasn’t suggesting the Hillsboro of today, but instead the one we could build tomorrow. There is no reason why we can’t build something nice there.

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            • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 9:38 am

              Unfortunately, that relies on political decision-making that Portlanders have next to no impact on. Hillsboro and the other suburbs are currenly making achingly slow progress towards walkability, bikeability and density and there is no sign of a sea change towards faster progress. For Portlanders who want more dense housing to be built in walkable or bikeable areas so that living in those areas doesn’t become completely unaffordable for poorer folks, the most practical method of doing that clearly seems to me to be to advocate to increase density in the inner-Portland areas that are already walkable or bikeable. Second most practical (and far behind in my mind) is to retrofit areas like East Portland that are not walkable and bikeable and THEN allow more density there.

              A political issue that we haven’t talked about yet is that East Portland got upzoned in the 90’s without infrastructure investment, and the result was not pretty. 12-plexes on gravel roads. Apartment buildings on Powell, which has no sidewalks. Many East Portlanders are rightly shy of density now, because what they experienced didn’t work well because the city only invested funds in inner Portland. It’s time, in my opinion, for inner Portland to step up and absorb density to go along with its very nice infrastructure.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 10:44 am

                Inner Portland is absorbing a fair bit of density. Look at Division, Williams, Lloyd District, inner NW, etc.

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              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

                I agree that it’s a fair bit. I also think that it’s only a fraction of the density increases that would be necessary in order to keep rents from increasing massively.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 11:18 am

                Do you think it would be possible to build enough housing to keep Portland’s rents permanently lower than the rest of the west coast? Would you put all the new housing into the central city? Do you think we could do that while preserving the things you like about Portland (seeing your neighbors on the street, for example)? Do you think Portland has any limits on “carrying capacity”?

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              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 11:27 am

                I think it is possible to build enough housing to keep Portland’s housing prices lower than the rest of the West Coast (because the rest of the West Coast has higher incomes and quite extensive development restrictions). I think I might see my immediate neighbors on the street less if my block were redeveloped to apartments – but I would see strangers more, and honestly I like seeing strangers also. Additionally, the fact is that my particular block of single-family residents is not very social at all (taciturn people, few porches) so I might well make more friends nearby if there were more people nearby to choose from.

                No, I don’t think all the housing could or should be built in the inner city. But, I think the inner city is ready infrastructure-wise (if not politically) for even more housing now than is already being built, whereas Gateway/East Portland/Southwest Portland all need a decade or two’s worth of intensive investment in order to be ready for more density.

                Last – and this is the most important reason why I think increased density in inner Portland is a moral imperative for the city – I really care about poor and moderate-income people being able to choose to live in non-sprawl places. I think non-sprawl places allow poor people to live car-free or car-lite, which frees up money for them to use for other things. Also, I think many poor people (just like many people of all incomes) prefer to live in non-auto-dominated spaces and I would like to allow the poor to have a choice just like the rest of us do.

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              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 11:29 am

                And, yes, I think Portland has limits on “carrying capacity” but I think we are nowhere near them. I think Paris, Madrid, and Brooklyn are all quite lovely places and they are much denser than Portland.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 11:47 am

                One thing that Paris, Madrid, and Brooklyn have in common is that they were more-or-less built out in an earlier era. I’m not sure we can replicate the experience of those cities here in Portland. Also, I know that Paris has some pretty onerous restrictions on development that are far stricter than what we have here. Laissez-faire will not turn Portland into Paris.

                I do not think it is possible to out-build immigration, because I feel that immigration is partly driven by the lower cost of housing. I may be mistaken, but I do know a fair number of people who moved here from California because they could cash out down there and live here for less.

                I agree with your paragraph about providing good options for all levels of income. We may simply disagree on the strategy for accomplishing that goal. Infrastructure isn’t the hard part — it’s building attractive neighborhoods that people want to live in. I don’t think we do that by trying to rebuild our most desirable neighborhoods. I think we do that by making more neighborhoods desirable.

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          • soren January 5, 2016 at 9:16 am

            It’s not so bad — there is a plaid pantry within walking distance of the new 4th and Main “town center” development.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 4, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Absolutely, but neither of those things is going to stop one of the first two things from happening.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty January 4, 2016 at 4:40 pm

        Why not? If there are other desirable cores, why wouldn’t people who move there free up units they would otherwise occupy around the central core?

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        • davemess January 4, 2016 at 5:35 pm

          I keep coming back to the need to make more jobs outside of the downtown area. This would definitely help with more of these cores (much like you talk about in Hillsdoro).

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          • maccoinnich January 4, 2016 at 6:08 pm

            Creating jobs outside the city core almost ensures that a higher proportion of the workforce will arrive there by single occupancy vehicle. Even if there were protected bike lanes and a frequent service bus line running along Kruse Way, for example, the offices there would never reach the mode split that downtown Portland has today.

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          • was carless January 4, 2016 at 9:46 pm

            Portland already has one of the lowest % of jobs in the central city. ~10% of metro-area jobs (~1 million, I believe) are in downtown.

            This is one of the reasons we have a low ridership % – mass transit doesn’t serve suburban jobs well.

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            • davemess January 4, 2016 at 10:00 pm

              ? The metro area is roughly 2.3 million people. a million jobs would be way more than 10%.

              You have a fair point though. I just think putting more jobs closer to where people actually live makes more sense than cramming more jobs into the areas that already have high rents and other issues.

              And in my view, people don’t bike to work in downtown because of the great bike facilities (how often do we hear complaints about them on here). Most do it because they don’t live THAT far away.
              Continuing to focus everything on downtown (infrastructure, housing, employment, etc.) just seems like a bad idea for a city that already has a lot of issues with equity and regionalization.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty January 4, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    What if those jobs were focused around a new urban core at Gateway (that the city is trying to build), rather than spread out through the hellish sprawl that is Kruse Way?

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty January 4, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      That was for maccoinnich, obviously…

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    • maccoinnich January 4, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      Kruse Way is a bit of an extreme example, I’ll admit. In terms of where would achieve the best mode split, Gateway probably comes out better than most other centers in the metro area, given that it has multiple MAX and bus lines serving it, and the potential for a greatly upgraded bike network. Even still, I doubt it would get the mode split that downtown Portland currently does.

      However, the bigger problem with Gateway is that the private market is showing no interest whatsoever in developing there. There are millions of sq ft of new office space planned or under construction in the Central City. There’s zero in Gateway, despite the fact that the City has zoned the area pretty intensively and is even offering development subsidies. I think the return of speculative office development in Washington County is likely to happen much sooner than anything significant in Gateway.

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  • eddie January 4, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Unfortunately no matter where the jobs are, most people are gonna drive to work. And as time goes by more and more cars are going to arrive in Portland, and it’s up to us to do the damage control. Sad truth. I don’t see any evidence to the contrary.

    I think once you start talking about Gateway or Kruse Way or Hillsboro you just aren’t talking about Portland anymore. The original charm just doesn’t exist in those places. Especially if you don’t drive or want to bike for an hour just to get to an interesting part of town.

    There are reasons the central part of cities are the most popular. They’ll have the oldest businesses, the most interesting architecture, the museums, the concert halls, the tradition and the history, the real flavor of the place. It’s where the rivers are going to be, the best parks, the features that make the place what it is.

    I think people are going to seek out other cities before they consider living in the somewhat less interesting outskirts of Portland, and in fact I know plenty who have opted to have a higher standard of living closer to the city centers of St. Louis, Houston, Pittsburgh, etc.

    I hope the outskirts develop their own cultural centers with jobs and low rents and bike friendly infrastructure, but I sort of doubt it. I think people will opt to live elsewhere instead. We’ll see…

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    • davemess January 4, 2016 at 10:04 pm

      Do you know how far Gateway is from downtown?
      “charm” could also likely be diminished or lost if you just focus density on inner areas of the city and drastically change those neighborhoods.

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      • soren January 5, 2016 at 8:11 am

        I find urban diversity and density charming. Capitol Hill and the Central district in Seattle are very charming neighborhoods. Madrid and Paris have 3-4x the density of Portland and are very charming cities.

        When it comes to housing policy limits, “charm” or “character” are often code words that have little to do with architectural aesthetics and a lot to do with exclusionary housing policy (and the associated financial benefit).

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 9:14 am

          Portland is also pretty nice, which is why people want to live here. Access to light and privacy is not something everyone wants to give up. Perhaps you could start by pointing out where all the charming new conduction is going… what I’m seeing is pretty shoddy.

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          • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 9:52 am

            I see this as a difference of aesthetic opinion. I think some of the new buildings are ugly, but I think they’re mostly pretty cool. For example, I think the Yard at the Burnside bridgehead is likely going to be gorgeous.


            Also, I’ve been in some of the new buildings and haven’t observed them, by and large, to be of low quality.

            Last – about light and privacy – those things are not only found in single-family homes. Vancouver, BC has been good at preserving views and light as high-rises go up. Re: privacy – I think you mean sound, or maybe nobody seeing into one’s yard? Soundproofing can be pretty good in multifamily, so I don’t see that as an insurmountable issue – but maybe there needs to be more building standards and inspection so people know if the unit they’re considering actually has good soundproofing.

            Re: people seeing into windows or yards – there are such things as curtains. About yards – I feel like in most inner neighborhood yards, there are already upper-story windows in others’ single-family homes that can see into one’s yard. I live on an eighth of an acre. I don’t expect that I can sunbathe nude in my yard without anyone seeing. It’s just something that comes with the territory.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 12:00 pm

              Do you really think the new Williams construction will look as good in 100 years as our 100 year old buildings look today? There are certainly some exceptions, but I have yet to hear anyone make the case that we are building structures that will age well and last.

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              • Jeff Snavely January 6, 2016 at 2:37 pm

                Look back at downtown Portland, from the beginning. How many large buildings were razed to make way for something better, or different. Many nice buildings survived only a few decades.

                Then, suddenly, everything got branded historic. Maybe people were rejecting uninspiring architecture, shoddy construction practices, or something else entirely. Tearing down buildings, though, is not a new thing by any stretch.

                Outside of downtown it’s largely the same thing. Would there be as much backlash to tearing down a 100yr old decrepit house if developers weren’t replacing them with particle-board shi_boxes?

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        • davemess January 5, 2016 at 12:23 pm

          Yet Portland has not at all be synonymous with urban diversity and density. I’m curious why people come to live here looking for those things, when clearly the city has very little track record of either. If those things are a priority for people I don’t understand why they would make Portland their destination (fully realizing that lots of other things factor into people’s decisions).

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  • Doug Klotz January 4, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    And Maccoinnich has summed up the fallacy we continually hear of “why don’t we just develop Gateway into a nice Center”. It’s a partial grid, backing up to shopping center and a freeway off-ramp. There are few endearing qualities to attract jobs or residential construction, at least in Portland in 2106. PDC and others have tried to jumpstart Gateway “for decades”, in the words of one Portland planner, and it hasn’t worked.

    Lents is a more likely prospect, with pretty good transit access, even though it, too, is up against a freeway, and thus for practical purposes, constrained to grow in only one direction. But it’s mode split will, I would guess, still be worse than inner SE.

    I believe one element of inner SE (50th west) achieving a better mode split is that it has good transit, and also the ride is short. But, beyond transit, it is close enough for a 20-minute bike ride to downtown. And, at least up to 20th, there’s a good chance people will even walk to downtown or certainly to Central Eastside jobs.

    Eddie’s points are well taken as well. I do think there’s hope for Foster Road, Montavilla, North Tabor and maybe even Lents. But beyond that it’s difficult to raise enthusiasm, among employers or housing builders.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty January 4, 2016 at 10:36 pm

      If we try to fit everyone in the old streetcar neighborhoods, we’ll have to destroy everything that makes them interesting. Those old buildings that make them attractive aren’t dense; the new denser buildings are’t quaint. If you’re going to rebuild everything anyway, why not do it around a new hub where you have less of the good stuff in your way?

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      • 9watts January 4, 2016 at 10:50 pm

        “Those old buildings that make them attractive aren’t dense; the new denser buildings are’t quaint. ”

        See, this is where we get into trouble with these damn ratios. What do you mean the old buildings that make them attractive aren’t dense? Where I live (Sunnyside neighborhood) there are plenty of apartment buildings that are old and are attractive. If those aren’t dense I guess I must be.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 10:38 am

          True — there are some old, dense, attractive buildings around. But when we talk about rebuilding the inner city core, we’re not going to get more of those; we’d get the crappy stuff that’s being built today.

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      • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 7:24 am

        The old buildings are not “everything that makes inner Portland interesting” – at least, not to me. What makes inner Portland interesting to me is mostly the likelihood of seeing other people out on foot or on bike. I get lots of joy from people-watching – downtown is hands-down best for that and lively parts of inner Portland are not far behind.

        Also, many of the old buildings on commercial corridors are actually pretty dense. There’s an old, three-or-four-story, beautiful brick apartment building just east of 20th & Hawthorne. That building is not going away anytime soon no matter what the zoning becomes, because reasonably-dense apartments in that location make enough money to support using the land that way.

        The problem with Gateway is that there isn’t the critical mass of walkability, employment, street grid, and pleasantness there now to support much private development. That means that it would need a LOT of public money to jump-start it to the point where it’s attractive to private development, and Portland voters haven’t been willing to do that so far. Plus, the jump-start would probably require tearing down or completely redoing the Freddy’s shopping mall in order to restore walkability and create some developable land next to the MAX station. The problem with that is that the business lobby and local residents who like things the way they are would probably scream bloody murder about that.

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        • soren January 5, 2016 at 8:02 am

          Gateway will also require additional public infrastructure to become an appealing area to live. We have the infrastructure and space in inner PDX to support much higher density. Unfortunately, we also have regressive and unfair limits on more affordable housing imposed on generally lower income people by generally higher income people.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 10:55 am

            I agree Gateway needs lots of work. But how long ago was it that Lloyd was a wasteland that no one would want to live in? It still is, but you can now see glimmers of hope that its changing. In 10 years, it might seem like a pretty cool neighborhood.

            I’m saying we should make the investments to bring the infrastructure in other parts of the city up to snuff. We can’t all live in the inner core of Portland, no matter how high we build, and, in any event, redeveloping our inner residential areas is a political non-starter.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 10:49 am

          I totally agree that seeing people around makes a place more interesting. Unfortunately, when I’ve lived in apartments, I’ve rarely met or interacted with my neighbors; when I’ve lived in houses, I’ve always known my neighbors and been friends with them.

          Replace too many houses with apartments, and the interaction with neighbors is lost.

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          • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 10:51 am

            I agree. I think townhomes and rowhouses are perhaps the best urban form for encouraging social interaction (the magic combination of porches PLUS enough density that people walk to a lot of their destinations), which is why I’m so sad that Portland has so few of them.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty January 5, 2016 at 11:02 am

              Those development forms fall far short of what others here are suggesting. I agree those forms are interesting, and there are large swaths of inner SE, N, and NE where they can be built today, with no change to the zoning code.

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              • Alex Reed January 5, 2016 at 11:09 am

                I disagree. The parking requirements (which I’m counting as part of “zoning” more broadly) are what keep rowhouses from being built all over R2 and R2.5 in Portland. Rowhouses with garages taking up the entire snout are ugly from the street, uninviting to social interaction, and dark inside.

                Rowhouses with bay windows in the front are prettier, more interesting for passersby, more likely for the inhabitants to meet their neighbors, brighter inside, and more affordable. New construction of rowhouses with bay windows is more or less illegal because of Portland’s requirement of a Parking Space per R-zone housing unit (which really means space to park two cars).

                ** Unless you’re in a neighborhood with an alley. Which is rare. And except for Ladd’s Addition, the alleys are sketchy, scary, unpaved, and often blocked by uncaring neighbors’ bushes/fallen trees/crackpipes/etc.

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        • oregon111 January 7, 2016 at 5:31 pm

          I live in gateway, and the crowd that comes from the max to freddy’s is like a scene out of a zombie movie…

          they are dirty, smelly, drunk, and always yelling and fighting — tearing down the fred f*** to build yuppie stuff will NOT work at that max stop

          the only thing stopping gateway from thriving is the kind of people who ride the max — and they all should be in prison

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    • george January 5, 2016 at 9:17 am

      in some ways gateway reminds me of what lloyd district was (is still?). just missing something. with some private construction work, some infrastructure tweaks (roads too wide to support other modes), i think its possible to radically change it.

      its also intriguing because there is a lot of property sitting fallow, so building residential there (much like lloyd) results in very little direct displacement.

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      • oregon111 January 7, 2016 at 5:24 pm

        those too wide roads are backed up for blocks every work day — any more congestion or road diets will render gateway without any transportation whatsoever other than walking

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    • oregon111 January 7, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      Gateway has a LOT going for it: just off I-205, major max connection, many grocery stores and shopping nearby, and the neighborhoods are nice, much nicer than the strip malls on the major streets

      what Gateway needs is for the park to get developed, more sidewalk improvements, and some more small businesses

      also needed: more police to sweep out the bums and control crime

      gateway won’t be a tourist destination like hawthorne, but it could be a jobs destination — with the lowest cost housing right in that area

      getting some office towers built (much like lloyd center) would be the spark to get gateway going

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  • Robert Liberty January 10, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    I am amazed that 40 years on, people still don’t understand that Oregon’s laws required there to be a 15-20 year supply of land inside urban growth boundaries for housing, jobs and other urban needs. Visit Metro’s website and you can see a map of all the vacant land inside the UGB. Prices are rising fastest, where there is demand, and that is in the inner city neighborhoods that have the qualities more and more people want. In addition, local governments, like Washington County, have difficulty find the money (i.e. money from their taxpayers) to pay for the new arterial roads, schools, parks, water and sewer lines, etc., required for new development at the edge of the urban area. Assume the UGB was expanded enough to reduce (raw) land costs; in a tight market what makes you think that a developer or home builder will automatically pass along their cost savings to the purchasers? Do you really think a home builder is going to tear up a check for $350,000 for a home and say, “No that’s too much. I saved $15,000 on my land costs because the UGB was expanded so now I will charge you just $335,000 for your new home.”

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