(Photo: Adam Coppola)
Here’s one way to think about the political battle over housing in growing cities, spelled out Monday at an Oregon Active Transportation Summit panel: it’s got three main interest groups.
One group is social-justice advocates and tenants. These people are generally interested in keeping prices lower one way or another, especially for the lowest-income people.
One group is environmentalists, businesses and the development industry. These people are (for various reasons) generally interested in increasing the number of people living in the city.
The third group is a highly active subset of single-family homeowners. These people are generally interested in maintaining or increasing the value of their property, especially while keeping things the way they were when they bought it.
At an OATS panel Monday, environmentalist Alan Durning of the Seattle-based Sightline Institute proposed this way of thinking about housing politics. Then he used it to describe Seattle’s situation, and the unusual way the city has been responding to it.
“The previous status quo in Seattle around housing issues is a coalition that I sometimes refer to as the NIMBY-Trotsky coalition,” Durning said with tongue somewhat in cheek. “The social justice community essentially aligned with the homeowner community because of concerns about displacement. And the affordable housing community — that is, the providers of affordable housing — didn’t want to upset their donors and voters.”
“You think things are expensive in Portland, right? Multiply everything by 50 percent.”
— Alan Durning, Sightline Institute
In the short term, Durning said, that political “equilibrium” made everyone happy. But over years and decades, it pointed in one direction: a huge housing shortage.
“The long-term effect of this is to make housing in Seattle astronomically expensive,” Durning said. “You think things are expensive in Portland, right? Multiply everything by 50 percent. … We have to do something, or we’ll end up with a truly San Francisco situation.”
So, Durning said, Seattle’s social-justice advocates and housing-supply advocates teamed up to propose a so-called “grand compromise” that aimed to build a new coalition of their own that would, over time, drive prices down rather than up.
As Portland contemplates a similar fate — and gets close to a similar conversation of its own over the next year or so — the panel asked the question: what role will these interest groups play here?
HALA’s key breakthrough: Upzones plus inclusionary zoning
(Photo: Paul Sableman)
In Durning’s account, Seattle’s sheaf of housing recommendations — known as the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA — required 10 months of closed-door negotiation and almost collapsed completely.
“We need to handcuff the two to each other: density and affordability.”
— Alan Durning
“Eight months into this process, everyone was convinced it was going to lead to nothing, and in the last two months a very surprising set of recommendations emerged,” Durning said. “The first is that we need more housing: not a little but a lot more housing. … The second is that we need to do that in a way that steers the growth toward density and affordability. In fact, we need to handcuff the two to each other: density and affordability.”
The issue was certainly pressing. Last year, Durning wrote that during his 10 months on HALA’s 28-member advisory committee, the assessed value of his own house had inflated $100,000.
By the end of it, Durning said, the committee hit on a key bargain: allow more density everywhere in Seattle, but use conditional mandatory inclusionary zoning to guarantee that all the upzones in multifamily areas include units that would be affordable to people making less than 60 percent of median income.
“The kernel at the center of the HALA plan is a recommendation to basically upzone the whole city — not literally upzone the single-family zones, but create more flexibility in them — but [as] part of that, in every one of those upzones there would be a mandate that developers provide a certain percentage of units in each building,” Durning said. “This would produce way way way more affordable-rate units and way more market rate units than anything on the table before.”
If the plan simply put inclusionary zoning on every property without upzoning it, fewer developments would have been profitable and infill might have stopped — which would have also stopped production of low-cost units, because inclusionary zoning only applies to new buildings. Instead, the citywide upzone allowed developers to build one more floor on many buildings, but — once that “upzone” has been completed — it essentially requires them to use the profits from that top story to subsidize the lower-rent units.
Despite media backlash, Seattle voters back affordability-coalition candidates
(Photo: Seattle City Council)
When the HALA committee’s recommendations went public, Durning said they caused a “huge fight in the press.”
The lightning rod was the committee’s finding that single-family zoning in Seattle (like in all U.S. cities) was rooted in the desire of early 20th century homeowners to keep non-white and poor people out of their areas.
“It led to a huge, huge outpouring of opposition and so on just before there was a primary election,” Durning said. “If you looked at the media or attended community meetings, your assumption was going to be all our recommendations were going to die.”
In the firestorm, Durning said, Seattle’s mayor and council backed off from some of the recommended changes to single-family neighborhoods.
“But what happened next was very interesting,” he went on. “The organizations that had their interests reflected in HALA began to find each other and form their own coalitions.”
Durning said HALA has given groups including unions, urbanist environmental groups and affordability advocates a banner to unite around. And he said they have united, notably in a new group called Seattle for Everyone.
“Now, many of the key community meetings and much of the media coverage in the city, there are two voices in much of the debates that have been dominated by neighborhood preservationists,” Durning said. “We’ll also have someone who stands up and says, ‘I work in the city of Seattle and I’d like to be able to live there.”
After last fall’s elections, Durning said, “the politics have shifted.”
“The candidates who latched their futures to the neighborhood preservation impulse mostly got clobbered,” Durning said. “The lesson that people in the political establishment in Seattle took from that is, Oh, you have to be careful when you’re talking about changing neighborhoods, but it’s not a third rail, and it’s not going to kill you.”
Durning warned that the battle for more and cheaper housing in Seattle won’t be won until the city has finished the mass upzone, which it’s trying to complete one neighborhood at a time.
“It’s going to require an unbelievable organizing effort,” Durning said. “The only reason we can believe that can work is if we can hold that political coalition together for everyone from the chamber of commerce to the social justice advocates.”
Portland panelists see local parallels and differences
Sharing the panel with Durning Monday were two Portland housing experts: Justin Buri of the Community Alliance of Tenants and Housing Land Advocates, and Katherine Schultz of GBD Architects and the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.
Both agreed that some measures similar to Seattle’s might be useful in Portland.
Buri criticized zoning restrictions such as “floor area ratio and minimum lot size that are only there to preserve the value or increase the value of that home and create enclaves of wealth.”
Schultz said her architecture firm has found that the main way to build homes more cheaply is to build them smaller.
“Really, the only thing that we’ve been able to spur is making units smaller and more efficiently designed,” Schultz said. “You have a market out there that’s based on cost per square foot.”
Schultz said she completely agreed with the need to hold down housing prices, both by building more market-rate housing and by finding ways to make it profitable for developers to offer below-market housing.
Buri — who raised his hand, grinning, when Durning mentioned the “far left who don’t believe anyone should be making money on real estate” — questioned whether Durning’s “NIMBY-Trotsky coalition” is as strong in Portland as it has been in Seattle.
“It is supply and demand, but that doesn’t mean that if you’re a low-income tenant that’s being displaced from your home, taking an economics 101 class could help you avoid that.”
— Justin Buri, Community Alliance of Tenants
“It’s dangerous to paint opposition with broad strokes,” Buri said. “We see first-time homeowner opportunities being demolished for $800,000 McMansions, which doesn’t do anything for density or affordability.” Objecting to one-for-one demolitions, Buri said, is very different than objecting to construction because it changes “neighborhood character.”
Buri also called for Portland to work harder to include groups like OPAL Bus Riders Unite in its planning processes and to make affordable housing the first priority in a publicly backed development plan rather than the last.
And he noted that for all the talk of economics, understanding the causes of Portland’s housing shortage and price spikes isn’t enough to fix them.
“I am getting more and more frustrated with the simple refrain it’s just supply and demand,” Buri said. “It is supply and demand, but that doesn’t mean that if you’re a low-income tenant that’s being displaced from your home, taking an economics 101 class could help you avoid that.”
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Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
Great reporting as always, Michael! As a resident of one of the most contentious neighborhoods in the city (Richmond) I have witnessed a lot of the anti-density homeowners fighting changes to “their” neighborhood that they don’t want, including an organized anti-density campaign masquerading as “preserving neighborhood character”. Luckily, the NA’s don’t have any power to stop development, but they are getting more ambitious with their campaigns. This includes requiring developers to present plans and documents to the neighborhood that the city does not require at all, taking the anti-density campaign to City Hall, and worst of all: imposing a voter vetting process that borders on a full-fledged voter ID program that will result in weeding out the homeless and renters.
Neighborhood Associations are essentially Homeowners Associations pretending to represent the interests of the neighborhood and are the primary opposition to density and housing affordability. They are not elected fairly, and therefore do not actually represent the neighborhood, yet the city acts like they do when their interests align. Until we can move to a ward-based City Council, I don’t see this problem going away.
Nice to see the pro development crowd chiming in…..
You realize who will own and develop all the properties you want built here, right?
Hint: it isn’t the 99%.
Do you have an alternative proposal?
I think people who live here might get a say in what gets developed in this city. Apparently Adam and others here trust big real estate developers more…..
I live here. Do I not get a say?
You certainly do, but you are giving up your vote to the biggest developers.
“Enrique Rios, a 26-year-old Los Angeles transplant, lives with his fiancée and small dog in a 250-square-foot “micro-unit” apartment in Northwest Portland. It is the size of a college dorm room with space for a bed, a toilet and not much else. He cooks meals in a communal kitchen shared with other tenants.
Rios pays $995 a month.
Seattle developer Footprint Northwest LLC bought the home that was at the site on Northwest Thurman Street in 2013, replacing it with a five-story, 54-unit building.”
This is the future of Portland that Adam and others here look forward to.
This is the reality of “smart” growth.
All on board……
Keep in mind he is living in the hottest part of town. Of course, prices will be sky high in the areas of most demand. It’s like that in any city. And how much did he pay in the similar part of LA??? If he wants to rent an apartment out on Foster, he’s gonna pay less but he doesn’t get to brag about the cool part of town he lives in. Choices, it’s all about choices.
Who are you to tell people what kind of housing is “good enough” or “big enough”? Some people don’t want a lot of space because they don’t need it. They prefer to save money and live close to work.
I am not telling anyone what kind of housing to have. Out of state developers are….
The “out of state developers” only conform to the zoning and regulations set by our local City Council.
I mean, he’s also getting a bad deal. I rent a 1-bedroom apartment near PSU and only pay $50 more than him and his fiancee. My ex lives in a massive studio in NW and pays I think $1100.
Is it wrong that 250 square feet doesn’t sound that bad to me? That’s 10 x 25 feet. With the kitchen outside, that’s a pretty healthy sized room, isn’t it?
Room for a futon, desktop computer, and stuff. Sounds good and I don’t need to share the toilet!
It’s larger than lots of Japanese apartments.
The problem is that if you ask most existing residents, they will block most proposals. It’s kind of ironic after most projects get built, they become accepted over time.
Well the only real alternative would be to form a sort of housing co-op of would be buyers to build their own building. Otherwise, who else is going to build the housing that’s needed? Hint: it’s not a person with a $50k yearly salary. These buildings are already mostly designed by the time anyone hears about them so it’s tricky for outsiders to really have any sort of major influence in the design.
“Luckily, the NA’s don’t have any power to stop development, but they are getting more ambitious with their campaigns.”
So, homeowners and people who actually live here should just stand aside while mostly out of state developers build what they want. Power to the people , huh?
Power to the people only works when the neighborhood association is actually inclusive of all residents and holds real elections. With voter turnout below 1% for most NA’s, how can anyone argue that the NA boards actually represent the neighborhood? Instead of guiding based on knee-jerk reactions from a minority of residents, I’d much rather defer guidance to our fairly-elected City Council who work with knowledgeable, talented staff, spending years developing robust plans.
This is hilarious…
“I’d much rather defer guidance to our fairly-elected City Council who work with knowledgeable, talented staff, spending years developing robust plans.”
So you really like N. Williams and Division a lot I guess?
I do, actually. Division Street was a huge reason why I ended up buying a house in SE near the mixed-use developments on Division. I like that I can walk to places nearby. I also like that the development is creeping further east to 50th Av, and there will be a new grocery store within a ten minute walk from home.
I have friends who live there in the new $2250 a month affordable housing..
The apartments on Division were never intended to be affordable, and no one ever said they were. This is a problem that the recent lift on the inclusionary zoning ban aims to solve. At any rate, new apartments are always going to be more expensive than older ones, but a major benefit is that they take pressure off of older apartments and slow their rise in rents.
So you do like new expensive development.
Who says that the older apartments will stay? You are unbelievably naïve if you think that new development here will be affordable. Developers will build high rise apartments with 10% “affordable” and 90% expensive.
Division is the blueprint for the city, Glad you like it.
A lot of people like the restaurants and shops since they always seem to be packed. So are packed restaurants considered failures?
No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
Really, and your comment is based on the empty storefronts all over the place???????
No, that was a famous Yogi Berra quote. 🙂
“A lot of people like the restaurants and shops since they always seem to be packed. So are packed restaurants considered failures?”
The new restaurants and shops attract a lot of trend-seeking out-of-neighborhood folks, increasing traffic and congestion. The neighborhood is now less about the residents and more about tourists–a microcosm of what City of Portland is modeling.
So if I go from one neighborhood to another to have dinner, I’m considered a tourist and I am unwelcome? Huh?
If the neighborhood you’re coming from is in NYC, you’d probably be a tourist. But you’d be welcome in my restaurant.
Hi David. It’s the numbers. It’s when a whole lot of yous start descending on a hotspot that it becomes awful to live in. The neighborhood used to feel most for the neighbors while remaining welcoming to visitors. It now feels like a frenzied car invasion on a daily basis. I think the former is better. Not crazy about the frantic nature of ‘scenes’ and not interested in living in a tourist–be they local or from out of state–hotspot. All of Portland feels frenzied to me now. Not a fan.
Division is great. As someone who owns a house near Hawthorne, I am kind of envious of all the new development on Division.
Yay! So now you can buy your artisan hand made soaps, four dollar donuts, 30 dollar hair cuts to pay bar tabs and over-priced Little Big Burgers–which btw was homegrown but sold out to the parent company that owns Hooters! This is what residents of Portland want? This is what’s driving prices and spurring development? As long as it’s branded with sustainable and eco-friendly, I’m in!
Actually I don’t like any of that expensive stuff (although I do like Little Big Burger). I just like the atmosphere of having modern urban-style buildings and lots of cool people around. The more cool people that move here, the more I will enjoy it. Am I the only lifelong Portlander who feels that way?
And the fact that prices are going up and people want to move here is just proof that we have it good. If no one was moving in and prices were low, it would mean people were seeing this as an undesirable place to live.
Fellow Portland native and lifetime resident of 30+ years here. I too enjoy the influx of cool people and culture -particularly when it is of the artistic variety whether it be musicians, artisan crafters, or traditional painters. So hey, I like the new developments including SE Division too. I just hope there is room for the scraping-by-artists, political activists, and lifetime students in the new schema of neighborhoods.
Dear Paul and shirtsoff–with apologies (and just one opinion) but I would call the people the New Division is attracting in droves the antithesis of ‘cool.’ ‘Generic,’ more like–the same trend-seeking tourists attracted to Mississippi Ave. when it gentrified, and Alberta Street, and (I expect) wherever the next Salt ‘n’ Straw or Tasty ‘n’ Sons goes in. I’d reckon there were more ‘cool’ people (and musicians) in the dumpy band practice space we rented next to the scooter shop, back before the razings. Or in Guitar Crazy when it was still up in that neck of the woods. I bought my embarrassingly orange-pink Strat there for a song because no man would have anything to do with it. Terry Robb was hanging out and testing guitars and I’m sure he enjoyed my undisciplined flailings. 🙂
There are more tourists now is what I notice, mainly. Less variety, more cars, more speeders. More aimless people on the sidewalks. More selfies, more lines. A business success, yes–but at what cost to quality of life in the neighborhood for many of us (those who don’t share a passion for cookie-cutter trendspots)? I don’t really care about helping the latest hep restaurant. I do care that SE 26th has become a nightmare conduit for speeding self-absorbed foodies seeking the latest hot spot. And food worship. Weird, weird food worship, which I find becoming disturbingly obsessive in Portland–esp. as the arts and artists are dying for funding and real, practical (read $$$) support. I find the new buildings glossy, glassy, alienating and soulless. I know someone’ll tartly chime in here about the derelict empty buildings of yore, but I most certainly felt there was more character and inherent interest in the Division of Old’s pinky finger than in the whole sterile corpus of the Division of Now.
I’m a lifelong (born and raised) Portland area resident, for what it’s worth.
Much of the food on Division is affordable. A plate gobi manchurian at bollywood is seven bucks. A pie at pyro is nine bucks. A cecina at cibo is eight bucks. The best salad in Portland is eleven bucks at roman candle.
Go to Star Salon if you want a reasonably priced haircut. Probably unreasonably cheap, actually, but I want to keep her in business.
@ Rachel b
I call this the copy and past phenomenon that we’re seeing on Albert, Williams, Mississippi, Division.
Ctrl “a” –> ctrl “c” –> ctrl “v” = next hip street. Then watch people stand in lines…Gotta give em’ credit though, cashin’ in on those Ben-ja-mins!!!
This literally describes every inner neighborhood in Portland. All those old bungalows were at one point copy and pasted.
If you don’t participate, the “it doesn’t represent me” statement becomes self-fulfilling.
I do participate. It is very tough for dissenting opinions to be heard and represented by an NA. Especially when contentious board members can be recalled and their reputation tarnished so easily.
When majority renter neighborhoods have NA boards without a single renter on the board there is clearly a problem with diversity. I personally am unwilling to participate because I believe our undemocratic NA system has a long-term institutional bias against diversity.
Fortunately, the renting demographic is growing and becoming more politically active. I suspect that we will see competing NAs (or similar organizations) form that help renters to have a voice (I have been thinking about helping organize one myself). There is no rule that prevents ONI from recognizing multiple NAs.
Please do it. We would all benefit from a good example of how to create a truly representative neighborhood association.
I like this. Please advance this idea and/or help someone(s) else do it!
They chose to not vote.
Many, if not most, of our government officials were elected without a majority turnout. Does that invalidate them as well?
1. no outreach to “them”
2. foster a hostile tone/environment.
3. blame “them” for not participating.
PS: The OR constitution requires a vote-by-mail plebiscite for any “government”. NAs are not a government.
Please soren… please please please come vote with us. We will do anything it takes to assuage your feelings of victimhood. We fully understand that your unwillingness to participate in a decade and your outspoken opposition to our very existence is nothing but evidence of how “WE” have failed “YOU”.
the fact that you perceive me as a victim is both hilarious and sad.
So right… NAs are not government.
“So, homeowners and people who actually live here should just stand aside”
Except that homeowners did not stand aside. They crafted repressive and discriminatory land-use policies that harshly limit the construction of duplexes, triplexes, garden apartments, and low-rise housing. To quote the piece above:
So you would rather multi national corporations or people like Donald Trump develop our city because that is who is going to do it….
Have the so called “progressives” thought though that?
i’d rather we stop massively subsidizing the hummers of housing – single family homes. i also would rather see the city mandate inclusionary housing and fund social housing.
So everyone has to live in an apartment. No thanks!
removing a subsidy is forcing everyone to live in an apartment? really?
A 17 acre property in NW (the last big one in town), sold for 3 BILLION a month ago. If you think that these kind of corporations are going to let people like Charlie Hales dictate what they do with their property, you must completely oblivious……
A big crush on developers leads to a city where the view is hindered and the quality of public education continues to sink. There are big, ugly cities up and down the east coast. That is not where I want to live. Why do you continue to push for changes that makes Portland into somewhere else?There is a big difference between growth and obscene weight gain. It is not getting better here and pushing for hideous high rise apartment buildings has not improved education, or transportation in any form. The quality of life was better. You personally want less car usage and I want less people. My car takes me to the best resources of life improvement available in the PNW. The onslaught of pseudo creative types brings ZERO to the city. Can you enVISION that! BTW, I had a great dinner courtesy of Andy Ricker last evening.
If people keep moving here and more housing isn’t built, prices will continue to go up. Good old fashioned supply and demand economics. So how then do you propose to keep people out?
I understand this, but sometimes what I feel like I’m seeing is expensive high rises wit
Right, we’re told not to own a car here in Portland, live in micro lofts, walk to work, blah blah. Yet national advertising campaigns such as Travel Oregon pushes car ownership through the guise of road trip fantasies and the ‘Seven Wonders’. We wont people to move here, people are moving here, much to the result of the “life style” to be had—access to the beautiful outdoors! I always say, you don’t need a car for the city, you need a car to leave the city. But where do you store it in the interim?
It’s wishful thinking that people renting 2200 dollar apartments are going to be car-free, I beg the differ and believe they’ll be two car households. Or maybe like, 1.62 cars on average for a fully occupied rental complex. But I predict the ratio being higher than 1.
People want to live city and have access to the outdoors.
Please omit the first sentence to my rant 🙂
ZipCar provides an excellent service for exactly what you describe.
Yes, but it’ll cost you 65 dollars a day, even more if you want to do an over night or extended weekend. It’s better to go through a rental agency…
Depends on how long the trip is and how frequent you make trips. For day trips, ZipCar is useful and for longer ones, a rental service might make more sense. Either way, if you’re only needing the car on the weekends, it’s likely cheaper than paying for gas, insurance, car payments if borrowing money, and maintenance.
I’ve run the math and it’s just too expensive to do a car share program if you’re wanting to do more than a couple weekends a month (maybe two weekends is too much). Think about it though, say you want to do three weekends in the month of June. You’ll spend anywhere from 75-100 a weekend for your car x three weekends. That’s close to 300 dollars. I know people are in different situations with their vehicle, but I own a reliable old Toyota. No car payments, haven’t had to spend a lot on maintenance (probably will eventually) and my insurance is very low. And then I throw in my girlfriend which pays half for everything and it becomes even cheaper…
Carpooling is really where it’s at. I wish there was a site out there (maybe there is) for outdoor recreation carpooling. Because I kind of feel like one should never drive out to the woods in a single occupied vehicle. It’s wasteful and there’s a lot of people wanting access.
So maybe people with cars should do better at promoting the space they have and get people onboard with their camping and mountain bike trips. When one person has a car and three other people don’t, but have the disposable income because of it, if frees them up to pay for gas and purchase goods and services at local stores along the way (Hood River as an example). A win-win situation for everyone.
Actually, just bike tour from your door step. Leave the car entirely…
Join the neighborhood association! It’s open to all! Make your voice be heard!
“Buri — who raised his hand, grinning, when Durning mentioned the “far left who don’t believe anyone should be making money on real estate””
So Buri is going to renounce making a profit on the home he bought a couple of years ago, when he gets around to selling it?
Believing that society ought to change something is a lot different than voluntarily doing it yourself. That’d be like deciding to voluntarily overpay on your taxes because one time you supported a tax hike that failed. Not gonna do much good.
The Portland Tribune had a much-discussed article about a year ago about how cash offers were starting to dominate the Portland real estate market, which contained a couple of quotes by Buri complaining how difficult it was for him to buy a house in Portland. At the time, I thought it was moderately amusing that a tenant-rights organizer was complaining about the difficulty of purchasing a house.
Now we get to find out that he’s “far left who [doesn’t] believe anyone should be making money on real estate”.
San Francisco is full of “far-left” types who bought houses years ago that are now worth a couple of million bucks. Somehow, I don’t think that their politics will keep them from cashing out when the time comes.
Bingo. You will find that the people opposing new construction are the ones that already “got theirs”, ie: they stand to benefit the most from restrictive housing policies.
I say this as a single-family dwelling owner who has benefited greatly in the past few years…
As someone who lived in Seattle for a decade prior to living here 16 years, I think this coalition is stronger in PDX. Over the years I’ve witnessed incredibly strong knee-jerk opposition to development (even low-income friendly development) that I never witnessed in Seattle. And this opposition is often the strongest in neighborhoods full of Nader traitors like me.
I haven’t seen much knee-jerk opposition to development. People usually have good reasons for feeling the way they do. Dismissing those people with phrases like “NIMBY” doesn’t help get us to a solution.
I see a decent amount of people who oppose any and all new construction.
They hurt the discussion as much as those that branding all opponents with a nimby label.
I have yet to meet one of those people, but I’m sure there’s a few around.
Hear, hear, Hello.
I make a decent living and am barely making it in Seattle. The price of housing has more than doubled in the fifteen years I’ve lived here and I don’t see anything slowing that down. All the new housing that is being built in town are “luxury” apartments and everyone who doesn’t make six figures is being pushed to the outer burbs.
This is exactly the problem described by the post, and the one that it suggests a way to solve. None of the HALA recommendations have actually been enacted yet. If it they are, then almost every new apartment building or condo will include affordable units and almost every single-family block will be able to add duplexes or granny flats.
There is supposed to be a trickle down effect to housing. The newest stuff is always going to be more expensive. The old units get relatively cheaper over time. The problem today seems to be more people moving here than housing being built. Surplus of housing would drive prices down, especially on the older stuff.
Yes, lets build our way out of this.
Glad you are on board!
Take a basic economics course, study the housing price history in San Francisco and Seattle, and then get back to us.
The city of San Francisco is one of the toughest places to build anything, that in addition to the natural space limitations they have contribute to their lack of housing. Its also the place where the hot tech industry is based.
Condos that are 4000 month see bit like what happened to SF. 🙁 working poor class these days. Pushing folks out sucks.
According to Willamette Week, they are having a tough time renting the 4k condos in the Pearl. So expect prices to drop there. I’m actually glad that’s happening. Paying that much for an apartment is insane.
By letting the prices continue to go up.
And yes that will work. High prices will eventually keep people out. According to the Seattle Times, it’s happening right now in Vancouver BC.
Exactly. And those that feel Vancouver (or SF, NYC, Seattle, PDX) is worth the higher costs will continue to move there. Once that demand drops off, prices will too.
If voter turnout is below 1%, maybe there isn’t as much interest in the process as you think. If you feel the NA’s aren’t representative of the non-participating 99%, why don’t you engage those potential voters in the process? Seems like by your own description, the NA’s are fully representative of those that want to be part of them. Unless you’re implying there’s a concerted effort to keep 99% of the local residents from joining the process.
In my own NA, I have explicitly argued for more participation, especially of renters. For the upcoming RNA election, I plan to try to get more people out to vote. The problem is that many residents are skeptical of other residents who had not previously been to a meeting only showing up to vote. Not only is this totally allowed by by-laws (you can register at the election) it is completely counter-intuative. If you are only going to go to one meeting, the most important one is the election meeting. For people who want a say in the neighborhood but don’t necessarily want or are able to participate in a monthly meeting, the yearly election meeting is the one they should go to.
Notices of meetings are typically distributed to apartment building managers to then send out to their residents. Unfortunately, this is not always effective at getting increased participation. NA attendees typically skew older and homeowners, and toward neighborhood preservation rather than development. People often show up to a meeting for a single issue, often to express their opinions of a new building going in near their home. It is tough for dissenting opinions to be voiced, as the meetings often get highly contentious.
Not to mention, the NA process is specifically designed to maintain control of a neighborhood by homeowners. This is why I will continue to advocate for a fair vote-by-mail election. If the NAs want quasi-governing status, they must operate like democratic governing bodies.
So, you’d prefer to have an electorate that has no record of participating in the process, but only wants to show up to vote- possibly with out having any background information on the policies being voted on? That makes no sense to me- wouldn’t you want the voters to be highly informed about the issues?
I can understand why your NA may be leary. If the 99% can’t be bothered to take a few minutes out of their lives every couple of months to get an understanding of the underlying issues, I wouldn’t want them to be able to vote either. Seems like the epitome of millennial entitlement- no work, all the benefits.
This is not how democracy works. Everyone gets a vote regardless of how uninformed or lazy they may be. Wanting to exclude people from voting based on arbitrary demands is an absolutely frightening claim to make.
Well played Adam, well played. For a bit there I was thinking you were being serious…
Correct me if I am wrong, but it seem to me you’re arguing for voter disenfranchisement based on how informed the voter is? I am certainly in support of sending out voter pamphlets so that the voters can be more informed, but in no way am I okay with having this knowledge be a pre-requisite for voter eligibility.
You’re wrong. I’m not arguing for disenfranchisement of any kind, in fact, just the opposite. If you want to be included in the process, then get involved. Don’t just show up at the culmination of the process and demand to be heard and complain that no one is happy to see you.
You complain that the NAs only represent 1% of the residents. I’m suggesting that they’re representing 100% of the residents that are interested in taking part in the process. If you think more renters should be represented, then organize them and get them to participate in the process. The NA should reach out to and try to engage all residents, but they’re under no obligation to force anyone to participate.
My gut feeling is that renters in your area might not be as interested in participating as you’d like. Perhaps they’re ok with the status quo, or are not planning on being renters (or living in that neighborhood) long enough to dedicate time to long term planning.
I agree with this. However, the NA’s claim to represent the entire neighborhood and that includes people who do not vote, homeless people who happen to live in the borders, etc. Just because someone is not interested in participating in the process does not mean that their interests do not deserve to be represented. Even if they are interested, there may be other legitimate reasons why they can not or do not want to participate.
So… which body do we have in our country that represents 100% of the people in an area? The president? Our senators? City commissioner?
I think you’ve misdiagnosed the problem. I believe many renters do not participate in their NA because they see themselves as being in their current units temporarily, and may not feel as rooted to the neighborhood as someone who has made a longer term commitment.
This isn’t intended as a slight — there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, many people see the lack of commitment as a positive; it’s much easier to move to another part of town, or another city altogether if you are in a phase of life where things are in a state of transition.
And there are many renters living in the residentially zoned portions of the neighborhood that like them as they are. It is not (nearly) as simple as renters vs. owners.
And that’s fine if that’s what NA’s want to be. Just don’t pretend to represent all people who live or own a business in the neighborhood. The people who are just living in the neighborhood temporarily deserve equal representation as well.
Absolutely they do, and they are as free to participate as anyone, on an equal footing.
But if a neighborhood association is open to all residents but still only sees <1% voter turnout, can they still claim to represent all residents? I'd argue no.
They are designed to be ways for interested citizens to participate in the process of deciding things relevant to their neighborhood. They are not intended to be a representative democratic institution in the sense that, say, congress is.
If you don’t participate, your voice isn’t heard. It’s a bit more like a “true” democracy in this sense.
I disagree. The board is elected by its members and any resident is eligible for membership, therefore it is a representative democracy. This is especially evident when NA’s attempt to impose requirements on developers. Doing so, they are attempting to act as a governing body, even though they can’t legally require anything beyond what the city requires. This problem will worsen when NA’s are given actual governing power by the city to impose parking management districts.
The disconnect here is between the eligible members and registered members. All residents are eligible, but the NA only represents its registered members not all of it’s eligible members.
Or someone can participate directly or in a different organization. The idea that existing NAs (essentially civic clubs) are the exclusive voice of a neighborhood is risible.
Yes, one can do that, and should do so if so moved.
free to participate in an undemocratic process with deeply-engrained hostility to their concerns.
It’s your choice whether or not you participate. Do not tear down the institution just because you don’t find it to your liking. Many people, including renters, find it a valuable way to participate.
I *want* to tear it down. That is also my choice!
Interestingly, it was city staff that suggested starting parallel neighborhood associations (that support progressive transportation and land use policy).
Nihilism for the win!
“Do not tear down the institution just because you don’t find it to your liking.”
Sorry… not really. Let’s try again.
<blockquote<. I believe many renters do not participate in their NA because they see themselves as being in their current units temporarily, and may not feel as rooted to the neighborhood as someone who has made a longer term commitment
This is one of the slurs that is often cast at renters in NAs and is, IMO, an illustration of institutional bias. I myself was told when I attended a NA meeting over a decade ago that because I am a renter I do not have “roots in the neighborhood”. And based on my more recent experiences little has changed.
Not only is the attitude that renters are disengaged transients offensive but it is demonstrably false. For example, in my neighborhood people who rent from people have about the same length of residency as people who rent from banks.
It’s not a slur, it’s an explanation for why people may self-select to participate or not in the process.
When I lived in Seattle my “NA” was majority renter. I guess renters in Portland are uniquely apathetic. What is it about Portland that makes renters “not have roots in their community” or “have no skin in the game”? The lack of fluoride in the water?
I don’t know, but apathetic is your diagnosis, not mine.
the apathy of renters means that you will soon be able to admire more and taller apartment buildings in the inner SE. you’re welcome.
“Not to mention, the NA process is specifically designed to maintain control of a neighborhood by homeowners.”
God forbid, the people that own homes and pay the majority of taxes in this high property tax state have a say in what gets built in the neighborhood.
Better for developers to control the process as they do now….
Renters pay property taxes too, since it’s typically factored into their rents.
Absolutely. I always cringe when I hear people balk at property tax increases “since renters won’t be affected”. They absolutely *will* be affected in the form of rent increase (at least from any sensible landlord who aims to maintain a net gain).
Or maybe not. The rational landlord already has rents set at the maximum level his/her tenants will pay, so there may not be “headroom” to raise them further.
Your house or apartment was developed by a developer. Look up the definition of “developer”. There’s a good chance that someone didn’t think your house or apartment should have been built at the time.
So you think nothing should get built unless the majority of homeowners approve? Think anything would ever get built? Would you prefer Portland just be all open space with no houses except yours? Is that the utopia you want to live in?
Developers at the turn of the century would put up land at what was then the boonies, subdivide into lots, build single-family houses and grocery stores, and then build a streetcar line to get people there. All of our beloved inner SE neighborhoods were built by developers.
I dunno….there are a lot of people on my street who purchased their houses in inner Portland for below $200K 10 years ago and are happy staying put. Timing is everything. I can’t grasp why people think they are entitled to live exactly where they want at a price that doesn’t exist.
I can’t afford Whole Foods so I shop at Fred Meyer…you adapt based on your income.
“I can’t grasp why people think they are entitled to live exactly where they want at a price that doesn’t exist.”
So can I assume you favor loosening the exclusionary zoning that skyrocketed housing prices in inner PDX.
That seems entirely too logical, especially for those here who can only speak in the language of victimhood.
Don’t give them any ideas. Next we’ll be demanding WF to sell their goods on a sliding scale. I mean, if you don’t have to pay market rate for your home, why should you have to pay market rate for anything else?
Right now would be a really good time for the City to look at where might be appropriate for upzoning. The current Comp Plan envisions 40% of the city’s growth happening in the Central City–a much higher percentage than in previous decades–and yet in the Central City Plan they are planning on what is effectively a substantial amount of downzoning through the removal of the automatic FAR bonus for housing. The only places that they are proposing to increase FAR are at the Post Office site in the Pearl and the University Place Hotel (both of which are publicly owned).
The current FAR limits are almost identical to the ones established in the 1980 amendment to the 1972 Downtown Plan. At the time the logic was to place high FAR allowances in the heart of Downtown, where sites were well served by transit, and have lower FAR allowances further away. This is why there is a 15:1 FAR allowance along the transit mall around SW Washington, but only a 6:1 FAR at the south end of Downtown.
However what might have made sense in 1980 doesn’t necessarily apply in 2016. Since then we’ve built five MAX lines, the Portland Streetcar and extended the transit mall north to Union Station and south to PSU. This represents billions of dollars of investment, and it’s mystifying to me why that isn’t being reflected in the zoning.
Why not just allow unlimited FAR in the central city? I don’t get why the most dense part of town that most people agree should be most intensely developed has restrictions like this.
Seems like if these measures succeed, it would only create neighborhoods that are wealthy with a few poor people living in the affordable units. For more info, see the Pearl district. What about the middle class? Too rich to be affordable, too poor to pay full price.
Few seem to care. In the game of winners and losers, they have been deemed the later.
I think a bargain like HALA requires a pretty specific understanding about inclusionary zoning: that it doesn’t do squat without new development. I’m not sure Portland’s social justice community gets that. Would love to be proved wrong.
Like so many other discussions on planning, this article uses a lot of words to say very little. You provide a vague claim that public opinion is changing. Print an assertion that homeowners are racists. And provide no real information about how their plans are working out.
Predictably, the comments section fills up with people, like myself, voicing the opinions they brought with them.
On that note:
– live somewhere you an afford (hint, it might not be Seattle or Portland)
– every person you provide subsidized housing to is one other person you push out of town. The working poor don’t deserve to live here any more than the person who just missed the IZ cutoff.
“…every person you provide subsidized housing to is one other person you push out of town. The working poor don’t deserve to live here any more than the person who just missed the IZ cutoff.”
Exclusionary zoning, lending, interest, and capital-gains subsidies good!
Subsidies for poors bad!
So what’s your proposal? How much in subsidies and for whom?
Neighborhood-appropriate upzoning in inner PDX that allows the building of the duplexes, triplexes, quadruplexes, garden apartments, and low-rise buildings (that already can be found all over the place) would be a good start.
I’ll agree with you there. A mix of housing that is more appropriate is a good start. My worst nightmare would be for someone to put up a 5-story apartment building behind my single story house.
If it makes you feel better, you can put that five storey apartment building behind my backyard instead. 😉
What if the 5 story building blocked out all the sun that fills your house/backyard. Would that make a difference in your opinion?
I take it you’re not concerned about the resale value of your home.
More likely he lives somewhere where there is no possibility to build such a structure. That sometimes makes it easier to accept the (non) possibility.
There is no assertion above that homeowners are racist; the assertion (which links to a fairly extensive study of evience) is that early 20th century homeowners were racist.
However, I do personally think that today’s homeowners, like today’s tenants and today’s homeless people and me and everyone else, are at least a little bit racist, and we all just have to try to be aware of that and resist those reflexes in ourselves.
Your comment is frankly offensive.
Bringing race into the discussion is by definition racist. Can we have a dialog without supercharging it by bringing race into it? We’re not going to solve any problems by adding the “r” word into the discussion.
Acknowledging that racism exists is by definition racist??
I have never been anything but white. But my conversation with and observation of people who are of other races suggests that what you’re referring to as “supercharging” is the way *almost every significant conversation* feels for those of us who are not white. Which is because racism is a thing.
There are a lot of things in the world and racism is just one of them. From my perspective, mentioning race at one point in a complicated article is not supercharging it, it’s just describing reality. I’d be happy to better understand your perspective too.
Racism is an unfortunate reality in our world, and you are probably right that most people (of all races) harbor at least some, along with classism, sexism, and all the other isms that essentially boil down to “those people are different than us.”
However, injecting it into the conversation in the way you did gives the impression that you are accusing those who oppose your position on apartment construction of being racist, a statement that is both offensive and unproductive.
That may well have not been your intent, but I think that’s why David responded the way he did, and why I also found the comment unnecessary.
Injecting race into this conversation is unnecessary and further polarized people. I detest Trump and right now, I’m not sure how your comment is any different than what he’s doing. How about bringing people together and not dividing them by injecting race into the conversation?
You run an excellent blog but this time you went too far. Time to cool it.
You cannot talk about housing in America without talking about racism. The federal government throughout most of the 20th Century literally drew lines around black and other minority neighborhoods, refusing to give out loans in those areas. Racism is literally written into the housing code.
What can we talk about without discussing racism? Because that’s not really why I subscribe to this website.
So why should I have to pay for past sins? I’m the child of immigrants. I’m about as liberal as you could be when it comes to race and treating people equally. But where I draw the line is when I’m made to feel guilty for past sins. Equality means treating all people equally. For gosh sakes, this is a bike blog. What the heck is going on when one of the blog leaders decides to inject race into the discussion. Perhaps he needs to find a different blog to run.
No one is asserting that you beat your wife. However…
I think these articles are pointing to BikePortland as one of the most useful and civically beneficial news sources in Portland. This is way better coverage of the affordability issue than any other media companies in town. Bravo.
Here’s a pretty interesting article from NPR about architecture and affordable housing designs.
Take these ideas and apply them to the Portland market.