As Portlanders debate ways to deal with the city’s continuing surge of housing prices, a coalition of local affordable-housing developers and service providers says Portland can’t afford to continue banning so-called “missing middle” housing from most of the city.
Duplexes, triplexes, internal home divisions and two-story garden apartments are common throughout many of the neighborhoods Portland built in the early 20th century. Today, those neighborhoods are the city’s most walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly — but since 1959, city code has made it illegal to build more neighborhoods like that. Homes with multiple kitchens or space for fewer than two cars are forbidden even on most residential land in the central city.
The Oregon Opportunity Network, which speaks for 20 local low-income housing providers and advocates, wrote this week that this ban is contributing to the deep Portland housing shortage that has been driving the poorest Portlanders out of homes entirely.
Three city commissioners have said they’d re-legalize missing middle housing, but only in the city core and “within a quarter mile of designated centers, where appropriate.”
“We urge you to support the ‘missing middle’ housing amendment” to the city’s comprehensive plan, the affordability coalition’s policy director Ruth Adkins wrote in a letter to city council dated Wednesday. “But also to go further, by following the City Club’s recommendation to revise the zoning code to allow for middle housing types in residential neighborhoods across the City – not just near centers.”
Last week, members of the nonpartisan local policy organization Portland City Club voted overwhelmingly to support, among many other affordability measures, zoning reform that would allow “missing middle” housing in residential-zoned Portland neighborhoods.
Three city commissioners — Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman and Mayor Charlie Hales — have backed comprehensive plan amendment #P45, which would re-legalize missing middle housing, but only in the city core and “within a quarter mile of designated centers, where appropriate.”
“One of the main drivers of expensive housing is minimum lot sizes,” Adkins wrote. “Portland needs more, and smaller lots. Portland suffers from a severe shortage of lots for homes – particularly single-family homes – which can only be solved by redefining what constitutes an acceptable legal lot under our zoning and comp plan. Such a change could open up thousands of new lots for homes, all over the city.”
Oregon ON offered a series of anecdotes of the ways lot-size minimums are blocking lower-income Portlanders from buying into the city’s housing market:
● At PCRI, land owned by the organization for over 20 years could be developed or redeveloped for new affordable homes, including for homeownership. This land is located in residential zones throughout north and inner northeast Portland, but minimum lot sizes limit the number of homes that can be developed, handicapping our opportunity to deliver affordable homes for hundreds of families eager to purchase them.
● At the Portland Housing Center, our pool of pre-qualified first-time buyers is larger than ever. But the private market continues to almost exclusively produce large and expensive homes, far out of reach to our buyers. Hence many buyers are failing to find homes to purchase – or being driven farther and farther away from amenity-rich neighborhoods and employment centers to find anything they can afford.
● At Human Solutions, we are seeing a 30 percent increase in demand for our family shelter as more families and children cycle into homelessness and an almost weekly narrowing of the universe of private market rental units in historically affordable East County that will accept our families and our rent assistance partnership. At the very same time that we are seeing the volume of publicly financed units that are affordable and accessible to very low-income families experiencing homelessness shrink and our inability to financially compete with private developers and speculators who are buying up the stock of marketbased affordable properties that are currently housing our client families in East Portland. Without action, those currently affordable properties will disappear from the affordable inventory as private redevelopment shrinks the supply even further.
● At Proud Ground, Portland’s home ownership funding cap of $60K/unit and lack of funding outside of Urban Renewal Areas has not kept up with market realities. This makes it harder than ever to get new homes into trust for permanent affordability.
● At Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, we have 10+ eligible buyers for each house we build. But it has become a significant struggle to time find land we can afford on which to build new developments of affordable homes. We’re entirely priced out of single-family zoned portions of the city, where lots typically go for $200K+ per lot.
Hales planning policy advisor Camille Trummer said in an interview Friday that the mayor is “leaning toward” allowing missing-middle housing in more residential areas rather than just the immediate vicinity of “designated centers.”
“The mayor is very interested in middle housing,” she said. “He’s depending on advocacy from various groups to help calibrate how we form that policy going forward.”
(Photo: Jaclyn Hoy for Community Cycling Center)
Oregon ON also includes direct service providers like Catholic Charities/Caritas Housing, Central City Concern and Home Forward as well as nonprofit community development corporations like Hacienda CDC in Cully and ROSE Community Development in outer southeast Portland.
The coalition doesn’t suggest that simply increasing housing supply and shrinking minimum lot sizes will be enough to help low-income Portlanders or preserve income diversity within neighborhoods. It strongly supports a proposal from Commissioner Amanda Fritz to set a goal of 10,000 new regulated affordable housing units to the city by 2035.
“Zoning reform won’t be enough on its own,” Adkins wrote to the city council. “Although the changes noted above will increase the availability of reasonably priced home lots, nonprofit developers and first-time home buyers will still face sharp competition with market developments and more affluent buyers – especially in amenity-rich neighborhoods. It is essential that Portland immediately build on our hard-won progress in Salem and implement a mandatory Inclusionary Zoning policy, along with an excise tax on new construction of at least 1 percent, dedicated to affordable housing.”
The comprehensive plan amendments in question are P45 (missing middle housing and near “designated centers”) and P46 (at least 10,000 new price-regulated units).
If you’d like to weigh in on these issues yourself, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – email@example.com
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.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
Note also the the fee abatement for ADU projects has been extended for another two years.
Only two years. But ADUs won’t appreciably impact housing availability in Portland regardless.
Not hugely, but people do rent them. My last BF is going on year 2.5 in a charming ADU in the back of a regular sized single family home lot in St. Johns. It was the perfect little size for him and he would otherwise be in an apartment building. Instead, he pays this older retired hippy lady and helps her with house maintenance. It’s a great arrangement.
it does hugely help each person who rents one, and also the home owner who gets some extra cash. to both those people the adu could mean the difference between a roof over the head or no roof over the head. if people are bitching that they want density, then encourage those who are willing and able to provide adus to do it. an adu would be much nicer than an apartment – no aholes on the other side of the wall………….
>>But ADUs won’t appreciably impact housing availability in Portland regardless.
Unfortunately you are probably right, but mostly because they are rented on AirBnB rather than serving as a low-impact supply of small but affordable houses.
(I want to be clear that I totally get the attraction of AirBnB to owners — higher income, increased flexibility, what’s not to like? It’s just not good for the city, at this point in time, to be tying up units this way.)
What is the typical cost of all permits to build a single family home in Portland?
I know in outlying suburbs it’s ballpark $30,000.
Does that mean that for two more years new ADU’s will not pay an initial permit fee?
Looks like the fee is reduced and may save you “up to” $11,000. WOW! The fee must be HUGE if the reduction is up to 11K.
Lots of ADU info here:
It is true that the missing middle could help with housing costs a bit. But focusing only on such things is like the occupants of the 2nd and 3rd class sections of the Titanic fighting over who gets one of the deck chairs to float on when the ship goes down, while ignoring that all the lifeboats are in first class. We need to look back in time to Henry George and his famous book Progress and Poverty ,which sold more copies than any book in America prior to 1900. It outlined the need to have the value of “land rent” shared by all of society. The economic movement called Georgism has incredible relevance today. We have been fooled in to thinking that solutions to unworkable personal occupancy costs can be found withing the system of Neoliberal Capitalism when this is the system that has landed us where we are at. Since World War II the push to make every American a property owner worked to cover up the problems with land ownership. Now that system is breaking down and we must look back to early times for solutions.
The Real Estate Beat will continue to cover other possible solutions to Portland’s need for affordable proximity! We’re writing about this today because the crucial decision on this particular policy is in front of city council right now. If it’s not changed based on testimony received by next week, the next chance to change this might be 30 years from now.
Where would they build all these structures? Would they tear down old houses? Seems that the cost of a new duplex would still be about $400K on a split lot in inner PDX and it would be purchased by an all cash buyer looking to downsize.
In my opinion, the snowball started 2 years ago, it’s growing fast, and we’re just going to eventually be a mini San Francisco.
If we were able to build these structures 30 years ago, that would have helped a bit.
Welp, it’s clearly too late to start doing anything now. It doesn’t fix all of our problems right away so let’s not bother. /s
More seriously, I would expect they’ll build the same places they’re building single unit detached housing today. But instead one house for $750,000 they’ll build a duplex and sell each half for $400,000. Or instead of splitting a large lot they’ll build an 8 unit bungalow courtyard and sell those for $200,000 each.
If you think this will result in cheaper housing, you’re fooling yourself. Our most affordable properties will be replaced with high end new houses (or possibly rentals). Prices will not start falling; in fact, prices for existing houses will rise faster than ever as they become even scarcer. Look at the prices of all the new construction (apartments or houses) to get a sense of what we’ll get.
We cannot keep building and hope that we can somehow beat the curve of induced housing demand, just as we cannot outbuild traffic growth. The only thing that will slow things down is when prices have equalized with other west coast cities, or we have another massive recession. Either way, it’s going to suck, but I don’t see a way around it.
i think most do not view twee 0.7 million dollar bungalows as cheap:
Are you arguing that new construction that replaces older houses is less affordable than what was there before?
No. I am arguing that new mcmansions that replace affordable multi-unit housing are part of the problem. And the exclusionary zoning that enriches people who own single-family homes is the one of the primary reasons that multi-family buildings are being torn down to build mcmansions.
I totally agree with your McMansion comment, though I disagree that they are twee.
You seem to have an underlying assumption that there is a nigh inexhaustible firehose of people-with-money coming to (whichever metro area Portland’s size or larger on the West Coast has cheapest housing), which will be Portland for the foreseeable future. It stands to reason that there is something like such a firehose, but I don’t think the velocity of people-with-money therein is unfathomably huge like you seem to. There are lots of factors that dissuade plenty of people-with-money (family proximity, weather, jobs, etc.). I think if we doubled or tripled our housing production we could easily soak up the firehose and then some.
Yes, I do have that assumption. We have a lot of high-end jobs coming to Portland, in part attracted by the relatively lower cost of living here vs. CA or WA. That’s at least part of what’s fueling the recent demand for high-end housing.
You think if we tripled our building rate, prices would become more affordable?
That assumes builders would continue to build in the face of softening demand; that the number of in-migrants would not increase if prices started to fall; and that developers would be willing to build cheaper housing, even as costs increased.
In the meantime, we’ll be losing affordable housing (or what passes for affordable these days) as the cheapest properties are purchased for their lots and torn down.
If we tripled the metro area’s building rate? Yes, yes I do think housing would become more affordable. To address your questions –
Re: #’s 1&3 (which seem like two statements of the same thing to me so please correct me if I’m missing the difference) – We would need to loosen restrictions on building so it would still be profitable with softening demand.
Re: #2 – No, I don’t think the number of in-migrants would increase much if prices started to fall. The number certainly hasn’t seemed to decrease as prices have risen, so the reverse doesn’t seem like it would be true either.
There are other things at work here other than jobs. In many cases I think some people see a bargain and are hedging their bets.
As the drought in California and else continue, as the Ogallala Aquifer dries up and becomes more polluted from shale oil extraction, and as long the ocean levels rise – Portland becomes more valuable.
Developers in Miami are buying up and “gentrifying” the poor Latino parts of town because they are at a higher elevation and within the next 50 or so years it’s expected to become beach front. When NYC starts raising taxes to berm Manhattan like New Orleans, when the Colorado river continues to recede eastward and LA starts banning watering lawns and washing cars- how much more valuable is Portland.
As long as the ground doesn’t shake around here too bad, real estate values in Portland will continue to grow.
I agree with kitty and gutter. My sis and I talk about this frequently–I don’t think Portlanders appreciate just how many people are moving here because (as she and I crack wise) it sounds (via the hypey media) like the greatest, smartest, bestest place to wait out the apocalypse.
It really didn’t help to have the NY Times and Cliff Mass single out the Pacific NW as the ideal place to be as climate change wreaks havoc on the globe. That was before the drought problems we started having here, though. Not that the drought registers at all with newcomers, who believe we have limitless and plentiful water, we are the greeniest, and also that we have the best air in the nation, you can safely swim in the Willamette, and Portland will save their lives and make their every dream come true.
By your reasoning, Pennsylvania ought to have a major ongoing population boom, as it has the most stable moist climate in the country. Last I checked, the state barely retains its existing population.
People move to Portland for a variety of reasons.
Never allowing an increase in density will DEFINITELY keep the housing costs higher. Or do you think that, if the only houses allowed now were the ones that already existed in 1890, that prices wouldn’t be astronomical? Sure, we may end up pricing up into Bay Area or Seattle prices, but let’s at least *try* to keep supply apace with demand.
I support increasing density, and want to do so in ways that are the least destructive to our existing neighborhoods.
Could you fill us in on what you think those are?
Main street development, ADUs, limiting AirBnB, new town centers (e.g. Gateway), duplex conversion, infill, etc.
Three of the things you list (ADUs, duplex conversion, infill) are things the missing middle amendment is meant to address. Under the current zoning a large house half a block away from SE Hawthorne Blvd (as an example) cannot be converted into a duplex. Nor can it have an ADU in the basement in addition to one in the back yard.
I like some of what people call “the missing middle”. I don’t like the parts that encourage more demolitions of historic structures.
Hello, Kitty–I’m glad you mentioned “limiting airbnb”. The last thing Portland’s housing market needs is people converting housing to what is basically hotel use. It’s not widespread, but it has become a big issue in other cities (SF, NY, etc.) and it’s increasing here. It’s totally different than the rosy “sharing economy” case of renting out a spare room or two now and then.
I know a couple of whole houses that are on the ABnB market (and thus removed from normal rentals), and plenty of ADUs and basement apartments. I think it is pretty widespread, at least in close-in areas.
But other than that, I 100% agree.
What kind of infill do you support? How do you feel about lot splitting?
Does everyone who opposes Airbnb also oppose hotel construction? Let’s say there are 1000 Airbnb units in the city now, which seems maybe high to me but something like that. Then assume that every single one would be a long-term residence if not for Airbnb.
The city has recently built or will soon build 2500 new hotel rooms, sucking up precious developable square footage in mixed-use zones, often right next to job centers and transit.
There are thousands more hotel rooms just waiting to be converted to apartments if and when we ban hotels. If Airbnb is a manmade disaster, then presumably hotel rooms are too?
I love that question, Michael.
I’d like to have this conversation, along with a few others normally considered taboo. E.g., what do we want our city to be like? Focused on accommodating the rich visitors, the business travelers, or on those who already live here/are trying to stay? I know where I tend to come down, but without a larger conversation, which I think your column on Real Estate has done an excellent job of encouraging, we won’t learn as much.
So thanks for all that you’re doing .
Does anyone know the history of why Gateway was developed so incredibly poorly? Clearly the City has spent a lot of time planning this as a “town center”, but the certainly did not treat it as such when they built the MAX stop! It is sandwiched between the freeway and the back of a strip mall/Fred Meyer. They did not even bother to provide basic wayfinding/safe crossing to wander over to 102nd! Imagine what this area would be like now if the CIty had swung the MAX east a block and built a proper transit hub on the corner of 102nd and Halsey, connecting trains and buses and a highly walk able main street (Halsey Weidler between 10nd and 114th) primed for redevelopment!
When the original MAX alignment (from Pioneer Courthouse Square to Gresham) was being planned, Gateway was not yet part of the City of Portland. It was in what was then called “mid-County”, or unincorporated Multnomah County. Sadly Multnomah County’s urban planning legacy is very poor.
Many (but not all) of the current land owners in Gateway are also land or building owners downtown. It is in their best interest to keep land values downtown as high as possible, by not developing Gateway (or anywhere else) as a competing urban center. My guess is that Rockwood/Rosewood will be developed long before Gateway ever is.
Gateway is already a Regional Center.
Well, a 5000 sq ft residential lot one block of Mississippi just sold for $800,000. If they were able to build a dulex, etc… on there I don’t see how it could be affordable for most folks earning a PDX wage.
If permitting the construction of duplexes, garden apartment etc… makes housing in an area affordable for the top 30% instead of just the top 10% is that not an accomplishment? Is that not enough of an improvement to be a desirable change from the status quo?
San Francisco, where the average cost of a house renovation is ~$1-2 million? Portland is hardly SF or the Bay Area; we are more closely following Seattle, albeit with a different, more DIY culture and far less wealth than either Seattle or SF.
I don’t see any mention of tearing down homes.
The idea is to carve new lots out of existing lots, either with of without extant SF homes.
Also, no one promoting this action is claiming the new homes would be affordable to everyone wanting to buy or rent one. (My use oftje word “want” is intentional. No person or family *needs* a SF home.) What they will be is affordable to persons and families who would otherwise bid up the price of less expensive units, displacing folks with less income/money.
Portland’s zoning code routinely destroys people’s abilities to do innovative projects, because regulations are written without adequate consideration for how they impact non-standard projects. Regulations that stop certain types of undesirable development also stop desirable development.
Example–in the 90s, I designed a “missing middle” affordable housing project for a non-profit in N. Portland–a duplex and triplex around a courtyard on a small lot. The City changed zoning regulations during mid-design of it, because it wanted to prohibit development like what we’d designed. Luckily we found a loophole in the regulations that applied to our specific situation, so Planning had to approve the project against its own wishes.
When the project was done, BDS gave it an award for “innovative urban infill” . But it left the code unchanged, so others could not do similar projects. Glad to see some re-thinking about that–more than 20 years later!
Oregon has an awful statute that _requires_ housing development standards to provide at least one “clear-and-objective” (i.e., without any discretionary criteria) approval path for any residential land use or permit approval. That forces the non-discretionary code to be overly restrictive. The solution takes a lot of sharp thinking to craft a combination of adequately protective “clear-and-objective” standards paired with an “alternate path” with discretionary standards that allow flexibility, but prevent abuse as “loopholes.
If you want to see how it’s _poorly_ done, look at Eugene’s land use code which produces the worst of both worlds and awful development.
Just curious about what will be considered “centers”.
For the broad concept, see Figure 3-3 on page 30 of this PDF:
Thanks that kinda helps a little, though my house is kind of on the edge of one perhaps? Maps just vague enough to not really say. Not to worry, my neighborhood is just far enough out all the recent development is welcome as far as I’m concerned (though I know some in the area are less appreciative).
If you want to see individual properties, the easiest way is to use the map app:
If a property is include in a “center” it will say on under the “Proposed Comprehensive Plan Designation” heading when you click on the map.
too bad, I’m close but no cigar. Was looking forward to potentially tearing down and building a triplex, live in one and rent the others – would be able to retire much younger that way.
It was a costly and protracted process to get our official duplex permit/approval when we remodeled, even though the house had been an unofficial duplex since the 1920s. We’re on SE 26th and I think it’s well suited for offering the option to homeowners to turn existing homes into duplexes/triplexes. There are demos happening here, too, and I’d be in favor of garden apartments and duplexes/triplexes/small complexes instead of big single-family homes. Not at all excited about the idea of more car storage, though.
I feel differently about quieter streets, though.
Agh, I mean I’m for preserving single-family homes on quieter interior streets.
Why? Can the ‘quietness’ of those streets not be preserved with a different housing mix? How much of the quiet character you’re after just comes from limiting cars? If you cap off street parking, institute on street parking permits with a capped number of permits available and have it apply to a wide enough area that few would consider parking their car a half mile away just outside of the border, can you retain enough of the quietness while still allowing garden apartments/duplexes etc…on those streets?
I read her statement differently — not that single family houses were required for quiet streets, but that she wanted to keep single family houses on streets that were quieter.
What is worth preserving here?
Some semblance of the character of the street for the sake of existing residents? I’d argue some increase in density is compatible with that.
Confining single family homes to quiet streets? As opposed to what, also allowing them on less desirable streets like arterial roads? What’s the upside of reserving the more desirable land for people who can afford more expensive housing and only permitting the construction of smaller and cheaper units in less desirable areas? I’m not sure I understand the point, do you think you could try to clarify it for me?
I believe the intent of her comment on quiet streets is to not push for tearing down existing single family homes just so you can put up apartments or other high density projects. Such projects alter the character of a neighborhood, and the alteration is usually not for the better. And limiting parking, parking permits, etc does not fit in with the lifestyle of most Americans. Americans use cars to earn a living – that fact will not be changing in the near future – people need a place to park and do not need to be saddled by ridiculous fees or rules to park a car that they need to earn a living.
I don’t think anyone said anything about wanting multi-family housing to be put on less desirable land. There is plenty of land available without destroying established and desirable neighborhoods.
>There is plenty of land available without destroying established and desirable neighborhoods.
Where exactly? On the busy arterials?
>I don’t think anyone said anything about wanting multi-family housing to be put on less desirable land.
Those busy arterials are less desirable to live on.
“I’d love to live in a row home a few blocks from a major commercial center like Hawthorne or Hollywood. But that housing type is almost regulated out of existence in Portland, and what little is built is generally, because of zoning, on a major street or a few feet in and is therefore not appealing to me.”
Yes! Thanks, kitty and Gary (I’ve been offline for a week–ahh, bliss!)–sorry so slow. And hi, lop! I won’t add anything much except to say I live on SE 26th which I mentioned I thought was a good candidate for allowing homeowners to convert to duplexes/triplexes and even for a garden/courtyard-style apartment or two. Some houses on streets like this one were ‘official’ duplexes back in the day, like ours, but haven’t been grandfathered in. I think it’d be a good idea to help homeowners make those ‘unofficials’, official.
There are a lot of streets like SE 26th in Portland–not exactly quiet, but smaller and livable. They’re not Division or Hawthorne or Powell–but they’re also not quiet inner neighborhood streets. That’s the distinction I’m making.
Oh. And no–I don’t believe the ‘quietness’ of those quiet streets can be preserved with a different housing mix. Not unless it’s seriously limited. To my mind, it’s simply not worth it. We’ve been playing fast and loose enough as it is, with Portland’s guts ‘n’ soul. The very stuff that makes it what it is.
Finally–if it’s ok for some to think compromising/razing the character of Portland’s neighborhoods and streets is fine, why isn’t likewise ok for some to think preserving the character of residential streets (‘for the sake of existing residents’) is important? You’re either for existing, established residents and stakeholders rights or for newcomers and prospective newcomers rights, when push comes to shove. And I believe existing residents have more of a stake (by virtue of history and personal investment) and hence should have more of a voice than people who just moved here and those who don’t even live here yet. Is that odd? It seems, to me, logical. And it’s not xenophobic. Gud knows we’re shoving over. Plenty. I was even welcoming, once upon a time, several years ago…. 😉
It’s like forbidding people to eat rice.
I’m not following. Is this a response to someone’s comment or the article?
What is the carbon footprint comparison in maintaining a well built house compared to tearing town the house, hauling away debris, disposing of debris, manufacturing new materials, hauling in new materials, then removing carbon sequestering trees, reshaping the land and building a new house. I am not even going to ask about the build quality of new homes compared to the older homes being demolished.
What does a homeowner who spends decades maintaining a property do for a neighborhood, and what does that neighbor do to the neighborhood when he sells out to a developer to have that house torn down.
Carbon-wise, the choice isn’t between demolishing an old house to build a triplex and just leaving the old house there with nothing being built anywhere. The choice is between demolishing it to build a triplex, or keeping the older house there building two housing units elsewhere – almost certainly large suburban homes, and likely in areas with harsher climates (more heating/cooling), worse building codes (less efficient) and more spread-out built environments than Portland (more driving). The reason that’s the choice is that the people who would have lived in the triplex will have to live somewhere, and all signs are that Portland’s housing prices are starting to drive people out of town. Given that’s the choice, over a few decades, the triplex wins hands-down.
Once prices equalize with our peer cities (which I think they will under any realistic scenario), the immigration will slow, and the alternative may be to live in the core of whatever the next “it” city is. I do not believe we need to be the city that houses the nation.
Um… Substantially all cities in the US have tight restrictions on density in the central city (by tight I mean little more than the city has currently). So anyone who doesn’t move to a new abode in inner Portland, and moves to the next “hot” city center, is displacing someone ELSE who would otherwise live in that city center, and therefore lives somewhere else instead (more than likely… The suburbs).
Pretty much, for every new construction housing unit NOT constructed in inner Portland, an additional housing unit is constructed somewhere else, and given the statistics on building in the US for the last X decades, that “somewhere else” is probably a single-family house in the suburbs.
Miami is the only exception I know about (holy crap, are they building a lot of big buildings in Miami! And, surprise, Miami is cheap!), but given that city will probably be subject to frequent inundation in about 50 years, I don’t think investing embodied energy into buildings there is that great a deal, carbon-wise.
“will probably be subject to frequent inundation in about 50 years”
50 years? Are you kidding?
So I guess it’s up to us save the country from itself? I’m not sure I’m willing to sign up for that, or demolish our neighborhoods, which are one of the most attractive parts of the city to me. I think we just have fundamentally different visions for what we want Portland to be.
I don’t really care that much what Portland is like, compared to how much I care about us doing as much as we possibly can to reduce climate change impacts on poor people in poor countries. I think the situation humanity is in is so dire that it can’t just be cleaning the electricity supply, moving towards vehicle electrification, changing diets and agriculture, or moving the building stock towards having smaller, more efficient, more centrally located units. I think we’re morally obligated by being people in the country that is both almost the richest and the #1 biggest per capita carbon polluter in the world to pursue an “all of the above” strategy. If it makes us uncomfortable, too bad. I think a flooded Bangladeshi in 2080 would tell us to woman up and deal with it.
On the global scale, there’s really nothing Portland can do to even budge the needle. I agree we need big changes, mostly in industry and electricity generation (because that’s where most of the carbon is emitted); transportation is important too, but less so. Zoning changes of the scale we’re quibbling over? Pretty close to zero.
I think we may have been through this before, but I think we disagree on whether infill is big enough to matter carbon-wise. In residential carbon, the four big sources are home energy use, transportation, buying non-food stuff, and buying food. Building smaller, connected, newer, more efficient, close-in housing units addresses three out of the four. And although infill would only hit a small percentage of parcels every year, over decades it would be transformative. It’s how cities like New York grew to be their densities.
If people buy less “stuff,” that heavily impacts commercial & industrial energy use. This is a big deal, not a nibble around the edges. Even Oregon’s clean electricity act takes decades to make the transition just to 50% renewables, and substantial dense infill could be on the same order of magnitude if you count all the impacts.
I love this city, but if I thought it would make meaningful contribution to climate change, I’d be willing to burn it to the ground. Reducing Portland’s emissions to 0 will not change anything on the global level. As for the much more modest changes we’re discussing…
That thought pattern is one of the big reasons why humanity hasn’t done much to address climate change so far. “Well, my little old jurisdiction doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things so we won’t do what’s in our power because we don’t like it.” Most cities, states, heck countries have said the same thing. To take the most extreme example – even the reductions that CHINA could realistically make in the mid-term only amount to say 10% of global carbon emissions, which wouldn’t make a crazy huge difference on its own given how much carbon has already been emitted and the ensuing temperature rise baked in. To be successful globally, each jurisdiction considering a potential climate change action X needs to ask, “If every other jurisdiction did X, is the climate impact of THAT worth doing?” And if every U.S. urban jurisdiction greatly increased small multifamily development in appropriate areas, yes, that would make a substantial carbon difference over time. I’d guess in super rough numbers that in 50 years, we could have an additional 20% of the national population in inner-city multifamily, and compared to suburban single-family, that has a huge carbon impact.
10% would be pretty significant. I hear what you’re saying, but the numbers just don’t add up. There isn’t that much energy in the residential sector. Where cities might be able to make a difference is if they could change where their power came from, or regulate their industry (somehow). But zoning?
Really enjoying this thread – just wanted to add that it seems to me that Portland can indeed affect the planet by demonstrating that carbon reduction is not merely possible but also desirable – that a mid-size city can be socially just and economically thriving while getting to sustainable emissions. We’ve got a shot to prove that in the absence of national action. Lots of cities don’t.
That said, the things I like about Portland have nothing to do with the physical characteristics of the buildings and everything to do with the people inside and in between them. So for me personally, changing the city’s appearance in order to avoid Carmelification is a win win. I feel for those who disagree.
In any case, the science is pretty clear that proximity is good for biking. 🙂
Depends on your definition of “not much.” Energy use occurring at residences alone is about 20% of total U.S. energy use (20 quadrillion BTU out of ~97 quadrillion BTU per this graph: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=21012). Which in itself is significant in my thinking. BUT, residential locations have extremely large impacts on the transportation sector’s energy use, so let’s say half of the transportation sector’s 26% is at play, getting us to 33%. And, people who live in smaller multifamily residences buy less stuff (because they don’t have the space for it), which ultimately impacts global industrial and agricultural energy use. Overall, I’d say the share of U.S.-influenced energy consumption that is in play for reduction by people living in smaller, connected, centrally located residences is about 40%. Not that the reduction would be 40%, just that that’s the amount that’s possible to reduce (the denominator).
These proposals will not going to lead to a meaningful carbon reduction. Maybe it will make some people feel better, like recycling glass does, but it isn’t going to slow the warming of the planet.
Hello Kitty, It would help if you occasionally backed up the black and white statements you make with evidence. This might save you from having people like me challenge your glib statements:
(My previous comment was a response to Michael). Alex, in response to your “depends on your definition of not much” comment we can build new town centers based on small units and intense densities. If they are popular, and work, we can build more. South Riverfront presents one possible model. Is that what you want more of?
H, K., I would like to see just about every single family home in inner portland replaced with with well-designed sustainable multifamily housing.
“Portland can indeed affect the planet by demonstrating that carbon reduction is not merely possible but also desirable – that a mid-size city can be socially just and economically thriving while getting to sustainable emissions. We’ve got a shot to prove that in the absence of national action. Lots of cities don’t.”
I like the idea of being an example, and of sweeping our own doorsteps, etc. but want to point out that nothing we’re doing at the City level comes close to being climate neutral, or sustainable, or any of the other things we’d like to imagine. I’ve been working for twenty years on developing household level strategies and techniques for eliminating carbon emissions. Ninety percent reductions are possible, but we haven’t developed a culture, a sense of urgency, or the priorities to make even this happen. In the meantime all this talk about efficiency is just hot air. Most of the buildings being built right now in Portland are very efficient, but for all we know they use more energy per square foot or per capita than the buildings they replaced. Our metrics don’t capture this very well.
I know you would. It sounds like a place like NYC might offer exactly what you’re looking for.
I find this attitude to be repugnant. the actions of individuals matter because we make up society as whole.
Very few individuals can impact global climate by changing their emission profile. Where individuals can make a difference is by working to change policies that matter, such as imposing a carbon tax, or reducing the use of coal. But even if you reduce your carbon footprint to 0, repugnant as the thought is, it won’t make any difference.
It seems a bit ironic, but the place an individual can make a difference is by collective action.
It may be repugnant to you, but H,K makes sense. If Oregon, Washington and California were dumped into the ocean tonight, there would be no measureable impact on global warming. Pretty much the same if North America were wiped off the map tonight. Would not make a difference. The entire world is spewing gas and will continue to do so as long as there is something left to burn, or eat.
The earth does not care. It will do what it has always done: spin around and around, heating up, cooling down, heating up, cooling down, for millions of years after we’re gone.
could either of you please point out where anyone argued that eating a vegan diet, avoiding travel, consuming less, or living in a tiny apartment/home has any overall impact on ACC. individuals often choose to challenge the status quo based on their beliefs/ethics and their desire to manifest change via individual symbolism and/or direct action.
i fervently hope that both of practice what you preach and refuse to vote since this individual “action” has virtually no impact on the overall outcome.
I hate to admit it publicly, but I am an awful hypocrite in this regard. While I publicly state that as an individual, it is all but impossible to have any effect of ACC through personal actions, I do work very hard to reduce my CO2 footprint and believe my lifestyle would compare favorably to the vast majority of my fellow Portlanders. I also vote, I’m sorry to say.
Yes, I want more South Waterfronts, for sure! But I also want more of Rachel B’s duplexes, and more garden apartments, and more low/mid-rise developments like on Division. An “All of the above” strategy on multifamily (except for locating it in sprawly areas like Pleasant Valley or the far Southwest) rolling up to an “All of the above” strategy on climate change.
Detroit and Chicago have tens of thousands of vacant lots or houses. Chicago is currently giving away something like 1,000 houses for $1 each. The city has lost what, 500,000 residents over the past decade?
Maybe 1,000,000? I’d leave too if I lived there.
My 1,000,000 is over several decades, not one decade.
The cities of Detroit & Chicago (and many others in the Midwest) lost people, mostly during the long 1980s recession, but their metropolitan populations all grew, and continue to grow. Much of this growth was (and still is) fueled by expanded freeways and roadways, which help sprawl, but also allow for more affordable housing, as long as you drive and continue to work. If you don’t or can’t drive, or you are unemployed, then such areas suck – but people still move there.
Metropolitan Portland is unusual, maybe unique in the USA, in having not built any new freeways since 1992 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Clark County Washington has new freeways, though.
My house (built 1928) was built from a kit, all the 2″x12″s that sheet it under the siding have numbers and are color coded. As are many of them in my neighborhood. Manufactured houses aren’t new by any means.
Honestly, with all the work I’ve done to update it (plumbing, electric etc) and fix it up along with the work I have yet to gone through, the carbon footprint is likely a push considering things that were (or are still) in the house like asbestos (shingles and HVAC tape) and lead paint lead solder in the pipes. Especially when you consider I have picture trim, old growth 2’x12′ sheeting, old wood floors all of which probably nearly worth as much in material than the structure itself is worth. Really about the only thing that would get tossed in a demo would be the lath and plaster walls, the remaining old pipes, and the crappy fireplace mantel that I suspect was remodeled in the 50’s.
As for the last question, the same house (literally see above) across the street is about to go to market as a flip, and the asking price is much higher (50k) than I thought it would be, and I suspect it will sell for more than asking. The old place was in disrepair, now it’s totally cute and we’ll get some new neighbors – hopefully ones that don’t yell at their kids so much.I don’t mind one single bit.
Don’t get too bent out of shape worrying about the carbon footprint of your homes. There are about 2,000,000 motor vehicles registered in the metro area. The carbon footprint of your home makes almost no difference – we’re spewing plenty of carbon even if you live in an unconditioned tent.
Obviously there’s a high carbon footprint impact involved in tearing down a house and replacing it with a new one.
What is the build quality of new homes compared to old ones being demolished? You sound like you think old ones are better, but that’s often not true.
What does the neighbor do to the neighborhood when he sells to a developer to have his house torn down? That depends.
There are pros and cons to replacing structures, and there are lots of questions to ask besides yours, that cast replacement in a better light. For instance, what’s the environmental cost of keeping close-in neighborhoods at extremely low densities? Should mediocre old houses be preserved rather than replaced with better-designed, better-constructed structures that provide homes for two or three households on the same land?
“What is the build quality of new homes compared to old ones being demolished? You sound like you think old ones are better, but that’s often not true.”
We can and should talk about this more. In fact we did at some length in an earlier Real Estate Beat topic. Let’s see… Oh, yeah, right here:
“what’s the environmental cost of keeping close-in neighborhoods at extremely low densities?”
Is our infill, by and large, increasing density? Where I live (quiet side streets) the square footage per lot is going way up, but the number of people per lot is not, or not by much.
Large apartment buildings of course are doing plenty to increase density on blocks or streets or intersections where they are going in and this is great in my opinion, but I’m wary of painting with too broad of a brush, setting p straw men.
“Should mediocre old houses be preserved rather than replaced with better-designed, better-constructed structures that provide homes for two or three households on the same land?”
Show me where this is happening. Not that I’ve seen. I could imagine it would, but the developers who are building in the inner SE that I’ve had a chance to watch are building (just barely) to code, which tends to mean extremely quick, cheap, and crappy. Lots of OSB, caulk, plastic. There is no way those structures will last a fraction of the time that the ones they replaced did.
A building that is (just barely) to current code is going to be vastly better constructed than our older housing stock. Many people like the aesthetics of craftsman homes, but the idea that they represent some kind of Golden Age in construction techniques isn’t true.
We keep having this conversation, maccoinnich. You have made it clear that you take an expansive view of better constructed to include earthquake safety and thermal comfort, but the rest of us, for the most part, I think were explicitly or implicitly talking, specifically, about longevity. Can you please document your claims? I’d love to understand why you think this.
I’ll attempt to clarify where I’m coming from on this:
Old housing stock (structure/envelope): no glues, no caulks, much denser, tighter grain fir, no insulation so few of the places to trap moisture that seems to always find a way into the walls. Wood windows. CVG wood siding, no vertical seams.
New housing stock: second growth fir studs with sometimes as little as 2-3 growth rings per inch, and almost never four straight corners, sopping wet when installed. Mostly OSB for sheathing. Nail gun nails are thinner, sometimes shorter, and don’t hold nearly as well. The speed with which these structures are thrown up makes attention to detail very difficult, which is where all the caulked seams come in. Hardiboard siding with lots and lots of vertical seams. Vinyl windows. I could go on but it is too depressing.
I don’t doubt that for enough money one could build a beautiful, durable house today, but I almost never see it done. And with the high performance expectations we have for houses today, the risk of screwing up, and trapping moisture on even the highest end houses is very real (and larger than on the old houses you love to excoriate here).
You are correct: my definition of “better construction” does include the fact that newly built buildings are far less likely to kill their inhabitants in the event of an earthquake. Or in a fire. Or in a landslide. You might not like OSB, but it has vastly better shear performance than the 1x sheathing that was randomly nailed onto houses 100 years ago. 100 years ago no one was putting rebar into concrete, or anchoring the framing into the foundations. (For those unfamiliar with construction: those are very very bad things for seismic performance). Wood members were attached together by simple nailing (or sometimes nothing more than gravity) instead of using the engineered connections we use now. Old growth timber is lovely, sure, but that doesn’t compensate for the fact that members were often greatly undersized for their spans, which is why it’s not uncommon to see floors or roofs in old Portland houses that are deflecting by inches.
I also find it funny that you would place “no insulation” in the list of positives for older buildings. The embodied energy involved in manufacturing insulation is dwarfed by the amount of energy it will save over the lifespan of a building. Modern building codes require insulation, and quite rightly so.
“I also find it funny that you would place ‘no insulation’ in the list of positives for older buildings. ”
You are so focused on earth quakes that you can’t see that the rest of us were talking about longevity/durability/what you get from quality materials. I am perhaps the biggest fan of insulation you’ll ever meet. I am in the habit of going to 8 or even 11 inches of insulation in the houses I get a chance to renovate. But I am under no illusions that *from the perspective of longevity* your average house without insulation will last much longer than your average house with insulation, because of the fact that insulation will trap water inside your walls which it will eventually find a way into.
As for earthquake safety—which no one else here is talking about and I don’t think is terribly relevant to the dimensions of housing we’ve been talking about, but since you’re so focused on it—I’m curious what you think about the prevalent mindset that would have us bolt everything down to the strongest foundation we can afford vs. base isolation, putting in place features that will, essentially do the opposite: separate the poor little house from the awesome forces of an earthquake? In our rush to keep houses from falling into basements (and I’ve done this myself, don’t get me wrong) we may be unwittingly also setting our houses up for pulverization in a big enough earthquake. What do you think? Is base isolation a bad idea for residential structures, or are we not pursuing it because Simpson Strongtie is doing such a brisk business selling us long shiny steel brackets?
I think that in the Pacific Northwest it’s impossible to have a discussion about longevity/durability of our building stock, and do it without discussion of earthquakes.
You have a point, but I also think this is unhelpful because it introduces another (anachronistic) variable.
If we were to look at durability under normal use and weather we’d get one set of insights about the typical older and typical newer house (my comparison)
If we were to look at durability in the face of the kind of massive earthquake we are expecting here in the PNW, we would then have to also define what we mean by longevity. Most studies I’ve seen don’t actually treat the structure as usable after an earthquake such as we’re talking about, they just make claims for the survivability of the occupants. Buildings that are isolated from the ground’s movements I think make a more plausible claim to durability post earthquake, but this isn’t the kind of thing you’re talking about.
It’s absolutely true that the building codes currently in effect are written to prevent loss of life and serious injury, and not to ensure that structures are undamaged (or even usable) after an earthquake. That’s not to say however that a building built to current codes is as likely to be damaged beyond economic repair as a building built in earlier decades is.
Let’s say there is an earthquake that has a similar effect on Portland as the 1994 Northridge earthquake did on Los Angeles. It’s very easy to imagine that many of the beautiful early 20th century unreinforced masonry apartments will (very sadly) be destroyed, while newer apartments have only cosmetic damage.
Anyway, the original point I was trying to make is that we’ve learned a lot about building science in the last hundred years. I’m not making an argument for tearing down every structure built before a certain date. (Indeed I get really excited when old buildings can be adaptively reused in creative ways; side note – the recently opened Pine Street Market is pretty awesome). What I’m saying is that there are many construction techniques that were standard in previous eras, and are now (rightly) prohibited. This matters a lot for earthquakes, but also to other major areas such as energy consumption, fire protection, crowd control, occupant health (think lead, asbestos) and, yes, building lifespan.
You make some great points, and I agree with a lot of them. But you don’t seem very open to the possibility that maximizing more than one variable, never mind half a dozen will involve tradeoffs, and that – just maybe – our focus on, for instance, improving thermal comfort has come at the expense of, for instance, longevity.
“What I’m saying is that there are many construction techniques that were standard in previous eras, and are now (rightly) prohibited. This matters a lot for earthquakes, but also to other major areas such as energy consumption, fire protection, crowd control, occupant health (think lead, asbestos) and, yes, building lifespan.”
If you are not familiar with Joe Lstiburek’s work I highly recommend it.
I’m going to guess that Lstiburek wouldn’t build a house in Portland without eaves!
Do you really expect that in 100 years, these recently built houses are going to be in as good condition as our older housing stock (given a comparable level of maintenance)?
Probably yes. If we have a major earthquake in the next 100 years, then definitely yes.
Why is it relevant what a property will look like in 100 years? What can you say with confidence about the year 2116?
Imagine someone in 1916. Do you care what they think should or should not be around today? Do you think people in 2116 will sweat much thinking about what we today think should or should not be around then?
I won’t pretend to speak for Hello, Kitty, but for me, durability is one of the supreme values. Given the constraints (material, energetic), and limits (climate, population, land area) we’re bumping up against and experiencing, not to mention the costs of building a house from scratch the way our codes require it (no dumpster diving allowed!) I think building for the long haul has value and meaning. I realize full well that cheap, short lived construction is part of our heritage, but I happen to have learned how to build houses in a country where a different set of priorities obtain and have not felt any need to jump ship.
My husband and I wanted to keep our 100+ y/o house (duplex) because we find great value in the old materials–the house had held up well under some pretty heavy use (and neglect) for 115 years!
Like many of Portland’s old houses, it’s sturdy, which is not an adjective I’d apply to a lot of new construction. We didn’t ever look into razing it/rebuilding but based on what I’ve read about new construction, it was more cost effective to keep it and update systems, get a seismic retrofit, thicken walls and insulate them like crazy. We did also get a heat pump but the insulation is so good, we don’t have to use it much after the first day. Ditto the heat (house holds it after initial use). It’s not a Passivhaus but the insulation’s not far from that.
The house had been serially remuddled in the ’70s and ’80s by the previous owner so there was nothing to preserve on the interior (except the–beneath 10 layers of asbestos tile & linoleum & vinyl–beautiful subflooring, which is now the flooring flooring). This saved a lot of $$, I realize, as did keeping the footprint of the house intact. If it had been an intact Craftsman, it’d likely have been a different matter. Those houses are a work of art. I can see how it’d be a tough job to update systems in that case, but still doable. I believe these solid, well-remodeled/updated old homes will hold their value longer than the vast majority of homes being built now, and they’re more likely to increase in value than those homes.
When I said I’m in favor of making it easier for folks to convert their existing homes to duplexes/triplexes, I was thinking mainly of folks like me and mine–existing homeowners interested in doing this. It does worry me that this policy change may enable more carpetbagging, so I think they need to be really explicit and careful about delineating the where, what and who.
9watts and Hello, Kitty
Durability is a desirable characteristic and you’re free to value it as you will. But it’s not the only desirable characteristic housing can possess. Affordability, location, space, efficiency- all of these and more are potentially desirable characteristics too. I think other people, who aren’t you and who don’t necessarily share your ranking of these traits, should be free to value them as they would.
Indeed, and they are free to do so.
“But it’s not the only desirable characteristic housing can possess. Affordability, location, space, efficiency- all of these and more are potentially desirable characteristics too. I think other people, who aren’t you and who don’t necessarily share your ranking of these traits, should be free to value them as they would.”
Where did that come from?
Is this a straw man? Did anyone (did I) suggest otherwise?
For that matter why are you placing them opposite each other? Why couldn’t an affordable house also be durable? Or an efficient house? And location… what does that have to do with durability or lack thereof?
I look at this the other way around. If you start with (the goal of) a durable house don’t forget to skimp on those other objectives. Why is that so hard?
“Is this a straw man? Did anyone (did I) suggest otherwise?”
9watts, so when you say “durability is one of the supreme values” or
when Hello, Kitty says “Do you really expect that in 100 years, these recently built houses are going to be in as good condition as our older housing stock” or
when Rachel B says “When I said I’m in favor of making it easier for folks to convert their existing homes to duplexes/triplexes, I was thinking mainly of folks like me and mine–existing homeowners interested in doing this”
those statements aren’t meant to be indicative of a policy preference? They’re just opinions one might share like “my favorite color is blue” or “I hate the NY Yankees”? If so I misunderstood.
Of course it is a policy preference. But no more than that.
Your previous comment suggested it was an edict, a law, something no one was allowed to disagree with.
from your comment: “I think other people, who aren’t you and who don’t necessarily share your ranking of these traits, should be free to value them as they would.”
That was what I was objecting to.
I also note that you didn’t respond to any of my questions about why you see these as oppositional, perhaps even mutually exclusive? Why do you feel that my fondness for durability impinges on the value others’ place on efficiency or location?
What would a policy based on the premise that durability was “one of the supreme values” look like? Not on Mars or some other arbitrary context, but here in Portland now with the housing debate the city is having, the political alignments we have, and the building materials and practices we have?
I think the most likely policy would be more stringent building requirements- a requirement that new housing be more to your liking and less to the liking of those who don’t share your valuation of housing traits. Would you expect otherwise? What?
If you have some building practice or material in mind that is more durable without effecting affordability, by all means please share.
“What would a policy based on the premise that durability was ‘one of the supreme values’ look like?”
Well, one approach would be to scrap the building codes we have since they require all manner of inferior materials (grade stamped lumber that is second growth, plywood that is no longer flat, mass produced windows with low-e glazing, etc. If you shift our present rather indirect and imperfect method of holding builders accountable through the building codes to some other method (I’m open to suggestions) then those who build for themselves or their friends are free to do so (like before building codes). Maccoinnich might have a heart attack right about now, but I don’t have the antipathy to the older construction practices that he seems to. I don’t see either of these suggestions as gaining much traction but they reflect my sense of what might deliver better results, or at least not preclude those better results. The devil is in the details.
It is also worth keeping in mind how much we’ve managed to screw up following our current approach. Sick building syndrome, concerns about indoor air quality, & mold are all related to the methods now prescribed and the peculiar failures they have generated.
“If you have some building practice or material in mind that is more durable without effecting affordability, by all means please share.”
Do you not understand that durability and affordability are linked?
Maybe not. A lot of people buy cheap stuff because it’s “all they can afford”.
Either way, affordability is a relative term, complicated further by the way people build/buy properties. We start building with the selling price, and design around that. We don’t sacrifice quality for price. We sacrifice quality for an extra bedroom and an expensive counter top.
“building codes we have since they require all manner of inferior materials (grade stamped lumber that is second growth, plywood that is no longer flat, mass produced windows with low-e glazing, etc”
Please feel free to cite the sections of the building codes that require these, and then explain why you think getting rid of the building codes would make the use of these products less common. (i.e., if we didn’t have building codes that dictated safety and energy standards for windows, would hand built windows suddenly become more common?)
Not only what it will look like, but whether its design is still valid functionally. I agree with people who think structures should be built well, and designed with the idea they won’t become obsolete any time soon. But the reality is that buildings do become obsolete, or at least the context for which they were designed changes so much that it doesn’t make sense to save them. Example–houses built on a quiet street that over time becomes an arterial, and perhaps is widened. What was a nice house becomes almost unlivable, even if it remains structurally sound.
I care because it seems wasteful to rip down a durable structure to replace it with something shoddily built with shoddy materials. It’s a step backwards.
Many of the immigrants from Europe who came to Portland in the years immediately before World War One came from countries where folks really were concerned about building houses and apartments that would last centuries, so yes, I do think folks then would care that their constructions of 1916 would last through 2016, and even beyond for the next 2-3 hundred years.
Where are these well designed, well constructed structures being built?
I’ve observed that in Washington County, almost every new development in the past 15 years has had envelope leak issues that required contractors to come in years later and tear apart the exterior walls and fix them. I would place much of the blame for that on the fact that modern housing units have almost no eaves overhanging the walls to prevent the walls/windows from being deluged with water during every storm. Guess they thought we lived in the desert – but even there eaves would protect the house somewhat from the sun.
I’ve never understood why you would build a house in this climate without eaves.
I’ve always assumed they build new houses that way because it’s marginally cheaper, no? I hate the stingy look it gives a residence…
Dan–it is a bit cheaper, which is probably the most typical reason. But there can be other reasons, for instance zoning limits on “lot coverage” in some jurisdictions count roof area, so eaves penalize you, building code regulations that require extra fire protection for eaves close to property lines (which I guess counts as a cost issue) etc.
And what do you propose to change the economics driving demolitions? Right now, modest homes in amenity-rich neighborhoods are selling for $300,000 to $500,000 and more. Do you know someone who is going to pay that and live in a 100-year old 900 square foot house? I don’t.
That house is, unfortunately, going away. The question is, what will replace it. If, as under current rules, the replacement is a single-family house, it will be quite large (big carbon footprint) and sell for $750,000 to more than $1 million. If, on the other hand, we loosen the codes and allow multiple smaller units, they will sell for considerably less. Not affordable to everyone, but MORE affordable–maybe within the reach of school teachers, firefighters, etc. Otherwise such folks will be pushed further and further away from jobs, services, shopping. What’s the carbon cost of that?
We have a choice right now about how our city will grow. We can continue the current trend of reserving the walkable, bikeable, close-in neighborhoods for the rich, or we can allow development of “missing middle” housing in those neighborhoods and retain some economic diversity. I wish us discernment.
My house and the house being flipped I mentioned in the post above are both about 950 sq. feet if you don’t include the basements. Neither of our houses can honestly boast a finished basement (even though the flipper includes it in the houses description).
If that house sells for what they are asking, our houses fit quite nicely in the middle of the price range you mention. Thanks to the small house movement, smaller footprints are actually more desirable than they use to be. I know I prefer a smaller footprint, lets me spend more time doing stuff I want to do rather than tending to endless cleaning and yard chores, which was one of the reasons I bought this house over others on the list.
Another option would be to buy the house, split the lot and add onto the 900 sq ft house.
Carbon-wise, a few years of heating, cooling and lighting for a building can easily equal the embodied energy in a house. You’d have to look at the exact lifecycle cost analysis and the specific design and materials used, however. Concrete basements, for instance, greatly increase the carbon footprint for a structure as opposed to simple footings or slab on grade.
A net zero house, however, uses basically no energy. So for 50 to 100 year lifespans for a house, it would be better to tear down an old energy hog house to build one of those.
Do people really cool their houses in Portland? Not to many older houses have AC. All my lights are CFs or LEDs; even for older houses or apartments, those are trivial retrofits. So I’d bet on quite a few years.
Swapped out my oil furnace for an electric heat pump, in the summer it runs backward, so yes I got AC and I’m not afraid to use it. The new heat pump works at a fraction of the cost of the oil, and it freed up about 15 square feet in the basement when I decommissioned the tank. And our electric bill went down because the new heat pump used less power than the blowers on the furnace. Now my house has very little insulation and I can’t blow infill into the wall until my electric is 100% upgraded and the old wires removed, so on the 100 degree days the heat pump has problems keeping up, but most the time it’s fine.
But it doesn’t end there, to install the heat pump, my electric panel had to be upgraded, which then allowed me to switch to an electric on-demand water heater which again reduced my electric bill and useage while also giving me pretty much unlimited hot water.
The panel upgrade also meant upgrading the meter to the house which runs both ways and is compliant for when I’ve saved enough to go solar in the next couple years. (but first, I need to redo the roof to metal so I can collect and treat the water for potable uses).
By the time I get this house the way I want it, it will have pretty much been demoed and rebuilt. I’m just doing it over decades and not in a month or two.
Cooling may not be needed in summer if you don’t have a lot of glass exposed to the sun in the summer – for example if you have nice eaves or a porch to keep the sun off the windows. Or if you have big shade trees to shade the house from the sun – something that older homes sometimes have that newer homes may not. If you have windows that you can open up at night that aren’t a security risk (2nd floor, big dog burglar alarm, etc) then you can cool the house down on most summer nights enough to make it through the next day. Box fan in upstairs window pulling air up through the house all night will help – but you need “safe” windows downstairs to do that.
Curtains can help.
Yes, but probably best if the sunlight is interrupted before it goes thru the glass window. In the Midwest where I live we use awnings to keep sunlight off the windows in summer – they help a lot.
“So for 50 to 100 year lifespans for a house, it would be better to tear down an old energy hog house to build one of those.”
I love all these caricatures. Do you know that older houses use more energy per occupant or per lot than the new ones? I know of a number of studies that show otherwise. The breathless pursuit of energy efficiency is not all it’s cracked up to be. It makes my head hurt.
And where do the lifespan figures come from? I’m working on three 19th Century houses right now: 1870, 1878, 1894. All were built by people who had very little money, but with some attention (from me) are still going strong. No dumpsters for me, expect other people’s, which I treat as repositories of usable materials 🙂
But this has everything to do with (a) the expected lifetime of the building, and (b) the habits of the occupants. I can show you very old houses with tiny energy budgets (current and life cycle) for which both the embodied and ongoing energy demands are very low, and I can show you new houses that have very high embodied energy that won’t be amortized well at all over the (short) life of the structure, where the use energy is also very high because of all the features and climate control built in.
Exactly right. The behavior of the operators totally dominates the equation. When I visit relatives who live in new house, I can see where they waste staggering amounts of energy that would far exceed a mindful operator in an old “inefficient” house.
I know people who run their clothes washer every day to wash their clothes when they get home from their office jobs. 🙂
Basement might give you some options for energy storage not found in a house without a basement.
Some folks, as they age, need to come up with cash to put toward retirement. This is for many reasons, many of those reasons not politically correct to mention among liberals, so I’ll spare your tender, easily offended minds. Thus, these folks who need cash must sell their home that they can no longer afford, to come up with cash so they can survive and have ANY roof over their heads in their retirement years. It’s their property and they should be able to sell it to a developer if that is what they want to do and NO ONE should be able to stop them.
Quote: “Today, those neighborhoods are the city’s most walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly — but since 1959, city code has made it illegal to build more neighborhoods like that.”
As Ronald Reagan said:
Government isn’t the solution to our problems; government is the problem.
He had more brain power in his fart gas than all of today’s Oregon politicians have between their ears combined.
Yet in this case, the government is looking at dismantling some of the barriers that the government erected, which will give property owners more options for what to do with their property, private individuals more options for housing…that doesn’t sound like the government being a problem. It sounds almost Reaganesque (and remember, Reagan was also the government).
When they quit “looking at dismantling some of the barriers” and actually do it, then perhaps we can give them some credit for alleviating the problem they created.
I was thinking “not widespread” in the sense that it’s not impacting housing availability and affordability as much as some other things, but yes, it’s “widespread” as far as already having taken scores of units entirely out of the long-term housing stock, and started to impact housing prices in at least some neighborhoods.
See the second chart: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html
Making our buildings more efficient applies to the 6% slice
Improving transportation options applies to the 14% slice
The policies we’re arguing over here will likely have some impact on both of these slices, but probably won’t make a huge dent. And, most critically, Portland represents just 609,456 / 318.9 million (both numbers from Google) = 2 tenths of a percent of US poulation, which is itself just a tad over 4% of world population (though with a higher climate impact per person than most other conutries).
Therefore, I contend even the most progressive zoning regulations Portland can invent will have no meaningful impact on global climate, and your individual contributions will have even less.
Interesting. Seems like the more powerful, effective thing you could do at the individual level is to stop traveling by air. And personal car. And don’t have kids, but adopt if your heart is there.
Yeah, but not many people want to hear that not having children is the best way to save ourselfs. Sounds a bit Orwellian.
fecundity in the usa and most developed nations is shrinking. population growth in developing nations is not. the most effective approach to limiting population growth is to to support family planning and welfare in developing nations. i donate to PSI and oxfam for this very reason.
But soren, given our grossly outsize levels of consumption in the US (compared to the rest of the world)., having a child here has way more impact on resources, waste etc. than having a child in a developing nation.
…I’m completely with you about supporting family planning and women’s health services in developing countries. Educating and empowering girls has a huge impact on birthrates, too.
Yes, that’s true (most people don’t want to hear it), but it does need to be said. And it’s only Orwellian if we force people to not have children, which I’m not suggesting. I do think we can stop encouraging, mythologizing and incentivizing (if that’s a word) it, though. And we can talk about it in realistic terms instead of wanly being led around by our biological imperative and desire for posterity and last-ditch, ego-driven fumbling about to bring ‘meaning’ and purpose into our lives (and someone to take care of us when we’re old). I’m a big fan of good parents, and I like kids. But too many people give bringing them into the (more and more gobbled up) world way too little thought.
There are certain people I _want_ to have children, because they are the ones who are going to grow up and save the world.
Hmm. The same woman that begat Jimmy Carter begat…Billy Carter. What Hoarders has taught me (oh, wise show!) is that you really cannot predict what’s going to emerge from any given woman’s womb.
I get what you’re saying, though. I hope one of those poor little blighters does save the world.
Since the plane is going to fly with you or without you, traveling by air may well be better than by car, which will stay in your garage of you don’t use it.
flying is one of the most efficient ways to travel:
I’m with rachelb all the way on how to go about this.
soren, are you (and UCS) for real? This has to be the dumbest thing I’ve read in ages. Flying the most efficient?! With friends like these who needs enemies?
measured on an individual basis flying is typically more efficient than driving. and over longer distances flying can be more efficient than train travel. the results are not controversial or surprising and echo those of other lcas:
if people are going to make informed decisions about the pollution they *choose* to generate an evidence-based approach is essential.
O.K., point for you. I’d forgotten about Arpad Horvath’s famous study. But our understanding of the relative risks of these modes also keeps changing: http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/09/evolving-climate-math-of-flying-vs-driving/
Unfortunately for you and Arpad, though, our understanding of the implication of climate change for our consumption patterns is rapidly evolving. Back in 2009 basically no one had yet gotten on board with the idea that we needed to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Once this idea took hold (and it is going to take some time to fully register) we will necessarily conclude that comparative studies like this, that measure efficiencies of different fossil fuel based transportation modes are no longer helpful, or worse, are dangerous distractions from the challenge before us.
It doesn’t matter that flying in a wide body jet produces 20% or 200% more or fewer tons of greenhouse gases per passenger km than driving in a hybrid passenger car because we need to figure out how to stop doing both, yesterday.
My employer is putting me on a plane to Dallas tomorrow. It’s just money, and not very much in the whole scheme of what they’re paying me.
The “problem” with petroleum is it’s such a damn good value. It could double, triple, and it would still be a steal. Assuming, of course, that you’re externalizing the negatives. \
We’re never going to leave it in the ground. Realistically, we all have to realize that. Right?
9watts, we agree 100% on the need for drastic changes in our collective consumption patterns.
I read the report you linked to, soren, and find no evidence for your claim that flying is (one of) the most efficient ways to travel. The report (like many from UCS) stinks: Nowhere do they problematize the whole idea of long distance vacation travel, suggest that you could or perhaps should, stay home and have just as much fun, or go for a bike tour, or otherwise eschew fossil fuels. They are so wrapped up in flattering Middle Class consumption tastes that they can’t bring themselves to question these all-too-familiar habits.
Amtrak is encouraging travel on their trains because their carbon footprint is lower than flying. Besides that, many (myself included) prefer Amtrak because you don’t have to get up hours early just to stand in a slow-moving security line at the concourse entrance. And they’re downtown to downtown in most cases. Yeah, trains do have to wait for freight trains, but tbat’s better than being stuck on a freeway jammed with cars that generally only have one person per car – the driver.
As for our housing situation, something’s gotta give. We have 1,000 people a week moving here – mostly from SF Bay, the Hwy. 99 corridor in CA, and Texas. Tearing down affordable homes to build housing that prices most average people out of the city and farther into the suburbs just doesn’t feel right. Changing city regulations to reflect the reality on the ground is a must, or we’ll have a beltway of land just outside (or just inside) the Urban Growth Boundary consisting of people who got priced out from living closer to Portland because the developers of these new structures priced them out – and because the city and Metro did nothing about it. That’s where we’re headed if nothing changes now.
From the report:
When choosing seats, avoid first class. Because
a first-class seat takes twice as much space
as an economy seat, a first-class traveler on
domestic flights is responsible for twice as
much carbon as someone flying coach.
This is clearly wrong. When I book a first class seat (which I’ve only done once) I am quite sure the number of seats on the plane doesn’t change. The amount of space you take is exactly 1 seat (unless you bring your cello), on a plane that is flying with you or without you. Which seat you are in doesn’t matter. The space allocated to that seat doesn’t matter. All that matters is the mass you add to the aircraft.
Well….. this is a rather individualistic take on the subject. If, for instance, we were able to organize a consumer boycott of air travel (let’s imagine) and as a consequence our individual objections to flying made ripples that started resulting in cancelled flights, you might agree that this could have salutary effects on our automatic reliance on airplanes for certain kinds of long distance travel. The argument that the seat is going to fly anyway, whether I am sitting in it or someone else or no one, is not to me at least a very strong argument.
I am an individual. I can only control myself. Whether or not I organize a boycott of air travel is orthogonal to the question of what I do for my holiday.
And even if a flight is empty, the plane will still fly if it is needed elsewhere for the next flight. And you can be sure the airlines will offer cheaper fares to fill those seats. Someone’s going to take advantage.
A carbon tax might encourage people to fly less, and is probably the best way to affect things at the systems level, which is where any meaningful change needs to occur. My choices alone are not enough.
if you believe that airlines will fly empty planes out of the goodness of their heart i have a bridge to sell you. our individual choices make a difference in aggregate (and due to their influence on others).
Hold on to that bridge! Reread my post! If the plane needs to be somewhere to fly another route, they’ll fly it empty. That’s why a snowstorm on the east coast can affect flights around the west coast.
Hello, Kitty, on average, across the whole industry, the number of planes flown is proportional to the amount of space taken up by people. If you don’t fly, you contribute to an economic environment in which airlines fly fewer planes. On average, if you decide to fly economy rather than first class and take up less space on the plane, you’ll over time impact the first-class/economy-class seat split of new planes and then the fleet as a whole. Yes, it’s a small, indirect, and delayed impact, but it is there, and because markets match supply and demand, it’s approximately equal to the carbon impact that Soren cited.
Not only that, but if (and I know you don’t think much of this, Ms./Mr. Kitty) you were to try to scale up your consumer boycott of airline seats you can see the potential for your individual action to ripple outwards, start to register at the top. I know we are utterly unused to thinking in these ways anymore but once upon a time this got people excited.
Yes, you are both right that through collective action a mass of consumers can exert change on an industry. I am not prepared to organize such a boycott at this time, and until someone else does, I can at most inflict a trivial wound on the airline industry. So trivial in fact, that they will never even know I have struck.
What will happen to the people who will lose jobs because of the slowing economy from your carbon tax?
Cheap energy is what keeps our economy running – it’s what we use to produce what we need to survive.
Probably the same thing that happened to all those put out of work by the gas tax or the sales tax. Luckily Oregon was spared that fate.
Nope. as i’ve posted here before, and gotten hated on for, the tiniest bit of research will reveal that the livestock industry produces 40% more greenhouse gasses than planes, trains, & automobiles combined. so stop yelling at people for driving cars 5 days a week if you eat meat 7 days a week. stop pretending that you care because you eat free range meat, those cows fart out more methane than factory farmed cows. stop bragging about eating bacon and hauling your 5 kids around in a bakfiets and learn how to use birth control. stop using a computer made of toxic chemicals to lecture everyone else about how “green” you are. let he who has zero carbon footprint (not one person here) throw the first stone.
you are citing global numbers. as my link above showed, residential energy consumption in the usa is a huge issue. our housing and our lifestyle is incredibly destructive.
It’s a global problem. But I agree that our housing and lifestyle is wasteful, but our housing stock is not the culprit; it’s the way we operate it. Even in dense neighborhoods, we only have a small portion of our trips made with bikes; lots of people choose to drive even when there are other options. The city’s structure isn’t the problem, it’s the city’s inhabitants. It is our lifestyle.
What we need is a carbon tax, one that starts low but grows a small but predictable amount every year, and let people pay for the emissions they create. That is what will move the needle. Tearing down our established neighborhoods will not.
Street design plays a huge part of this. I don’t feel very safe cycling in Portland. I don’t feel very safe cycling anywhere in America.
When you engineer streets primarily for cars, you’re going to get most people opting to travel via car.
That’s great, I’m in favor of a carbon tax too. But honestly, driving nationwide or even statewide legislation feels too remote, too long-term, too unsatisfying for me personally to put my energy into. I’m glad other people are working on it, yay Oregon Climate!
My personal inclination towards small wins is why I’m working on local issues that impact climate. Transportation and land-use are the climate-relevant issues for which I believe local policy can have a big impact, so I’m working on them. If you disagree with that – I’m still waiting for you to engage with the numbers I cited above, rather than just repeating a blanket statement that “zoning can’t have a sizeable impact on climate” in response to my calculations estimating the sizeable impact that it CAN have.
And, once we have a carbon tax, in my opinion, we’re STILL going to need local transportation & land-use reform, so that poor people have good options available to live a lower-cost life in a carbon-taxed world.
The “it’s our choices, not our housing stock” thought is partially true, but not all that true from my perspective. Your choices are heavily influenced by your environment. There are tons and tons of two-person households living in 2,000-square-foot+ single-family houses with central heating and cooling. There’s no way for those people to have an even vaguely comfortable living space without using a bunch of energy per capita for space heating and cooling. And, it’s human (or at least American) nature to fill the space you have with item. So since those people have so much space, they will probably fill it with (manufactured) items. The current American housing stock is very ill-suited to making easy a low-carbon lifestyle.
Do you feel that people now living in 2000 ft^2 houses will voluntarily move to small apartments? They have that choice now, and have in most cases made great financial commitment to the house. How can we convince people they’re better off living in an apartment/condo, when so many apparently disagree (even many of those here espousing the benefits of damn-the-torpedoes density increases).
Wait for the earthquake. If it’s as bad as they predict, we’ll have a more-or-less clean slate to work from, and rebuilding densely will be much more palatable.
Well, when density is prohibited in much of the city, that drives all the demand for dense living to a relatively small number of units. Those units get bid up, and some people who would have preferred dense living in the absence of density restrictions opt for single-family living further out – which comes with a much lower price per square foot, so why not get more square footage while you’re at it?
I’m one of those people. I’d love to live in a row home a few blocks from a major commercial center like Hawthorne or Hollywood. But that housing type is almost regulated out of existence in Portland, and what little is built is generally, because of zoning, on a major street or a few feet in and is therefore not appealing to me.
imo, portland’s “centers and corridors” planning reinforces nimbyism. for example, posting in favor of density on nextdoor often leads to my neighbors suggesting that i move to gateway.
That may be because your opinions on the topic are rather extreme, and to you, almost everyone is a NIMBY.
You use nimbyism as a pejorative while you continue to advocate for your own personal desires and financial interest.
Is everyone able to advocate for their own preferences, or just the people who claim the victimization high ground?
I hear the “put it in Gateway” argument from neighbors as well, for everything that they theoretically “support”, just not in their neighborhood. Everything from mixed-use development to homeless shelters is apparently fair game for Gateway.
I honestly don’t understand why the city upzoned so much of Gateway to CX/RX as if it’s going to be the next South Waterfront. There is a far greater need to upzone the closer-in neighborhoods instead, so people can live in a walkable area instead of next to two highways and a Freddie’s parking lot.
Why couldn’t it be the next South Waterfront?
Well, for one thing, instead of one freeway and a beautiful river and downtown Portland flanking it, it has TWO freeways and some boring auto-oriented commercial and residential areas flanking it.
Someday, maybe – but it won’t be because people want to develop Gateway more than other places based on inherent market demand, it’ll be because Portland prevents dense development in every other place closer-in aside from the Central City, so the development just squishes out at Gateway like toothpaste at the butt-end of a tube when the cap is screwed tightly on.
Of course you could say that South Waterfront was just a decrepit industrial area with difficult access. If you’re going to develop an area with high density and intensity, access to transportation is a good thing, and Gateway has it in spades. I’d rather transform areas that are currently not what we want, rather than transform areas that are already in high demand.
jeffs, i’m curious how my support for yimbyism* benefits me financially. i think it’s fairly obvious how homeowners benefit from double digit YOY increases in equity valuation but i have yet to figure out how i can monetize my rent payments.
*i apologize in advance for using such an incredibly offensive term. hopefully jonathan will not put me on automatic moderation for demeaning people in this manner.
“i think it’s fairly obvious how homeowners benefit from double digit YOY increases in equity valuation”
Careful there. I am a homeowner and I
(a) have every intention of living out my last days in the house I own in SE Portland,
(b) have mostly done things to it that would reduce its value to Joe Average Middle Class Home Buyer, whom I’m not the least bit interested in flattering, and
(c) wish the valuations on the houses on my block, including mine, would go nowhere, or down. This obsession with housing as a slot machine is terrible for the collective, for the community, for anyone who isn’t in it for the money, and I refuse to be lumped in with those who in my view unhelpfully view their residences that way.
“Wait for the earthquake. If it’s as bad as they predict, we’ll have a more-or-less clean slate to work from, and rebuilding densely will be much more palatable.”
Why do I suspect so strongly many newcomers dream of this moment? “Ah! Finally! Blank slate! MINE!!!” (maniacal laughter) 😉
Because you read too much BikePortland?
In addition to Soren’s note that the U.S. emissions profile is different from the global profile, you didn’t count the “electricity and heat production” pie slice, which is 25%. A bunch of that electricity and heat goes to residential buildings, it’s just that the emissions happen somewhere else (the power plant or district heating plant). And, as I argue above, a good chunk of the “industry” and “agriculture” slices could be avoided if people had less space to store more plastic junk and more cotton/leather/etc. clothes.
Stupid question I should know the answer to: If I want to complain that the vast majority of R5 west of SE 39th is not being upzoned to at least R2.5, is that too general a comment to bother sending in testimony about?
Probably not. That’d be interpreted as a call for smaller lot sizes in the central city, which is basically the same thing being advocated in the letter above.
The M’s won in the 10th tonight; which to me is about 1000x more interesting than anything in this article or comments.
Just makes me thank god I don’t live any where near Portland Oregon. You frogs are getting near the boiling point.
Har! 🙂 You are not wrong about that. The frogs, I mean.
then why are you posting here, if it is 1000x less interesting than anything else you can think of doing?
How much CO2 was belched by all the activity required to get those people to the game and how much CH4 did they expel into the atmosphere eating all those hot dogs and beer?
Not a fan of this bikeable neighborhood designation. Is this a factor of a neighborhood’s services or the proximity to a bike friendly bridge?
I’ve just read over 100 comments on this BikePortland article, and this is the first comment that mentions the work “bike”!
You’re in the wrong place! If you want to discuss bikey things, you need to head on over to PDXLandUse.org; they try to have at least one good bike thread each week to help drive traffic.
Ask these two questions first.
1) Who profits from this?
2) With those who end up paying, what is the cost to those people, and what is the gain?
Has anyone noticed how in some areas of R2.5 zoning in SE (east of 57th), houses on large lots are often sold and demolished only to have two single family houses go in when per zoning rules a third one could be built too? Wouldn’t even have to do skinny houses. Just something less than 2,000 SF…
sorry to point out the obvious, but a lot of renters just don’t care about where they live like homeowners do. take a ride around mt.scott/FoPo, you will see mostly well tended homes next to crappy apartments with overflowing dumpsters, trashy tenants with neck tattoos throwing cigarette butts on the ground, yelling at their 3 year olds to “get the fu@k in the house”, blasting their stereos at 2am, ect… no one who has worked hard and saved up to buy a house wants to see their property values drop because some developer wants to line his pockets by packing as many people as possible onto one lot.
Interesting that it took so long in this discussion before someone pointed out this obvious problem with renters.
thanks for dehumanizing me, chris.
sure, no problem. just got back inside after cleaning up McDonalds/7-11 wrappers and dog crap from my yard, so graciously donated by the fine folks at the apartments down the block.
that is truly DISGUSTING. you’ve opened my eyes to the real issue — the criminal littering of RENTERS. i always wondered where that litter and poop came from but now I know.
homeowner property values in the portland area only increased 13% YOY due to the mountains of filth and poop those RENTERS deposit in our YARDS! DISGUSTING!
Here’s a nice one in Ladd’s Addition: https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-122.6473836,3a,75y,178.62h,83.41t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAuCoAT314u9fUr-be6KVHw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1
Ladd’s has design review and a historic overlay. Design has to be good there.
There are other well-designed, well-constructed houses in areas without those. I think custom homes designed and built for the owner tend to be better designed and constructed than spec houses, although new custom homes are becoming rare within the city.
Personally, I think design review may not be as effective as some people believe, but on the other hand, it is a valid tool that could be expanded. I’d prefer design review with flexible regulations to no design review and inflexible ones.
Take a given AirBnb unit and tell the owner it can no longer be used that way. What are the odds it would then be used as rental housing? Let’s call that percentage X.
Take a given lot of land planned as a hotel and tell the owner it can no longer be used that way. What are the odds it would the be used as rental housing? Let’s call that percentage Y.
I’d guess X > Y. There are many more competing uses for undeveloped land than there are for an already built housing unit.
Good point. Another statistic that’s perhaps even more important–if a house is converted to a whole-house airbnb as its primary use, the chances that its zoning allows that is almost zero. If a hotel unit is built in a multi-use zone, the chances that’s legal is about 100%.
It’s almost crazy to think that people who oppose airbnb would oppose hotel construction. First of all, hardly anyone opposes all airbnb (or more generically, short-term rental) use. The most common criticism is aimed at people who convert homes in residential neighborhoods into full-time, or at least primarily, short-term rentals. That is illegal here, it often has negative impacts on neighbors, and each conversion removes a unit from the long-term housing supply.
In contrast to those airbnb conversions, which convert long-term housing into transient lodging in zones where it is illegal, hotel construction in mixed-use zones places transient lodging in exactly the areas where it SHOULD be. In fact, for that reason, people critical of intense airbnb conversions are probably among hotels’ strongest supporters. Hotels provide legally, and without damaging residential neighborhoods, what airbnb conversions provide illegally and with damage.
And certainly you can argue that every square foot of hotel space built in a mixed-use zone takes away one potential square foot of housing. But that’s silly. By that logic, so does every square foot of non-housing use built in any zone that allows housing. All those non-housing uses–hotels, office, commercial, schools or whatever–are legitimate uses vital to Portland or any other city. Building hotel rooms or other non-housing uses in mixed-use zones does not mean there isn’t enough room left to build housing.
Sorry q, you’re right. I think there are two main categories of Airbnb opponents: (1) those who see it as eroding the stock of available long-term rental housing and (2) those who see it as putting short-term rental housing in the wrong places. Some people are in both groups but I think most people have a primary group.
Sounds as if you’re mostly in group (2), and I agree that hotels are good for the interests of group (2). I meant to be aiming the thought experiment at people in group (1).
Michael–re-reading your “thought experiment” with what you just said in mind, I see your logic. I also think you’re right about the two main groups of airbnb critics, and you’re also right I’m mainly in the camp that it locates short-term rentals in the wrong places (esp. in regard to intense, whole-house rentals where that’s the primary use).
One way short-term rentals are particularly relevant to this whole discussion is that they are going to create more opposition to “missing middle” development than would otherwise be the case. It’s already true with ADUs. The neighbor who lives next to an ADU next door that’s constantly rented short-term, with more intense use, noise, parking conflicts, etc. is likely to think less of ADUs than if the ADU next door were occupied by a long-term tenant or visiting relative.
That same person is going to be less enthusiastic about regulations that say, allow his neighbors to add second units to their properties, since to him, that means another potentially intense short-term rental use next door, versus a quieter long-term tenant.
I just oppose tourism.
“Tourism as a number-one industry is a terrible, terrible idea for any city, especially New York. If you were going to turn a city, which is a place where people live, into a tourist attraction, you’re going to have to make it a place that people who don’t live here, like. So I object to living in a place for people who don’t live here. As it became more and more intense, it became more and more a place where the actual citizens are pushed out to the edges.”
Thank you, rachel, for saying that. I wonder often why it is that so many people gush about tourism; whether they have only experienced it as tourists themselves or from other angles?
Because you read too much BikePortland?
Dang, snark is hard on a phone…
I do feel really irritable at this point about the constant, endless idealizing and pimping of Portland. It’s not just our little corner of the world here (on bikeportland)–it really is epidemic. WW, The Mercury, The Oregonian–all seem to be taking their marching orders from TravelPortland and TravelOregon. Certainly our local government is. It all combines to make me bilious in the extreme. And I am dreading this summer which I suspect will so bury us under tourists and festivals, we’ll need a shovel to get out.
The last year or two has restored some hope in me as more have been chiming in about the deleterious effects of this nauseating orgy of self-love. 🙂 Yay, skeptics and heretics! Yay! USA!
eeeegh! Clarification–I don’t think bikeportland is engaged in “constant, endless idealizing and pimping of Portland.” I was responding to hk’s friendly jab above (which I think was referring more to the commenting community).
That’s a legit perspective, I’d say!
If you want to ban hotels and use the space for housing, and ban AirBnB to use the space for housing, then we might as well ban offices, restaurants, shops, and everything else that creates jobs and income, use that space for housing, and observe the result of more housing + fewer jobs. Yes, housing costs would go down, but maybe not in the way we want.
A visitor to a hotel spends a few hundred dollars a day in Portland, almost all of which stays in Portland as wages for hotel employees, sales for restaurants and shops, taxes for the city. Similar with an AirBnB visitor, their spending stays in Portland as wages, sales and taxes. Fewer visitors makes the city poorer.
The more hotel rooms and AirBnB rooms, the better – as long as they have high occupancy rates.
“Fewer visitors makes the city poorer.”
You are insufferable.
Fewer deaths-by-automobile also makes the city poorer since crashes are very efficient ways to spread money around: police, fire, ambulance, hospital staff, undertakers, lawyers, insurance companies, prosthetics manufacturers, physical therapists, grief counselors, Oregonian reporters. Just imagine how many people will be out of work when Vision Zero enters the home stretch, how much this town will be worse off.
This does not seem like a good analogy. Every institution you list existed before automobiles and they would all exist in the absence of automobiles. Services for tourists do not exist in the absence of tourism. It isn’t a remotely fair comparison.
“they would all exist in the absence of automobiles”
Are you under the impression that Vision Zero is the same thing as the end of the automobile?
Your point of comparison was deaths by automobile and specifically a series of jobs that makes money in relationship to those deaths. In saying that all of these jobs would exist without cars I’m merely exploring the world of your analogy in which car-related deaths do not exist. I can see why this would be confusing, but Vision Zero isn’t any different for the purpose of the analogy. I’m just trying to explore what a world without car-related deaths would look like, regardless of how we get there.
However you want to look at it, I still don’t see how it is valid to compare the impacts of car related deaths vs the impacts of tourism on the local economy in order to conclude that the absence of tourism dollars would not have a huge impact on the local economy. By what measure are these things comparable? Tourism jobs don’t exist without tourists by definition but unless something catastrophic happens there are always going to be jobs for insurance agents and police and fire-fighters and grief counselors because there will still be property and crime and fire and death no matter the status of vision zero.
It just seems like a bad analogy.
Very helpful clarification. Thank you.
“I still don’t see how it is valid to compare the impacts of car related deaths vs the impacts of tourism on the local economy in order to conclude that the absence of tourism dollars would not have a huge impact on the local economy.”
That wasn’t exactly my point. My point was that I am tired of people making one-dimensional claims for the benefits of economic activity qua economic activity without any appreciation that economic activity, so measured, can also correspond to dreadful circumstances. That John Liu’s point seemed to me unhelpful insofar as the dollars that tourism surely contributes to our economy are not, per se, a good measure of whether we should pursue, like, celebrate tourism in this part of Oregon, just as the dollars we would plausibly lose by pursuing Vision Zero are not a good measure of whether we should pursue Vision Zero.
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify my own thinking as I now see that it too was perhaps not obvious either.
The good ole’ job creator argument.
All profit is good because it puts a handful of people to work washing dishes. (or bottling spring water).
I’m not opposed to all tourism, but I certainly realize that it has a negative impact on the lives of the overwhelming majority of city residents. The people that do really benefit from it (hint, it’s not the dishwashers) are making the decisions though.
I wonder how the PBA feels about spending tax dollars to increase tourism…. instead of say… building sidewalks in the outer east side.
Actually, quite the opposite is usually more true. Tourism jobs tend to be in the hospitality service industries, with generally low-wage jobs in restaurants, hotels, tours, etc, certainly well below the $29/hr it takes to afford a $1,550 2-bedroom mean average rent in Portland at no more than 30% for rent. Ugly cities with steady manufacturing tend to be more affordable and have less absolute poverty.
Boulder CO is often cited as a high-wage high-tourism city, but all of its hospitality workers have to live elsewhere, either in nearby Loveland or in Denver, as the community itself is totally unaffordable, a reserve for the wealthy (& fit). Similarly, Venice used to have 200,000 residents up until the 1970s, but is now at about 60,000 – nearly all wealthy – while the poor service workers commute by rail daily from the high rises of nearby ugly Mestre.
As in Boulder and Venice, inner Portland is rapidly becoming the exclusive reserve of the wealthy, while its service workers are having to travel from its worst areas for transit and biking to get to work daily, from rapidly-growing East Portland and suburbs outside of Portland proper.
The proposed housing rules are not really designed for inner Portland, they are for Cully and East Portland, areas of Portland the City has not yet given up on providing a large amount of affordable housing in the near future.
But unless I missed something, nobody here has mentioned wanting to ban hotels or airbnbs.
All Portland can do now is hope for the Big One. Then start over from scratch, and, hopefully, get it right.
Personally, I rather like Portland. I think we’ve got a lot that’s “right”.
What’d I tell you? The longed-for clean slate! Row upon row upon row of shiny glass mixed-use apartment buildings! Not a bungalow to be seen! Ahhhhh! Also, obliterated infrastructure! And, death, loss and horror!
Cities that have been historically more-or-less totally destroyed, such as earthquake-prone Siena, fire-prone London (1665), or the cities of Germany during WW2, tend to make every effort to rebuild themselves as exactly like they were, the best they can, as before the apocalypse. In Siena’s case, it help to have a design code written in utter detail by a bunch of lawyers and architects in 1300 (in Latin, of course!), specifying what goes where, renewed periodically, much like the Portland city code of today. I fully expect to see Big Pink look exactly the same within 10 years after the big one.
I expect it will too, but not for legal reasons; mostly because it will likely survive the quake, and will only need to be reclad to get it back in service. And that’s a good thing, because BikePortland is going to need new office space, and fast!
I always thought Siena was destroyed in a fire–hence the phrase, “Burnt Siena”.
It’s been burnt several times, from sieges, plus wiped out by plague, since it was founded as a Roman colony in the 100s BC. But highly destructive earthquakes are much more frequent, overall.
The color, “sienna”, was named for the community, for the color of its buildings and roofs, by the Spanish in the 1500s, when they occupied the city.
That’s interesting, David–thanks for that. And har, q. 🙂 And as a big fan of Duccio and the Sienese School, I vote for Portland to be rebuilt as… Siena! 😉
Whats unfortunate is that this is ultimately only going to be a stopgap measure. I come from a city with large amounts of multi-story apartments – the triple decker is ubiquitous in boston – and still housing is impossible to get cheaply in that city.
Exactly… We can’t build our way out of our current situation.
Most of those triple-deckers were built many years ago. Boston is expensive mostly because it (and just as importantly its inner suburbs) have barely added new housing at all in the modern era, despite creating lots of good-paying jobs compared to other cities:
Many growing cities have built their way out of high costs, including Houston, Dallas, Austin, Phoenix, Raleigh, Charlotte. The problem is they’ve done so with sprawl, so when the costs of all those freeways come due, they’ll be in trouble.
Boston is also expensive because people want to live there. The cost of living in Portland will continue to rise as long as people continue to move here. It’s a sign of Portland’s success and overall development. Whether that’s a good thing or not is something we all have to decide for ourselves.
Man, this myth is so pervasive! There have been TONS of examples of cities that stayed affordable (and would have been especially affordable if people had had today’s incomes, in inflation-adjusted terms) as tons of people wanted to live there and therefore moved there. New York and Chicago until ~1900, Los Angeles until ~1920, etc. What’s changed is that back then, when people moved somewhere, local government allowed developers to build up and out to accommodate them. Now, local governments everywhere in the US place tight restrictions on building up, and in Portland, we have tight restrictions on building out.
It’s not just about how attractive a place is – it’s also about what accommodations are allowed to be made for people moving to a place that attracts people.
It’s also about what kind of built environment people want to live in. Not everyone wants NYC.
Certainly! But I appreciate you being honest about the tradeoffs – saying “Many people are moving to Portland, and we’re not willing to increase density sufficiently to house them because we want our neighborhoods to stay close to the way they are, so we’re just going to let housing prices increase until enough (mostly poorer) people move out or stop moving in.” Dan’s comment was missing the middle clause, and implicitly claiming that it was impossible to keep housing prices from increasing quickly if many people move to town. That’s just not true.
You implicitly (or perhaps explicitly) believe that developers will build enough housing that prices will fall a fair bit, if only they were given unfettered access to the single-family zoned areas of the city. I do not believe this is true; I believe that they will slow building if prices soften; are willing to chase higher profits elsewhere; and that if they do overbuild, it will attract more newcomers restarting the cycle once again.
The only way I see housing prices falling is if we have a (local or national) recession that guts the jobs that are supporting the higher end of the market.
You obviously believe when we’ve converted much of the inner neighborhoods into high-density apartment complexes that the city will be a better place to live. I believe the opposite, and do not want to take steps that I regard as both futile and destructive to the city I love.
I’m not sure if either of us can convince the other. I love our neighborhoods, their structure, and their architecture. I do not think they would foster the same sense of community if they were all apartment buildings, with fewer yards, gardens, and front porches. To me that would be a great loss, so I want to take a slow and deliberative approach when it comes to changing them. It is also why I support the idea of new town centers, like South Waterfront, that can offer very high levels of density to without disrupting what we already have for those who want it.
I’m voting for Hello, Kitty.
Do so at your peril… You know I am a techno-optimist at heart…
Oh well, never mind 😉
I just don’t understand how you can think that Portland keeping housing prices reasonable through building is not feasible, when so many metro areas have done it before us (generally prior to 1950), in the face of WAY more people moving to them per year.
I think that’s the central disagreement. If one is fatalistic about inner Portland becoming a playground for the rich, it may as well be a playground for the rich with a built environment close to one’s ideal. But if one thinks it’s possible to keep inner Portland a place where people at all income levels can find a home, I think it’s hard to justify not doing what’s necessary to make that happen.
Prior to the 1950s cities were expanding outwards at a huge rate; suburbs were just developing, and the rich were leaving the city at rapid pace, freeing up what was to become cheap housing in the center. You did not have land prices like we have now — lots going for close to 400k plus demolition costs. Show me a city with a very high rate of growth, much of it driven by high salary jobs, in a built out city with no ability to expand horizontally, where everyone seems to want to live in the innermost urban core, where housing prices have not risen.
You put so many requirements on it that it’s of course impossible. Can I find you tons of examples of inner cities where, for whatever reason, population has increased dramatically through densification in a short period of time without insane price growth? Yes! Here’s Manhattan, 1870 to 1910.