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Affordable-housing alliance to city: Legalize ‘missing middle’ in bikeable neighborhoods

Posted by on April 22nd, 2016 at 1:58 pm

2314-16 se salmon duplex built 1927

2314 and 2316 SE Salmon: built in 1927, illegal to build today. City Council could change that with the comprehensive plan it’s about to vote on.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

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.”

MMH-diagram-w-lables-for-featured-image2-1100x350

(Image: Daniel Parolek, Opticos Design)

“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.”

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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.”

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Velia Mendoza puts her bike in the new lockers at a Hacienda CDC property last year. Hacienda is among 20 housing groups urging the city to allow more variety of home types in more of Portland.
(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 cputestimony@portlandoregon.gov until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27.

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

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

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Paul Conterachel blopHello, Kittysoren Recent comment authors
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John Liu
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John Liu

Note also the the fee abatement for ADU projects has been extended for another two years.

bikeninja
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bikeninja

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.

RH
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RH

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.

q
Guest
q

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!

gutterbunnybikes
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Just curious about what will be considered “centers”.

rachel b
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rachel b

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.

Paul
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Paul

It’s like forbidding people to eat rice.

Granpa
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Granpa

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.

Al Gorp
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Al Gorp

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.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XObcP69dhCg

He had more brain power in his fart gas than all of today’s Oregon politicians have between their ears combined.

q
Guest
q

Hello, Kitty
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.
Recommended 0

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.

Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

For Soren:

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.

Daniel
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Daniel

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?

Doug
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Doug

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.

TJ
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TJ

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?

Nick
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Nick

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?

Sloan
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Sloan

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…

chris
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chris

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.

q
Guest
q

Hello, Kitty
Where are these well designed, well constructed structures being built?
Recommended 0

Here’s a nice one in Ladd’s Addition: https://www.google.com/maps/@45.5102088,-122.6473836,3a,75y,178.62h,83.41t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAuCoAT314u9fUr-be6KVHw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

BJCefola
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Michael Andersen (News Editor)
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.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1US5d-b3MzOeaGisB1I_TtZVzrJljJK7bw6R1QM3hJ3Y
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?
Recommended 3

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.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

I just oppose tourism.

http://www.papermag.com/fran-lebowitz-to-tourists-stay-home-1427410316.html

“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.”
(Fran Lebowitz)

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Michael Andersen (News Editor)
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.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1US5d-b3MzOeaGisB1I_TtZVzrJljJK7bw6R1QM3hJ3Y
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?
Recommended 4

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.

q
Guest
q

But unless I missed something, nobody here has mentioned wanting to ban hotels or airbnbs.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

All Portland can do now is hope for the Big One. Then start over from scratch, and, hopefully, get it right.

Louise Michel
Guest
Louise Michel

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.

maccoinnich
Guest

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.

maccoinnich
Guest

“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?)

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

“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.”

You wouldn’t categorize your rent payments as your financial interests?
I feel like you’re being purposely obtuse on this one.

i guess i'm technically a "developer?"
Guest
i guess i'm technically a "developer?"

9watts
“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?
Recommended 0

Me and my partner are building a house. We’re DIYers who bike exclusively and we live super-cheap. We’re very low income, but we tick most of the privilege boxes. We use our savings to buy a property (a former back yard) several years ago, and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

To make a long story short, we got funneled into building a house on it to keep the existing garage (in a setback). The process of putting a house on our lot was significantly longer and more expensive than we expected, more than double, and as much as we wanted to, we couldn’t afford the luxury of time to learn how to build it ourselves out of reused materials in the end. There was a lot of angst and doubt and uncertainty as to whether we were even going to be able to build at all. We thought we were going to have to sell our lot and hope we broke even.

We’re very low income and even with the SDC tax break, the building permit was still $10k. And I did the math the other week? Our 400 square foot house will probably cost us at least $3k in annual property taxes. Which we’re glad to pay, but add that to the cost of the house and it’s actually going to be more than I’ve ever paid for rent in my life.

You’d think light straw clay would be cheaper, but someone has to design and engineer that house to code, and plastering is a skilled labor. Professional plastering costs $10k and, ironically, light straw clay is one of the few places you can cut costs. ReWall was $3k we couldn’t even afford.

An affordable housing general contractor will build our house in several months. It would have taken us a few years to build, mistakes are expensive, and we couldn’t afford to be out of work that long anyway.

We wanted the durable house. We’ll end up with the affordable house (relatively speaking) and call ourselves extremely lucky to have it.

i guess i'm technically a "developer?"
Guest
i guess i'm technically a "developer?"

After we pay it off, we do plan to rent our future home at **affordable** rates whenever we’re not in town.

i guess i'm technically a "developer?"
Guest
i guess i'm technically a "developer?"

“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).”

This would have been fantastic for us. We would have probably built a house that was both affordable and durable. It would have save a bajillion dollars. But if there were an earthquake, maybe we would have died, or worse, been severely injured?

And what would big developers do without code? Would they build houses that were safe to live in? Would they build durable houses? Would they charge any less than they do now?

q
Guest
q

Speaking of the property tax system, it’s not a great one for encouraging people to add ADUs or otherwise improve their property. As long as you don’t change your property, your property taxes will go up only 3% annually. Make changes, and it blows the cap off.

I don’t remember how (or if) the ADU issue got resolved (where people adding ADUs saw huge tax increases, beyond what the value of the ADU added) but I’m sure hearing about people who built ADUs seeing their taxes triple or worse dissuaded some people from building ADUs.

Plus, if you spend $1 on most things other than your home, you get taxed once on that purchase. If you spend it on your home, you get taxed (through property taxes) every year forever.

i guess i'm technically a "developer?"
Guest
i guess i'm technically a "developer?"

I’m ok with property taxes because i use the parks and the libraries and the streets etc. But I don’t think that ADU issue you mentioned has changed.