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Planning Commission finds ‘missing middle,’ votes for more housing citywide

Posted by on September 17th, 2018 at 1:04 pm

A 1905 duplex on SE 33rd Avenue in Portland. Like many other cities, Portland made these illegal on most lots in the mid 20th century. Photo by Portland for Everyone.

“What do the neighbors have to be afraid of? It’s buildings, people or cars.”
— Chris Smith, Planning Commissioner

An earlier version of this post was published by the Sightline Institute. It’s by BikePortland’s former news editor, Michael Andersen, who started covering the need for “missing middle” housing — especially in Portland’s most bikeable neighborhoods — for us in 2015. We last covered this issue in May, just before the crucial public hearings described here.

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The most provocative housing policy event of this week in the Pacific Northwest started happening four months ago.

That’s because, in May, Portlanders did something almost unheard of in the world of housing policy. They showed up to say that in order to better-integrate neighborhoods and prevent future housing shortages, the city should allow more housing.

The place: Two public hearings of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission to discuss the residential infill project, a proposal to re-legalize duplexes and triplexes in much of Oregon’s largest city, reversing a 1959 ban.

The hearings were packed with people on both sides of the issue. But in the end (and here’s what was truly unusual) the people calling for the city to re-legalize more homes in more varieties slightly outnumbered the ones who showed up to defend the status quo—55 percent to 45 percent.

And last week, after months of deliberation, Portland’s planning commission gave other cities of the Northwest and beyond a peek at what can happen when housing advocates outnumber housing opponents: It recommended more housing.

This debate is the same one happening right now in small areas of Seattle and citywide in Vancouver, B.C. And in Portland, Team Housing just notched a clear win—cuing up the concept for a possible victory at the city council in the spring.

In that sense, the Portlanders who showed up for housing in May are part of something much bigger than an advisory vote in their city about re-legalizing triplexes. They’re part of a much larger movement, led in large part by Cascadia, to revive a more traditional pattern of housing than the one cities began experimenting with after World War II.

The vision is simple: gradually creating neighborhoods where more expensive detached homes and more affordable small plexes are all mixed together.

‘The biggest carbon impact of new construction is how big it is’

A modern triplex in Portland’s Vernon neighborhood, developed as affordable housing in 2016 by the nonprofit PCRI. Each home here is 1,465 square feet, 10 percent bigger than the maximum allowed for a below-market home under the planning commission’s proposal and 26 percent bigger than the maximum market-rate triplex. (Photo courtesy PCRI)

To prevent “looming” buildings, heights would be capped at 30 feet above the lowest point on a property, down from the highest point on the property under today’s rules.

“Seventy, 80 percent of the carbon impact of a house is heating and cooling the space.”
— Eli Spevak, Planning Commissioner

As housing advocates (including the city’s own housing bureau) suggested, the planning commission also said duplexes and triplexes should be legal (and subject to the new size caps) almost anywhere in the city.

“Density is an important goal, and I think that’s a direction the city needs to move in,” Andrés Oswill, the planning commission’s youngest member, said Tuesday. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

Oswill said his decision to support the cap on building size had been informed, in part, by his own home search over the last few months.

Image: Michael Andersen. Sources: Census Bureau, BLS, HUD via 24/7 Wall Street.

“I really struggled and tried to understand 2,500 square feet … being too small,” he said. “It wasn’t something I was able to come to terms with.”

Eli Spevak, another commissioner, agreed.

“For all the talk about We can’t fit into this 2,500 square foot house, I kind of think, well, we did for most of human history, in houses half that size,” Spevak said. “I also think about the carbon issues. Oregon has studied this more than any state. The biggest carbon impact of new construction, over the lifespan of a house, is how big it is. Seventy, 80 percent of the carbon impact of a house is heating and cooling the space. … Attached housing is great for that also, and this code supports both those things: attached housing and small homes.”

Spevak is right: North American home sizes have risen sharply since the 1950s.

In fact, that’s almost economically inevitable. As long as the only profitable way to redevelop a one-home property is to replace it with another detached home, then each successive home on a lot will be bigger than the last.

Unresolved issues: Fourplexes and displacement-risk areas

Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission. (Photo: M. Andersen).

The planning commission’s straw vote Tuesday follows three years of formal debate so far over the proposed zoning reform and precedes a formal (but nonbinding) recommendation to Portland’s city council. The city council’s binding vote is scheduled for the spring.

“Even if this were just a little bit better than the status quo, that wouldn’t mean that we should wait more years rather than make these changes now and then continue to improve upon them.”
— Madeline Kovacs, Portland for Everyone

Some issues still need resolution. The planning commissioners who were present Tuesday split evenly over the question of whether to allow up to four homes on a lot.

“As we’re asking the single-family neighborhoods to transition, it’s a big change,” said one commissioner, Michelle Rudd.

Another, Chris Smith, disagreed.

“What do the neighbors have to be afraid of?” he said. “It’s buildings, people or cars. … If it’s buildings, we’ve done a lot to limit the size of buildings. … We did not allow any FAR bonus for the fourth unit. so if a building becomes a fourplex, it will not be much larger than a threeplex. … If it’s about cars, I will point out that we’ve done very little in this package to limit parking. In general, we’re still allowing people to build parking.”

So any concern about fourplexes must actually be about the number or type of people living in currently exclusive areas, Smith concluded. And “I’m for letting as many people live in these neighborhoods as we can,” he said.

Another area of debate: what effect the size or unit-count incentive might have on the rate of redeveloping lots that are currently home to low-income people, and if so how to mitigate that. Oswill said he regretted the “missed opportunity of having funding streams be created out of this that could lead to equitable units or programming.”

The city’s initial plan had proposed extending the duplex-triplex ban in areas with the highest risk of displacement. But affordable-housing advocates unanimously told the planning commission that they disagreed with that approach, because it would fail to create new housing while leaving those areas just as vulnerable to one-for-one redevelopment.

“The anti-displacement folks told us the right way to limit displacement is not to limit development opportunity but to deliver anti-displacement programs where they’re needed,” Smith said. “The question I still worry about is, well, what happens if council doesn’t fund any of those programmatic solutions?”

Madeline Kovacs, coodinator of the pro-housing Portland for Everyone coalition, said Thursday that she had the same concern, but that extending the duplex-triplex ban would only lead to more one-for-one displacement while the city waits for political consensus around more funding.

“We know what’s happening in Portland’s neighborhoods right now,” Kovacs said. “Even if this were just a little bit better than the status quo, that wouldn’t mean that we should wait more years rather than make these changes now and then continue to improve upon them.”

In the end, that’s the only way any major rethink of Cascadian housing policy will happen: bit by bit. But if anything is going to change at all, it’s going to depend on people choosing to show up and tell one another what they want—one public meeting at a time.

— Michael Andersen is a senior fellow at Sightline Institute

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glennf
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glennf

When are we as a state going to move to a Sales Tax and do away with Property Taxes…

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Very Rarely are Sales Taxes a substitute for Property Taxes. In most states they replace Income Tax. What we really need is Henry George’s Land Value Tax, that taxes all gains in the price of land and also levies taxes against unused or unoccupied property. In his book “Progress and Poverty” Henry George predicted all the problems we have with the economics of real estate in our country and he did it 125 years ago. The bankers of the guilded age buried George’s ideas because there was easy money to be made in buying and selling real estate, now the wrong fork we took is obvious.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

Plenty of states in any direction you care to head that will allow you to pay sales tax if you miss it so much, you can turn right around and go back.

David Hampsten
Guest

Yeah, and they provide better services too.

9watts
Subscriber

Where is any discussion of limits?

I love duplexes and triplexes and infill as much as the next person—would much prefer to live among such structures, that density—but when it comes to carbon this is hardly a plausible way to count things. If we’re concerned about carbon we need to figure out how to STOP BUILDING, STOP GROWING. If density is embedded in some serious discussion of limits then we may get away with invoking carbon, but otherwise this pitch strikes me as an opportunistic scam.

soren
Subscriber

considering that portland’s urban growth boundary is poised to increase by 2200 acres, increased density on existing developed land is hardly a scam. my main criticism of this form of very low density housing is that it is does little to address our chronic affordable housing shortage or our desperate need to decarbonize land use.

20 story coop apartment buildings and de-paving of sub/exurban on the other hand…

9watts
Subscriber

“20 story coop apartment buildings and de-paving of sub/exurban on the other hand…”

Maybe a little closer. But, again, without putting limits front and center in any discussion, density solves nothing w/r/t carbon budgets. Growth, whether dense or not, is the problem, the thing we need to come to terms with.

soren
Subscriber

“without putting limits”

in my experience, “let’s limit growth” folk often want to eat their low-growth cake in smallish bungalows…

9watts
Subscriber

How about engaging the issue of growth, instead of jeering from the sidelines?

soren
Subscriber

my comment specifically criticized expansion of the urban growth boundary and called for de-paving suburbs (e.g. shrinking the UGB). that’s pretty anti-growth, is it not?

9watts
Subscriber

OK, I guess that reading makes sense, though I feel like I’m hearing you talk out of both sides of your mouth.

David Hampsten
Guest

I have yet to see a city council or a planning commission that isn’t dominated by individuals in the real estate or building trades, people who benefit from continued growth.

I have however seen many cities stop or even reverse all growth by:
– Failing to deliver basic services such as crime prevention, sidewalks, bikable streets, transit, etc.
– Engaging in growth strategies that constantly expand boundaries, such as annexation, building freeways and bypasses, thus stretching already vulnerable services ever further.
– By engaging in collective NIMBYism and doing everything except being bold and progressive.

As long as any city like Portland continues on its present strategies of being bold and progressive in land use policies and growth, providing increased services to its most vulnerable users, and trying to do more with less, Portland will continue on its current awful path into purgatory to relentlessly grow without building new freeways or annexing its neighbors.

Shame on Portland for striving to become one of the leading big progressive cities in America.

9watts
Subscriber

“Portland will continue on its current awful path into purgatory to relentlessly grow without building new freeways or annexing its neighbors.”

Laugh all you want.

Your scorn doesn’t get you off the hook, excuse you from explaining how exponential growth on a finite planet is supposed to work over time.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Is it possible to discuss a voter boycott of all candidates for local public office who have an occupational background in real estate? Local public offices–by that I mean state legislatures on down to city councils–a large percentage of the things they vote on are land use related. If someone has been a realtor, broker, contractor, even a carpenter before taking a city council seat, for instance, they are in conflict of interest, aren’t they? People raised hell about Vice President Cheney’s oil biz background–to me, this is every bit as bad. People who make money selling or building properties shouldn’t hold local public office, the corruption is hard wired in.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Having experience in an area is much different than having an ongoing financial interest. The proper way to handle such an interest is to recuse yourself from participating in making a decision which could benefit you or your family members.

PSC officials should follow this practice.

Joe
Guest
Joe

This is great news! I hope housing supporters continue to apply pressure on city council to make sure this becomes law.

My question is why does this process take so long? If the planning commission just blessed this plan, why does it need to wait around six months to go to city council?

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

It’s taken the PSC a half-dozen work sessions to get through this and get to our recommendation. Staff now has to take the direction we’ve given and put it in the form of zoning code and also do economic modeling on it to make sure we’re likely to get the effects we want. We’ll then give it a final vote at the end of the year and it will go to Council in the new year. I appreciate that folks are impatient, but we want to get this right!

maccoinnich
Subscriber

Portland is really lucky to have such a smart, engaged and progressive Planning Commission. I wish this whole process had been faster, but I’d also prefer that the PSC gets it right than gets it done quickly. The proposal the PSC has arrived at is a huge improvement on what was brought to them by staff.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Given the number of duplexes I see being built, I’m not sure why some people think the “missing middle” is missing.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Confidential to Chris Smith: In most neighborhoods, those that can afford a unit in a new 4-plex are probably wealthier on average than residents in the older homes they replace. So if, as you say, it’s about the people, then it’s a desire to maintain some vestiges of economic diversity.

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

We’re well aware of that risk. That’s behind the anti-displacement programs point in the post. It’s also why we provide an incentive for internal conversions of existing buildings (versus scraping and new construction).

DSKJ
Guest
DSKJ

But the PSC’s plan doesn’t disincentivize demolitions of existing houses nearly enough…in fact, this plan will dramatically *increase* the (already too high) number of demolitions of viable existing homes, because you will have granted a major increase in land values across the city. Additional density IS needed across the city, but that can be achieved via more ADU’s and internal divisions of existing homes. Oh, wait, but that wouldn’t enrich the corporate developers who sit on the PSC and contribute to Mayor Wheeler…

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

Some of the steepest incentives in this plan are in fact for ADUs (now allowing two), internal conversions (0.1 FAR bonus), and affordable units (also 0.1 FAR bonus). But the big goal here is to house more people in our single-dwelling neighborhoods, and that requires allowing a number of building forms. While dis-incenting demolitions is a goal, it’s not the most significant goal.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The proposal, as I understand it, incentivizing building the exact sorts of units we have a surplus of — high end multi-family dwellings.

Since there is no immediate need for more of these, why not push forward on the internal conversion and size limitation pieces now, and take the time needed to build support for the anti-displacement policies and craft some demolition disincentives before moving forward with policies on new construction?

I think for many people, demolitions are the biggest issue, and the proposal in front of you will only increase the pace. Moving forward without the anti-displacement policies in place makes them seem like window dressing.

If we find we suddenly need an immediate bump in the number of neighborhood dwellings, we can always add limits on short-term rentals to get an immediate increase in the number of available units.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

As now proposed, the code incentives the creation of new homes between 1,000 and 1,750 sq ft, a size of unit we see very very few of built (and far from a “surplus” of).

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Ironically, it is these small houses that are most at threat from demolition.

But the fundamental point still remains — why push forward on the most controversial portions of the proposal before the necessary protections are in place? Or even permit the new rules where vacant lots already exist, and disallow them where structures are demolished until a protective framework is solidified?

Most of the provisions of the proposal are strong enough to stand (or fall) on their own; I think that is how we should be discussing them, not as a grab bag of stuff all jumbled together.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

Why push forward with it? Because we have a status quo that isn’t working. Single family zoning isn’t an anti-displacement measure, as some of the conversation around this topic seems to imply.

If the city council adopts the Residential Infill Project proposal it will have been nearly four years in the making. In that period we’ve seen the price of Portland homes skyrocket, pricing many people of the market, especially in the desirable inner neighborhoods. In the vast majority of the city land can only be used for one house (plus an ADU). If we end the ban on building smaller units in duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes there’s a chance that a significant segment of our population could start to afford those neighborhoods again.

If the City Council were to adopt the scale caps without allowing the additional housing types then it’s unlikely the latter would come before them again any time soon. That might be okay with you, but it’s not okay with me.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Single family zoning is not an anti-displacement measure, agreed, but it cannot be disputed that more demolitions will increase displacement.

Addressing one problem (more 1000-1700 sq ft attached housing in the R2.5 and R5 portions of inner neighborhoods for upper middle class buyers) while making another worse (displacement of those who cannot afford that new housing) may not be in everyone’s best interest. I am not arguing for indefinite maintenance of the status quo, I’m arguing for holding off on one piece of the proposal (and maybe only partially), while advancing the rest, until the worst side effects (such as those acknowledged by Chris Smith) can be addressed (through, for example, anti-displacement programs).

You make a bold claim — that allowing more plexes will allow a “significant segment of our population … to afford those neighborhoods again.” I doubt it.

I don’t know why you feel that you have only one shot at bringing this to council — if the idea is good, it could be brought forward along with the anti-displacement measures and make a compelling package in its own right. I think you are tacitly acknowledging that anti-displacement programs are unlikely to be implemented. Without them, the RIP will only hasten the economic stratification of our neighborhoods.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I don’t think it is a bold claim, at all. Try doing a search on Redfin for properties under $350,000. In the inner neighborhoods almost every search result is going to be a condominium or other form of attached housing. Many of these are older buildings, but in the handful of areas where we allow construction of new denser housing you’ll also see plexes that were recently completed. As an example, there are small condos for sale on N Minnesota and N Holman for in the $330k range. By contrast, single family houses on those street start at prices that are at least $100,000 more.

I will reiterate that, if adopted, the Residential Infill project will have taken almost 4 years from start to finish. Anybody who argues that we should just give it more time is just trying to kill it through process delay.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Looked at another way, you’ve had 4 years to work out an anti-displacement program, but are only talking about it now. Why was that not part of the project from the beginning?

I have been making comments like this to BPS staff from the get-go, so this is not a last minute stalling tactic. My conclusion is that you don’t take displacement seriously. Assuming you’re involved in the project yourself, I find your attitude somewhat dismissive. I’m not asking for “just more time”, I’m asking you to mitigate a specific harm from a specific policy that even supporters admit is needed.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

Saying that I don’t care about displacement is unfair and untrue. I just disagree that this proposal is going to exacerbate displacement. The proposal makes it possible to build smaller, more affordable homes that are currently banned. I think that’s a benefit relative to the status quo where a home comes on the market and it can be demolished to build a larger more expensive home.

And to imply that the city has done nothing about displacement in the last 4 years isn’t true either. In that time the city has passed the renter relocation ordinance; passed a city affordable housing bond and put a Metro bond on the ballot; implemented a 1% construction excise tax for affordable housing; increased the percentage of urban renewal funds that go to towards affordable housing; passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance; implemented the N/NE Preference policy; and started work on the landlord rental registration program. I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting.

Ultimately I think the Residential Infill Project is good policy, and it shouldn’t have to wait for other good policy (some of which is currently prohibited by state law) for it to be adopted.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I agree that building smaller homes is a benefit, but when new housing replaces old, it often (but not always) results in an increase in price, displacement of renters, or loss of opportunity for a lower income demographic to get a toehold in a nicer neighborhood. Maybe you don’t see that, but it doesn’t mean that those who do are disingenuous or trolling, and your dismissive attitude is indicative of a process driven by those who stand to financially benefit.

I don’t say that the city has done nothing about displacement; I say that implementing a specific policy without safeguards will make the problem worse.

Financially, RIP will greatly benefit me. My neighbors… less so, especially those who rent.

In any event, if the proposal gets through council in its current form, it will almost certainly end up on the ballot, which is probably the worst possible place to be making these sorts of policy decisions.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I don’t appreciate you implying that I support the residential infill project because I stand to make some kind of financial gain from it. I don’t.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

You may not, but many on the PSC do.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I don’t think that’s a fair accusation either.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Before I made that statement, I read over the membership list of the PSC and the RIPSAC, and the two may have melded a bit in my brain. RIPSAC clearly has members with a financial stake in the outcome, which is a bit troubling, but less so than decision makers such as the PSC.

The PSC has one member who I understand is directly involved in the sort of construction being considered for expansion by RIP. I don’t know if he has recused himself or not, but if he hasn’t, he should. There are several other people involved in development/land use/real estate whose stake is less clear (and perhaps minimal), but without a requirement to disclose and recuse, it’s hard to know.

I’m going to walk my statement back somewhat — I can’t defend “many”, but I think I can defend “one, possibly more”, which is, admittedly, qualitatively different than what I wrote above.

PSC: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/635002
RIPSAC: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/544829

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

There has absolutely been disclosure. At each public hearing for RIP, the chair read a disclosure statement that outlined which commissioners had holdings in the zones affected by RIP.

I suspect you are specifically referring to my colleague Commission Spevak, who also served on RIPSAC. He is a developer who works on relatively small residential development projects (i.e., he doesn’t do Condo towers). His knowledge has been invaluable to the Commission in working through RIP. He somewhat uniquely in Portland does “Planned Unit Development” (also sometimes known as Cottage Clusters). Because of that unique nexus, he recused himself from the discussion around Planned Unit Development rules.

I would note that Portland actually has less potential for conflicts than many cities’ Planning Commissions because we have a restriction on having more than two people in the same profession on the Commission. While we certainly have folks involved in development, as a result of that restriction we also have an Internet Architect (yours truly), an Urban Naturalist and a Minister. We have also in recent years tried to make sure we have someone who is 25 or younger when they start their term.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Are commissioners required to recuse themselves if they have a conflict of interest?

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is my understanding as a layman!

The “controlling legal authority” as Al Gore liked to say is ORS 244 (https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/244.020) which defines both “Actual conflict of interest” and “Potential conflict of interest”.

There’s a general understanding that since Planning Commissioners only recommend to City Council and are not final decision makers, that we probably cannot have actual conflicts of interest, only potential conflicts, which require disclosure.

Nonetheless, we pay attention to the appearance of conflict, and recuse ourselves when we deem appropriate. The decision lies with the individual commissioner, but generally there is discussion with staff and commission leadership about what is appropriate.

During the Comp Plan and Central City processes a number of commissioners recused themselves on specific topics due to property ownership or participation in certain projects or categories of projects.

Trust me, the Planning and Sustainability Commission is not a vehicle for enriching yourself. You get to give away large amounts of your productive time for no remuneration…

soren
Subscriber

“an incentive for internal conversions of existing buildings”

this is not an anti-displacement policy because most of the economic eviction in portland is a result of speculative ownership change and/or “renovations”.

Please follow the advice of the Anti-displacement PDX coalition and others:

* Implement larger FAR bonuses for permanently affordable units.
* Implement larger FAR bonuses for family-scale units — and especially permanently affordable units.
* Allow additional bonus units for each permanently affordable unit (e.g. 5- and 6-plexes should be allowed if 1 or more units are affordable).
* Hold fast to the proposed amendment that applies RIP to all residential zones. Do not exclude communities of concern and vulnerable residents from needed land-use reform!
* Implement displacement risk reports in code (as described in the Comprehensive Plan) and require reviews for development that score highly for displacement risk.
* Eliminate parking requirements for all residential codes.

billyjo
Guest
billyjo

tear down a tiny $500,000 bungalow and replace it with a pair of 4,000 square foot units that sell for over a million…. It’s happening all over the city and we would have been better off had the tiny bungalow stayed.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

Under the current proposals the maximum size of a duplex that could be built on a typical R5 lot is 3,500 sq ft; or 1,750 sq ft per unit.

soren
Subscriber

what you are describing is the status quo…a truly awful situation for vulnerable tenants who are being displaced by 1 to 1 development and renovation.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I agree… that’s why I support the building size limitations. But when demolitions are further incentivized, expect the problem to get worse.

soren
Subscriber

remarkably, the city’s own economic report indicated that demolitions would not change much under the pre-amendment proposal. smdh.

Charley
Guest
Charley

Except…
Such a redeveloped lot could effectively house 2 families living in the 2-plex, whereas only one family would be housed in that lot as-is. The value of the property overall may increase, but the cost to any one renter or buyer would decrease, because, if this happens all over the city, there’d be more housing to choose from. More housing = better market for buyers/renters.

The migrants are moving here, are they not? Are we going to just ask them to sardine themselves into existing 800 square foot bungalows like mine? I understand the urge to maintain and save older buildings, but I think that urge puts the values of an old building over the values of keeping our growing population housed. Do we really want to become San Francisco?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I personally know a number of people who moved here from the Bay Area because our housing is cheap (comparatively speaking). Some even continue to work at their old jobs remotely.

Our underpriced (from a west coast perspective) housing will continue to induce demand until the larger market has reached an equilibrium. Do you suppose we can outbuild that demand?

9watts
Subscriber

“Do you suppose we can outbuild that demand?”

Nope. And the all too predictable attempt to do so anyway gives me the willies.

soren
Subscriber

there are no limits on building outside of the UGB and the UGB will be expanded so the status quo is no impediment to “growth”.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The whole point of the UGB is to limit building outside of it.

soren
Subscriber

the ugb is a buffer area that limits growth around the portland metro area. outside of this zone there is little impediment to suburban and exurban growth. moreover, the UGB is poised to grow again by 2,200 acres.

https://www.oregonmetro.gov/sites/default/files/2016/10/21/UGBhistory.pdf

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Could you perhaps explain the nearly complete lack of suburban/exurban development outside the UGB? Why would developers want to expand the boundary if it meant they now had less freedom to build in the annexed areas?

soren
Subscriber

Have you visited Vancouver, Camas, Sandy, Battle Ground, Canby, Washougal, Ridgefield, Sheridan, Oregon city area, Forest Grove area etc lately?

The UGB paired with exclusionary zoning has helped disincentivize close-in development while incentivizing the least sustainable type of sprawl.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The UGB does not apply to Washington.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that people do not move to Camas looking for opportunities to lived in multifamily attached housing. Your claim that they are only there because of zoning rules rings hollow. More likely they are there because they want less density than is required in Portland.

So I take it back. Maybe you are right that as we make our zoning exclude different types of housing, places like Camas will become more popular.

9watts
Subscriber

“Do we really want to become San Francisco?”

So tiresome, the San Francisco bugaboo. I refuse to be strong-armed with the same old cliche.

Can’t we trust ourselves to be more creative, figure out ways to tackle and solve these problems? Why are there always only two crummy choices?

soren
Subscriber

given portland’s racist and classist residential zoning code, i think palo alto is a more apt analogy than san francisco.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

What makes San Francisco’s zoning less “racist” than ours?

soren
Subscriber

much of portland’s urban core is zoned for single-family-homes because wealthy white folk wanted/want to keep poor people and people of color out of their neighborhoods. most of the urban core of san francisco is zoned for multifamily housing.

SF has profound problems with lack of affordable housing but these could be solved by higher taxes and a significant public housing build out (as has been done successfully in multiple cities in wealthy anglo-euro nations). once again rich people are the impediment but in a different way from portland.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Just so I’m clear on how zoning works, single family housing = racist, multi-family housing = not racist. Is my understanding correct?

In general, I find it quite helpful to have radicals on the left make complex issues so easy to understand.

soren
Subscriber

“But this hardly ended racial discrimination in housing, as whites adopted biased policies like economic zoning that banned apartment buildings in areas designated for single-family homes, often adding minimum lot size requirements to boot. Because African-Americans were disproportionately low-income, economic zoning was in effect exclusionary, accomplishing much of the same results as explicit racial zoning.”

“Developers challenged economic zoning in the courts, but with a different ultimate result. In the case of Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty, a federal court struck down a zoning ordinance in a Cleveland suburb that prohibited apartment buildings in an area zoned for single- and two-family homes. The court noted that “the result to be accomplished is to classify the population and to segregate them according to their income or situation in life.”

“But when the case reached the Supreme Court in 1926, the justices declared that excluding apartment buildings was constitutional. In language laden with class bias, the court reasoned that an apartment house can be “a mere parasite, constructed in order to take advantage of open spaces and attractive surroundings created by the residential character of the district.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/opinion/sunday/zoning-laws-segregation-income.html

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

By this logic building codes, labor unions, and steel tariffs are also racist because they drive up the cost of new housing.

soren
Subscriber

first of all, the idea that unions (or some random tariff) necessarily increase the cost of houisng is very suspect. secondly, exclusionary zoning laws are designed to target or segregate a particular neigbhorhood (unions, on the other hand, are non-geographic).

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

My reading of the zoning rules is that they are race neutral.

That they restrict some forms of housing in some areas doesn’t make them racist. That people who held racist views in the past supported zoning does not make it racist. That you don’t like zoning rules doesn’t make them racist.

By labeling everything racist, you distract from having a substantive conversation about the underlying issues, such as the threat continued demolitions (also not racist) have to the single most affordable type of housing, which is shared housing in older houses.

soren
Guest
soren

Because people of color have disproportionately lower-income, exclusionary zoning was
and is designed to have “much of the same results as explicit racial zoning”.

billyjo
Guest
billyjo

We can pass this and the reality is that it might add the same number of units in a year that are added in just one apartment complex. The big difference is that the duplex that gets built in Laurelherst or Westmoreland won’t be someplace most of us can afford, it will end up not being rentals, but will be sold for well above the average for the neighborhood.

Pass it then we can move on and actually find a solution, but a few hundred new units is a drop in the bucket.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Portland is a very expensive neighborhood to live in…

David Hampsten
Guest

Yeah, that’s why I moved. Sure my new community sucks in many ways, but at least the rich property owners pay higher property tax rates, usually twice or more per $100,000 what owners in Portland pay. State income taxes here are very low (5.49% after a generous standard deduction) and sales tax is modest.

Steve
Guest
Steve

As the owner of two corner lot homes , I feel like I just won the lottery. 🙂

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Just remember, if you build an ADU or divide a house, they will reasses your property taxes. For some properties, it could more than double.

David Hampsten
Guest

But Chris, even if the taxes double, they are still a bargain compared to most of the USA, where property taxes are far greater as a percentage of value than they are in Oregon (or California, another low-property-tax state.) As long as your property tax rates remain low, and they probably will for the next 100 years, you will always be indirectly subsidizing property-ownership at the expense of renters, who pay for lousy Portland public services through (mostly) their constantly increasing water and sewer rates.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Our income taxes are a bargain compared to much of the developed world, and yet, bargain or not, few are clamoring for higher taxes.

(And I don’t buy your subsidizing argument either — raising property taxes would hit renters as well, except where landlords eat the increase, and it’s not clear that higher property taxes would reduce water rates.)

David Hampsten
Guest

Property taxes are the most progressive type of tax, as they generally hit rich people more than poor people. Poll taxes like your insidious arts tax are the least progressive/most regressive. Sales taxes are generally the next worse, especially those on foods (for example SD & WV). What you say about income taxes is true on the Federal level, but NC income taxes are pretty low, but not as low as Washington state or Texas which have no state income taxes. Oregon has relatively high state income taxes, extremely low property taxes, and no sales tax.

My subsidy argument holds true in part because Oregon will never raise property tax rates, ever. Your point of “if they did” is purely academic. The fact is it will never happen. Nor will a sales tax ever be imposed (and I’m sincerely glad of this.) However, certain local services must be provided and they have to be paid for somehow. In my community, replacing and maintaining water lines, sewers, and the roadways/gutters that cover them is paid partly with utility rates and mostly with property taxes. In your community, nearly no property taxes pay for water or sewer repair/replacement, since so little is collected and most of it goes towards police, fire, parks, etc. Instead, you stick it to existing users, most of whom are renters, to pay for past developers’ poor decisions on water and sewer maintenance decisions in leafy rich neighborhoods. And of course Oregon and national drivers have to pay for your $1 billion street maintenance backlog through gas taxes and income taxes that you stopped maintaining in 1992 because you didn’t want to pay the needed high property taxes.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I have mixed feelings about a sales tax. I really like not having one, and they’re generally regressive, but they would greatly help minimize the swings in revenue that destabilize government, and they discourage consumption, which is an environmental goal I strongly support.

I disagree that property taxes are progressive. In many cases they are, but they hit older people on fixed incomes particularly hard. Many people are “house rich, cash poor”.

I agree with your outlook on the potential for changes in either of these taxes, but don’t follow your argument that somehow people in “leafy” neighborhoods bear some special responsibility for water and sewage rates.

soren
Subscriber

And ironically. we have Property Tax Control for landlords and homeowners but Rent Control for tenants is preempted at the State level. Hopefully, this will change in 2019.

John
Guest
John

Before you panic, Steve, Chris I is likely operating on outdated information. You can see current info about ADUs and taxes here:
https://multco.us/assessment-taxation/accessory-dwelling-units
https://accessorydwellings.org/2016/04/27/the-second-coming-of-detached-adus/

DSKJ
Guest
DSKJ

I support adding density across the city, and I don’t agree with the voices who want to preserve exclusively single-family neighborhoods. *However*, there are many possible ways to achieve that. The PSC– which includes multiple developers with declared financial conflicts of interest–took a proposal that had already been dramatically altered from the charge given to RIPSAC (*reduce* demolitions of viable homes and displacement while adding new density in specific areas), and made it enormously more profitable to those developers and realtors. This is corporate welfare, plain and simple. If this were any of the other large West Coast cities, developers like Eli Spivak would have been required to recuse themselves from the process entirely. Portland stands alone in allowing the direct beneficiaries of these policies to literally design those policies themselves.
The disinformation surrounding this Residential Infill process, the ad hominem attacks on purple concerned about demolitions, and the cozy relationship between developers, PSC staff, and Wheeler’s office, have been very disturbing to see.
There are multiple ways to get added density. I believe that the city council owes it to Portlanders to choose the policy option that does the least damage to the diverse and beautiful texture of our physical neighborhoods, while still adding needed density and new units of many sizes, and which will generate the least possible level of conflict and antagonism. The PSC’s proposal fails on both counts. Developer advocate groups like Andersen’s P4E want us to believe that it’s their way or nothing. I can only hope that city council will see more nuance than that.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

An aside on “decarbonization”:

In the late 1970s California produced a “Passive Solar Energy” design handbook, done by a brilliant architect and an equally brilliant engineer, that demonstrated how to build modest and efficient single-family dwellings in every climatic zone of that huge and varied state. The technique was advanced computer simulations, focused on ordinary building materials and methods.

Jerry Brown was in his first stint as governor, but the “California Passive Solar Handbook” had zero effect on any kind of housing in the state.

It is a common error that energy for heating and cooling cannot be greatly reduced by careful and well informed design. The great fallacy is the “This Old House” syndrome, in which one designs anyway one wants, adding huge extensions –monster kitchens are obligatory–and then installs a plethora of “energy efficient” mechanical and electrical equipment .

A “Portland Efficient Housing Handbook.” would be of great utility.

9watts
Subscriber

+++

Jillian Detweiler
Guest

My friend Piper and I used to own that duplex! By teaming up we were able to get a toe in the door to homeownership. I lived upstairs. She lived downstairs. My portion of the downpayment appreciated enough to make a downpayment on a modest single family home in a less central neighborhood several years later.

Colin
Guest
Colin

Wow. 1465 square feet. That’s 465 square feet bigger than my home (family of 4). The biggest thing I always see missing from this affordable housing discussion is efficiency. there’s a lot of great work being done on the subject, little to none of it by this cities housing non profits. I’m a huge fan of attached housing (live in it), and townhouses are the way to go. Taxpayer dollars to build them and rent them, not so much.

soren
Subscriber

“little to none of it by this cities housing non profits”

this is untrue and i say this as someone who is not a fan of low density townhouses/attached housing.

http://pcrihome.org/archives/tag/new-homes

soren
Guest
soren

Because people of color have disproportionately lower-income, exclusionary zoning was designed to have “much of the same results as explicit racial zoning”.