Oregon’s proposal to lift fourplex bans would be great for biking

Posted by on December 18th, 2018 at 8:57 am

Protected bike lanes aren’t the only reason so many people bike in Amsterdam.
(Photo: M. Andersen)

An earlier version of this post was published by the Sightline Institute. It’s by former BikePortland news editor Michael Andersen.

The fight to strike down apartment bans has arrived in Oregon’s legislature.

Would re-legalizing fourplexes everywhere be good for bicycle transportation? It very much would be.

On Friday, Willamette Week broke some news: Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek has been working on a bill that’d require all but the smallest Oregon cities in urban areas to re-legalize up to four homes per lot—a lower-cost housing option that was quite common in the early 20th century but was gradually banned from most parts of most cities.

BikePortland has had a lot to say about proposals like this one before (including the similar local reform that keeps getting better, thanks to public pressure as it works its way through Portland’s endless local process).

But now that this issue has hit the statewide radar, let’s gather the evidence around this question: Would re-legalizing fourplexes everywhere be good for bicycle transportation?

It very much would be.

As Elly Blue put it on BikePortland 11 years ago, proximity is key to our future. More than bike classes, more than courteous driving, more even than comfortable infrastructure, the number-one way to make bike transportation work for the life of an ordinary Oregonian is to make the trips we have to take shorter.

*Source: 2017 NHTS.

Making it legal — not mandatory, just legal — to build homes closer to each other is the way to do this.

Legalizing more housing creates more proximity twice.

First and most obviously, it creates proximity because it lets more people (and also more varieties of people) choose to live closer to current destinations like jobs, parks, schools, grocery stores, shops, parks, quality transit stops and (oh, yeah) their family and friends. Two weeks ago, an economic report on Portland’s fourplex re-legalization proposal estimated that 87 percent of the new, smaller and relatively cheaper homes built would go into the lower-density neighborhoods up to roughly 3.5 miles from the city center.

Those are the exact same neighborhoods we called out in a 2014: “maybe this is why you can’t afford to rent in the central city.”

These are also, of course, the Portland neighborhoods with the best bike infrastructure. We should be improving biking everywhere, but we can also make our existing investments go further by letting more people live near them.

The second reason re-legalizing duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes creates proximity is that simply by existing, homes help create more new things near them. TriMet can’t justify upgrading a bus line to frequent service until a lot of people live fairly close to it. New Seasons can’t justify opening a new grocery store — and Fred Meyer may not be able to justify keeping an existing grocery store open — unless there are a certain number of people living near it.

Every neighborhood coffee shop and dive bar in the city relies hugely on the people who live close enough to walk or bike there and back without hardly thinking about it.

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More homes => more people => more coffee shops and dive bars within biking distance => more biking.

You don’t have to take my word for it. It’s right there in the National Household Travel Survey:

*Data: 2017 NHTS. Chart: Michael Andersen.

This is the flip side of the phenomenon my colleague Margaret Morales recently observed about backyard cottages. She calculated that adding 7 more homes to each standard city block of 21 lots would reduce average driving per household on that block by about 1,000 miles per year.

(Or for more evidence in various contexts, you could look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

One thing to notice about the chart above is that the difference in biking between 17,500 people per square mile (Portland’s Northwest 23rd Avenue, with lots of the old mid-scale housing that has since been mostly banned) and 27,500 (the south side of Portland’s downtown, with skyscrapers) is much less than the difference between 7,500 people per square mile (a lawn-and-driveway area like Beaumont-Wilshire) and 17,500 people per square mile.

In other words, if we want lots more biking, we don’t have to put towers everywhere (though that wouldn’t hurt, either). We just have to transition into cities with many buildings that are a few stories tall and attached to each other.

Hmm, sounds somehow familiar.

*Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo: M. Andersen.

*Houten, Netherlands. Photo: Nicholas Oyler, City of Memphis.

*Medellín, Colombia. Photo: M. Andersen.

*Montreal, Canada. Photo: J. Maus

None of this is to say we shouldn’t also be building awesome protected bike lanes and off-street paths and traffic-calmed side streets. Cities in northern Europe, South America and southern China prove that the magic formula for lots of biking is to combine proximity with great streets.

After years of stagnation, Portland is finally doing more to improve its streets. The logical next step is to make it possible for more Portlanders to use them a little bit less.

— Michael Andersen: (503) 333-7824, @andersem on Twitter and michael@sightline.org.

 

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162 Comments
  • Avatar
    Adam Weis December 18, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Great piece Michael. There’s no doubt that allowing more homes in inner SE and NE Portland would be great for biking and for the planet, but I still wonder if we ought to be allowing greater density in places that are structurally car dependent. Wouldn’t four-plexes on a winding cul-de-sac just lead to more driving? On balance, the four-plex rule will probably do more to spur development in central locations, than out on the fringes, but I still think this is an important question we should be asking. Should this policy apply everywhere?

    (Also I believe you meant 17,500 units per sq mile not per acre)

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    • Avatar
      Kelly December 18, 2018 at 11:13 am

      Who is going to want to bike in inner NE or SE with all the extra cars the increases in density will bring?

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      • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
        Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 18, 2018 at 11:46 am

        If not in fourplexes off the main corridors, those new households won’t cease to exist … they’ll still be formed whenever kids move out of parents’ homes or people move to the area. But the growth will either be concentrated in apartment buildings on the corridors (so, essentially the same traffic impact) or in the burbs (much worse traffic impact, though less likely to be on the local streets you and I probably use most).

        Better to give people the option to be in fourplexes (cheaper per square foot than apartments) as well as apartment buildings (which we should also obviously be making legal).

        Growing cities get more crowded one way or another. It has ups and downs, just gotta learn to live with the downs and appreciate the ups IMO.

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        • Avatar
          Kelly December 18, 2018 at 12:12 pm

          the growth will either be concentrated in apartment buildings on the corridors (so, essentially the same traffic impact)

          How does this make any sense? Single family would be banned city-wide, so the growth would be spread out all over. And even if growth was concentrated on the main corridors, traffic would spill over to the side streets, as it always does. So this would make biking worse, since our network lacks bike lanes on those main corridors and is almost entirely based on riding on side streets that will now have even more cars on them. This happens every single time, yet so-called “housing advocates” keep pushing this idea that never works.

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          • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
            Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 18, 2018 at 2:39 pm

            Sorry, I didn’t realize your position is that we shouldn’t add housing to Portland either on corridors or away from the corridors.

            Also, I think you may be mistaken about the nature of the bill: it wouldn’t ban one-unit buildings. It’d allow buildings to have up to four front doors if and only if that’s what people choose to live in. Whatever the legality, there is no plausible scenario in which the vast majority of Portland residential land consists of anything other than detached homes.

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            • Avatar
              Kelly December 18, 2018 at 2:51 pm

              I love it when people put words in my mouth. Seems to be the way of activists nowadays…

              I support adding housing on corridors as well as allowing 4 units in SF zones. Never said I didn’t. My gripe is that the pipe dream of getting everyone to ride a bike is just that. PBOT doesn’t build bike infrastructure on any of the main apartment corridors and their greenway system does not work since it’s based on bandaid solutions that don’t involve any dedicated bike lanes or protection. Couple that with the fact that even a single diverter takes years to implement due to neighborhood opposition, let alone an entirely new greenway. The way PBOT builds will not convince any of these new residents to ride. You cite Copenhagen and Amsterdam in your article: we have nothing close to that kind of infrastructure in Portland and there are no plans to build it (the CCIM project is mostly just paint and PBOT will cheap out wherever possible like they always do). Plus the bus gets stuck in traffic (if it comes at all) and MAX is non-existent in most of the denser residential neighborhoods with no plans for expansion, so of course they bring their cars and decide to drive.

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              • Avatar
                Jason Skelton December 18, 2018 at 3:16 pm

                I don’t understand what position you are advocating for or against. You wrote that you agree with increasing zoning to allow 4 units, which is the policy issue being discussed. You wrote the proposal was a ban and seemed offended when someone tried to note that you were incorrect on that point. You have general complaints about bike infrastructure and I guess you think the zoning change (which you do not oppose) will worsen the biking situation. Is this words in your mouth? If you have some good ideas it would be helpful to us all if you shared them.

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                Kelly December 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm

                Mostly just complaining here, not specifically advocating for anything. I support adding density, but I just don’t when housing advocates push the idea that increasing density will be a boon for cycling because the city never keeps up with building bike infrastructure or transit. So what happens is that everyone drives instead. Or when they use cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen as an example. Compared to most European cities the vast majority of Portland is suburban in nature. Even compared to many North American cities, pretty much everything outside of downtown/Pearl/NW is streetcar suburb and outright suburb east of 82nd.

                I’m just growing tired of dishonest rhetoric coming from housing advocates. Sure, your ideas may work in theory but in practice, governments take shortcuts, projects get stalled, money runs out, and people end up driving anyway.

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                Daniel December 18, 2018 at 4:34 pm

                I think the reason why this is being touted as a boon for cycling is probably, you know, the chart there which shows more people cycling (as a percentage of trips) in areas where densities are higher. Nobody’s suggesting it will accomplish “the pipe dream of getting everyone to ride a bike”, but evidence suggests that people do bike more when density is higher.

                Sure, people will bring their cars still, but denser neighborhoods strongly encourage you to drive less in them. When density is limited in central city areas, that doesn’t reduce the amount of total driving done on city streets, because anybody who wanted to live in a central neighborhood but couldn’t will just choose to live further out and commute (via car) through the same type of area they were crunched out of. Now they’re not just traffic in their own little hood, they’re traffic in all the neighborhoods between them and where they need to go.

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                nuovorecord December 20, 2018 at 9:34 am

                “the pipe dream of getting everyone to ride a bike”

                Who’s pipe dream is that, exactly? Giving people good, safe places to ride their bikes if they so choose is not “getting everyone to ride a bike.” Talk about putting words in other’s mouths…

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      • Avatar
        Carlin December 18, 2018 at 2:09 pm

        Considering cycling is faster than driving during congestion, many people should prefer cycling. I think PBOT is gradually ramping up their barrier system that prevents through traffic on the public greenways, which should solve the issue you brought up about cars illegally using the greenways as through streets. People don’t like stopping and turning a bunch while driving so the barrier system seems like it should be effective; I rarely see cars on roads with them at least.

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        • Avatar
          Kelly December 18, 2018 at 2:54 pm

          People don’t like stopping and turning a bunch

          Then why are our greenways based on bikes “stopping and turning a bunch”? 😛

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        • Avatar
          mh December 19, 2018 at 10:34 am

          Advocate LOUDLY: frequent diversion for cars to make greenways real, rather than theoretical-plus-paint, as so many now are.

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    • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
      Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 18, 2018 at 11:41 am

      You’re quite right about the typo near the end! 17,500 units per acre, now we’re talking… 😉

      Regarding fourplexes in the boonies, one nice thing is that because the main advantage of fourplexes is that they’re more land-efficient per home, they make much more economic sense in high-land-cost areas (so, mostly the central city) than in lower-land-cost areas. The economic study mentioned in the post concluded that legalizing fourplexes within Portland would result in 87 percent of the new homes being located within that 3.5-mile radius of downtown (mapped above).

      So why legalize fourplexes anywhere else at all? Because:

      a) Every fourplex home in currently urban areas is approximately one fewer one-unit building even further in the boonies (you may have heard that Metro’s council voted last week to expand the urban growth boundary)

      b) Newly built fourplex units are so much cheaper than newly built one-unit buildings that they give lower-income/wealth people a way to prioritize location near jobs, in nice neighborhoods and or in otherwise exclusive school districts … I’m talking here about Lake Oswego, which is another non-central-city place land values are really high. That’s less about bikes and more about good social policy in general, though.

      c) We can’t predict which currently lower-density neighborhoods are going to be popular in the future; this is a long-term way to let neighborhoods that become popular add housing gracefully rather than merely displacing residents, and also a way to let those neighborhoods transition into transit-supportive, walkable/bikeable-retail-supportive densities.

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      • Avatar
        Daniel December 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm

        I really wish more people would read the point you made in C and take it to heart, because it seems to be what so many people miss about housing and density debates. Zoning changes like this aren’t done in order to have a practical effect NOW, and really not much can take effect as fast as people would like it to. Allowing fourplexes to be built won’t instantly turn swaths of Portland into affordable housing, but what it WILL do is make it so areas that can support a density increase will have the ability to add the housing they need in the future. Complaining that it doesn’t get cars off the street tomorrow or lower your rent next month is losing sight of the point.

        As a thought experiment, people need to ask this question – what housing IS affordable now, and how do we build more of it? The most cost effective places to live at the moment are probably the ubiquitous ugly 70s era apartments, probably considered quite modern for their day with amenities like wall-to-wall carpet and sliding aluminum-clad windows. How do we build more of those? Go back in time to the 1970s and find some way to incentivise more of them. Affordable housing doesn’t get built in real-time, it starts off as market-rate housing that becomes cheaper each year, as tastes change and construction loans are paid off.

        Different types of housing have different life cycles of affordability, and things like fourplexes and small apartments are in the sweet spot for going from expensive to cheap relatively fast; they have multiple people working to pay off the construction loans, but they don’t carry nearly as much risk as a high-rise. Those 1970s apartments only took 20ish years to become the cheapest rates out there. When a neighborhood starts growing, having that flexibility to build denser housing (even if it doesn’t seem necessary yet) is the only way to ensure it will be affordable decades from now, when it IS necessary.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 4:44 pm

          I believe the most affordable housing in the city is large older houses inhabited by groups of housemates. This is the kind most likely to be targeted by developers.

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          • Avatar
            Daniel December 18, 2018 at 10:27 pm

            Those are definitely the most affordable on a per-person basis, however they rarely are on a per-unit basis, which is the appropriate comparison to make when talking about zoning that’s based on dwelling units. Most houses default to a single person occupancy for a room, and if you do find one that’s willing to rent to a couple they tend to charge closer to what two people would pay (while only having one private room). Current market rate for a room in NE is about $650 on Craigslist, and that’s if you can even get in one; just barely cheaper than a one bedroom in an APM-run “vintage” apartment, but if you find yourself in a relationship you’re likely to have to move out or start paying something closer to what it costs to have your own place.

            And frankly, developers are not at all targeting shared houses, because they’re too expensive – shared houses can easily make bank for the person who owns them just the way they are. Houses that are in good enough shape to rent as group housing generally gross between $2000 and $4000 a month depending on number of rooms and size.

            Someone looking to buy a house, tear it down, build a bigger house or fourplex on it, and then resell it just buys little two-bedroom bungalows sitting on a standard lot. A house that’s already bringing in the equivalent of a $2500 mortgage will COST as much to purchase as what you can get for that mortgage payment, so probably close to $550k just to get the land. I’m sure we all know someone who rented a room in a punk house and paid $250 to sleep in the pantry until it was bought out from under them, but those situations aren’t at risk – they’re already long gone.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 11:59 pm

              For many people, per-person is all that matters. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen official policy that even acknowledges that shared living is a thing, not to mention supportive of a great source of low cost housing. Everything is nuclear family this and single-family that. Look at the RIP and show me the support for co-operative living, which is a great way to increase density without any need for developers at all. Oh wait…

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              • Avatar
                soren December 19, 2018 at 12:07 pm

                acknowledgment and regulation of shared housing by our government would violate the property “rights” of the many landlords who own second, third, fourth etc homes in the portland area. people who lease homes as shared housing receive significant subsidies by being exempt from many of the laws and regulations pertaining to rental housing. for example, many who rent a room/bed (vs a “unit”) are not eligible for relocation assistance after no-cause eviction.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 12:16 pm

                If I were renting a house, and you were renting a room from me, and I kicked you out, who would pay the relocation assistance? Me? I might not have the money (and you might have royally deserved to get kicked out). The landlord, who had nothing to do with the situation?

                Or, if you and I were romantically involved and cohabiting, sharing the rent, and we broke up, and one of us moved out, would the other be responsible for paying relocation costs?

                The relocation costs issue opens all sorts of thorny issues, and it really makes no sense to apply to a housemate situation.

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              • Avatar
                sorem December 19, 2018 at 5:12 pm

                tenants do not have the right to evict someone else who is on a lease (fixed term or informal month to month). i was referring to situations where the owner evicts everyone in a household but the only person who would be legally able to receive relocation assistance would be the master tenant (whether the other tenants are also on the lease or not).

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                sorem December 19, 2018 at 5:21 pm

                “and you might have royally deserved to get kicked out”

                relocation assistance is not applicable to for cause evictions. and, imo, for cause evictions are far too easy to carry out in OR.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 5:27 pm

                If you’re my housemate and you never do the dishes, I’m going to move you along. That for cause, but it’s not “for-cause”. And if we had an agreement that you were going to do your damn dishes, then that’s on you. And I’m not writing you a check.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 6:07 pm

                I think most housemates are not on the lease. Usually there is one “responsible party” who takes care of the money and generally runs the house. I don’t think it reasonable for a landlord to pay 5x relo costs if the responsible party gets 4 house mates (including the punk in the pantry). If that were the way it worked, that would be the end of shared housing in Portland.

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              • Avatar
                soren December 20, 2018 at 10:17 am

                “I think most housemates are not on the lease.”

                a large proportion of leases in portland are of the informal month to month variety because these allow landlords to evict without cause. in many of these cases, roommates are “on the lease” because state law requires only a minimal level of acknowledgment by the owner-landlord (e.g. cashing a check from a roommate).

                “I don’t think it reasonable for a landlord to pay 5x relo costs”

                i disagree. but leaving that aside do you think it’s fair that in a household of 5 tenants the master tenant (original lease signer) can keep the entire relo check even if the other tenants are “on the lease” (e.g. recognized as subletters/tenants by the landlord).

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 20, 2018 at 10:50 am

                It’s a complicated question. I think the whole relo cost approach is misguided, which may color my thoughts about the question.

                But why would a landlord ever sign a lease with more than one person if it doubled (or quadrupled) their potential liability?

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              • Avatar
                Matt S. December 20, 2018 at 12:08 pm

                I know a couple who recently terminated a lease to disband their living situation. There were three people communally living with one another; two were in a couple. Conditions deteriorated to the point where people were leaving dishes on people’s beds, tearing up each other’s portion of the garden for too much water usage, etc.. The whole situation was weird. But what happened was, the couple coordinated to terminate their portion of the lease. This essentially left the third person with the burden of having to find subletters. She didn’t want to do that nor could she float rent if she wasn’t able to find people, so she agreed to terminate the lease as a whole. The couple agreed to pay the fee for terminating the lease considering the third person didn’t want to move out. The couple and the third person boxed everything up. The couple timed it so the third person moved out a couple days beforehand. The couple stayed, unboxed everything and signed and paid for a new lease with the landlord. They said it was $4000 plus to do this.

                They couldn’t get the third person out of the house because she had her name on the lease and she had established residency. The landlord – legally – couldn’t do anything nor could the couple. Talk about an odd situation…

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            • Avatar
              soren December 19, 2018 at 11:08 am

              “Those are definitely the most affordable on a per-person basis, however they rarely are on a per-unit basis, which is the appropriate comparison to make when talking about zoning that’s based on dwelling units.”

              to hell with the people, let’s focus on “units”. with all due respect, that is some grade A privilege.

              and i say this as someone who looks at the arguments over low-density housing as a classic example of the narcissism of small differences. YIMBYs and NIMBYs love to argue about duplexes when the real need is for forests of affordable apartment buildings (you know, the “units” that our glorious housing market has utterly failed to build for generations). meanwhile, our enormously subsidized real estate industry (the invisible pig trough of capitalism) continues to focus on maximizing profit at the expense of the disgusting fleshy things…erm…renters that provide “cash flow”.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 11:19 am

                This is especially important for the 0-30% MFI folks, who seem to be forgotten by the market and policy makers alike. People considering a $400K four-plex unit have options. People deciding between a tent and a tarp do not.

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              • Avatar
                Daniel December 20, 2018 at 5:41 pm

                What are you even talking about? A dwelling unit is a real thing, made up of some amount of people between one and however many fit in a group of people who decide to live with shared areas, like a family. My point was that it’s incorrect to compare the cost of a single person renting a room in a house with the cost of an apartment, which (assuming it’s a one bedroom) is usually intended for more than two people. And I was making that point because someone else had disagreed with me when I said the cheapest housing in town was those exact apartment buildings you’re asking for, because that person was comparing a per-person cost to a per-dwelling-unit cost.

                We literally are in perfect agreement that apartment buildings should be built, except you only read one line out of my comment, noticed that I used the same terminology as is IN the zoning laws we’re discussing, and feel that it’s “grade A privilege” to use it?

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                soren December 20, 2018 at 9:02 pm

                a room occupied by a 1 person household in a shared house should be treated exactly like a studio apartment. arguing that shared tenancy is different is classist, imo.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 21, 2018 at 12:20 am

                Do you really see no difference between the two?

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            • Avatar
              soren December 19, 2018 at 12:13 pm

              “I’m sure we all know someone who rented a room in a punk house and paid $250 to sleep in the pantry until it was bought out from under them, but those situations aren’t at risk – they’re already long gone.”

              I’ll be sure to let many of my friends and neighbors know that they no longer exist.

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              • Avatar
                Doug Hecker December 19, 2018 at 8:32 pm

                I wonder what would happen if companies didn’t make a profit? I wonder who would still have a job to help them pay rent? Beating up on the companies when you should be beating up on the poiliticians that continually get voted in may be of better use.

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                Daniel December 20, 2018 at 8:29 pm

                This is such an “I have black friends” argument right here. I spent the summer of 2012 responding to hundreds of Craigslist ads in Portland with “rooms for rent”, and at the time the going rate had a minimum of about $350. In 2014 I was looking to rent a house with friends, and the absolute floor on a full house with three bedrooms was $2000, so about $666 per person; theoretically you could get a larger house for more and put more people in it to cut the price down, only every landlord required that one person could show enough reported income to clear 3X the rent pretax so only someone exorbitantly wealthy could actually get in a house. In 2016, I had a house of my own with two roommates, put up a room on Craigslist for $550, and I got over 60 responses begging, pleading, and sometimes practically threatening me for the room over the course of two days.

                I’ve done group living in a house, multiple ways, and recently. For the vast majority of people in Portland it’s not the bohemian dream you keep imagining, it’s expensive, messy, high turnover, and rarely fits someone’s lifestyle indefinitely. If you’ve got a lot of friends who are paying $250 to live in a punk house, good for them – they’re getting a great deal that nobody else in Portland can pull off any more. They’re not threatened by McMansiony fourplexes going up though, they’ve got their sweetheart deal through one form of social magic or another. The reason they get dragged into these discussions about single family zoning is that they’re useful pawns for neighborhoods whose net worth is intrinsically tied to the value of their single family homes, and would like to argue against anything that can devalue their house from $850k to $750k but can’t do so without looking greedy.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 20, 2018 at 8:37 pm

                Except… Rezoning increases value. Greedy people should be all over it. If your diagnosis were correct.

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                Matt S. December 20, 2018 at 8:48 pm

                There was a house on 21st and Wiedler that sold for quarter of a mil a few years ago. I don’t know how many units are there now, but it’s an apartment complex of some sort. Yup, $750,000 tear down because the replacement was more profitable. I doubt they’re affordable.

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                Matt S. December 20, 2018 at 8:49 pm

                Correction, three quarters of a mil that is.

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                soren December 20, 2018 at 9:06 pm

                “I had a house of my own with two roommates, put up a room on Craigslist for $550, and I got over 60 responses begging, pleading, and sometimes practically threatening me for the room”

                it sounds to me like there is significant demand for this housing type. perhaps we as a society should stop denigrating this class of tenants and treating them like 2nd class residents.

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                Daniel December 20, 2018 at 9:56 pm

                Hello, Kitty-

                Greedy people are still being greedy here, because upzoning doesn’t give more money to the owner of a house that’s already worth way more than what a median income household can pay for it UNLESS they decide to sell it. Your average Laurelhurster with an $850k beaut has their house value artificially propped up by the fact that people would love to live in their neighborhood, but we can’t – there are no vacancies. Plenty of space to put more people, but the city has zoned it R5, and all the lots are sized just small enough that they only fit a single dwelling unit. That fact is not coincidence.

                Contrast that with a requirement that nothing in Oregon is zoned for single family homes – now, I may be that same Laurelhurster in that same house, previously valued at $850k, but my neighbor could build a fourplex on their lot and resell the units for $350k apiece, which they’re incentivised to do because it makes them a buttload of money. Sure, they’re not proper comps in real estate language, but then again my house was never really worth $850k either; it was just impossible to buy it or anything like it. Those new units on my neighbor’s lot were the equivalent of someone making new land in the heart of the city, and the inflated valuation on my house just went down by $50k.

                I, the greedy person in this situation, am now mad at the greedier person in this situation (my neighbor), but I can’t just outright say that I’m angry about losing fifty thousand dollars of mythical house value because that’s crass.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 21, 2018 at 12:08 am

                If I’m greedy, I’ll welcome your program to greatly increase the value of my house… I’ll sell and move somewhere that hasn’t yet been upzoned hoping to repeat.

                Except, of course, this isn’t about money, it’s about loving the place you live. That’s why increased value is less enticing than it would be if people were motivated by greed.

                If it were up to me, I would break the city into very small units, and let property owners within each decide on their own zoning. Let the greedy up zone, and let those who are in it for love keep things the way they are.

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    yarp December 18, 2018 at 9:42 am

    Seems like with the type of folks currently transplanting here, you will most likely see 8-ish cars per lot instead of the current 2-ish.

    Sorta like induced demand and all…

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      MTW December 18, 2018 at 10:00 am

      Most lots aren’t big enough to have 4 houses/apartments and parking for 8 vehicles. This policy proposal only works if you eliminate parking minimums city-wide.

      Residents will have to make due with either finding (what’ll likely be scarce) street parking or with using transit, bicycles or walking to destinations.

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        David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 10:30 am

        Actually, if you park the cars in tandem (front to back) in snout-house garages, you can easily fit 8 spots on a typical 5,000 sq ft Portland lot. There’s plenty of such structures in NW, SW and outer EP.

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          Matt S. December 18, 2018 at 11:41 am

          A four-plex would have to be built above a parking garage?

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            David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 12:32 pm

            Right! Since we are going to ignore climate change anyway, let’s eliminate the need to deal with runoff and those nasty interfering setbacks and build on a half-size 2,500 sq ft lot instead. First floor would be a tandem-type garage with parallel parking for 8 cars (2 aisles, 160 sq ft per space, 4 per side, 80 ft long by 24 ft wide) then 4 units on two or three stories above. If you submerge the parking a bit, you can probably even do it within current height limitations. Mitigate the runoff with a “green roof”, add solar collectors, and you are in business!

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              John Lascurettes December 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm
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                David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 11:02 pm

                Parking minimums aren’t very important in Portland either – in most of the city they don’t exist, and where they are required, no one enforces the requirements. Any minimum you see is on the part of market demand or because the bankers making the loans insist upon them. However, in most of the rest of the country, yeah, they are a damn nuisance, too much empty asphalt.

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      • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
        Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 18, 2018 at 11:49 am

        Auto ownership per capita in Multnomah County has been climbing up since we did this post, but is still down 5 percent since 2007.

        It’s true that richer people tend to own more cars. Seems to me that’s a good reason to change housing policy so living in bikeable areas doesn’t require more and more wealth every year.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 1:10 am

          So you believe that your proposed policy change would lower living costs in “bikeable areas” and that would result in more people living there riding bikes.

          The reality is we’re talking about gradations of well-off people. Is there any evidence that housing prices would actually come down, or that relatively well off people ride bikes any more/less than the pretty well off people you think they would replace?

          Not to mention that may residents of the inner areas are not well off at all (except perhaps on paper), having lived there since before housing became so expensive, and so must be riding much more than incoming folks, regardless of housing type. If you really believe income dictates bike ridership, and bike ridership is important, you would fighting harder to avoid displacement by encouraging policies to only demolish the most expensive houses, driving the infernal car drivers out.

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          • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
            Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 19, 2018 at 1:47 am

            There’s strong evidence that richer people own more cars and drive more. That’s what I said above. There’s not strong evidence that richer people tend to bike less for transportation, or at least much less. But given the fact that the poorer person is less likely to have a car, I’m willing to bet the poorer person gets more personal value out of a given bike trip. That’s my point in the comment above.

            There is strong evidence that people living in denser neighborhoods bike more. That’s the main point of this post.

            There is also strong evidence that more housing lowers housing prices across a market, and that smaller attached homes are generally cheaper than large detached ones.

            Nothing wrong with group homes, I agree. Seems to me that Daniel is right – big group homes aren’t being torn down in meaningful numbers, and wouldn’t be under Portland’s fourplex proposal either. Little freestanding homes are, or more often double lots are just being divided.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 2:00 am

              More housing lowers prices the same way more roads lowers congestion. It is true until it isn’t.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 2:01 am

              Though I should note I agree that all things being equal, smaller houses are cheaper than larger ones; and that larger ones should be discouraged. That’s one thing the RIP gets right, and which I think there is strong support for across the board.

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                Bald One December 19, 2018 at 11:51 am

                There is very little important limit on housing size in the new proposed infill (yes, it’s there, but no, it’s not forcing anyone to actually build what you and I would call small homes). The increased density spurs the destruction of trees, open spaces (historically known as yards and gardens), and access to open sunlight for everyone but the roof of the building and the street in front – it just allows developers to completely remove any remaining open space or greenery from the lot where they build (and sunlight from the adjacent lots).

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                soren December 20, 2018 at 10:47 am

                “smaller houses are cheaper than larger ones;”

                the funny thing is that this is not true at all. there is enormous price compression and smaller housing typically sells at far higher $/sq foot.

                i suspect that if portland recognized, legalized, and *incentivized* shared/cooperative housing, we would see a significant increase in density in inner pdx. there is definitely strong demand and need for this type of housing. moreover, this type of housing also tends to be “denser” on a per person basis than plexes so it seems odd that density proponents almost never advocate for it*.

                *YIMBYs tend to come from the same “class” as NIMBYs so living in shared housing is not in their overton window of acceptable housing types. that being said shared/cooperative housing is even more of a 3rd rail for NIMBYs. few respectable NIMBY home owners (e.g. roots in their community, skin in the game, attend neighborhood association meetings) want uncouth lower-income people deflating their property value via their weird communal lifestyles.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 20, 2018 at 10:52 am

                You keep saying homeowners don’t want “them” in the neighborhood, and it keeps being unsupported bullshit.

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                Matt S. December 20, 2018 at 11:53 am

                “…uncouth lower-income people deflating their property value via their weird communal lifestyles.”

                My communal household on NE Alberta and Mallory Ave had a combined annual household income of $225K. Two master degrees, three bachelors. We picked up trash in the neighborhood, attended association meetings, shopped at the local farmer’s market, knew our neighbors, composted, and had a beautifully landscaped front yard. We all lived there for seven years.

                We were weird though…

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 20, 2018 at 12:01 pm

                Soren’s stereotypes are inaccurate.

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                soren December 20, 2018 at 9:16 pm

                that was sarcastic imitation of respectable homeowners worried about their property values. i love the uncouth.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 21, 2018 at 12:16 am

                My comment also applied to your caricature of homeowners. I know you are better than those who would soil themselves with the ownership of property, but you should have some compassion for your inferiors.

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              soren December 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm

              “Seems to me that Daniel is right – big group homes aren’t being torn down in meaningful numbers”

              the inclusion of “big” is a strawman. there are plenty of modest unimproved (often slumlordish) bungalows being shared by lower-income renters. i personally live near multiple examples. i wish we have some actual estimates of the number of people living in this housing type but the city of portland does not even characterize subletters as tenants (the state does).

              secondly, the issue is not only that they are being torn down but that the people living in this housing type have fewer legal rights and protections. imo, YIMBYs are reluctant to address this issue because extending rights and protections to this class of renters would significantly reduce the pool of housing that is most likely to be targeted for plexification (e.g. redevelopment).

              in essence, the poor “punk” sods who rent “a room in a punk house and [pay] $250 to sleep in the pantry” are the sacrificial lambs that enable a small amount of additional density. this is a bad look for people who support increased density and completely unnecessary.

              to quote planning and sustainability commissioner chris smith (via bp):

              “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?”

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                soren December 19, 2018 at 2:18 pm

                and just to make my position clear:

                in single family zoned areas without displacement risk i would like to see even more aggressive upzoning (e.g. larger plexes and small apartment buildings allowed by default). in areas with displacement risk, i believe upzoning must be paired with tenant protections that create a “a right to remain”.

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                Matt S. December 19, 2018 at 2:39 pm

                Your post reminded me of a story I heard on NPR about communal living.

                https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/12/19/250548681/bay-areas-steep-housing-costs-spark-return-to-communal-living

                Might resonate with some.

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                soren December 20, 2018 at 10:22 am

                correction: the city does not classify tenants living in different spaces in shared housing as separate households. the state does.

                such a progressive city…

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      Matt S. December 18, 2018 at 10:34 am

      I agree, this is exactly what’s going to happen.

      I once lived in a single family home with three other roommates. Between all us, we had five vehicles. There was room to park two in the driveway. We lived off NE Alberta and Mallory. We also had close to 15 bikes between all of us. We weren’t car people per say, but nonetheless, we had a ratio of > 1.

      I think we we’re an anomaly on the block (granted there’s a bunch of young adults cooperatively living with one another in Portland) and I think many family homes have just two adults and some children, probably just two cars.

      And are these apartments going to be truly affordable? Probably not for the family of three to four, hoping to get their children into good schools. Let’s speculate, even pricing low: 1 bedrooms are probably going to be close to $1100; 2 bed, $1500; 3 bed, $1800. Plus utilities.

      Unless developers buy properties and convert existing structures into duplexes and triplexes, which I doubt they will, we’ll continue to see what’s happening: developers purchasing $300K homes and tearing them down. Then spending $100-300 per sq foot to build. Say each unit is an average of 800 sq feet and we take even a less than $100 per sq foot to build, presume $70, that’s $56K to build one unit. Times four, we get $224K for all four plus the purchase price, equals $524K. This is envelope math. It very well could approach 3/4ths to a million to build all four units, depending on amenities.

      I don’t think they’ll be affordable unless there’s government intervention to lower the build price: subsidies, tax breaks, low permitting costs, etc..

      This law, at least for the Portland area, is only going to bring more cars into the neighborhoods. They’re not going to be affordable, and you’re going to have a strong resistance from the NIMBY folk claiming the government is lowering the price of their single family home with no form of compensation.

      I hope I’m wrong.

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        Chris I December 18, 2018 at 10:51 am

        The streets only have so much space for parking in these popular neighborhoods. Eventually, we will just hit the limit, and we’ll have a situation like NYC, where only selfish/crazy will own cars.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 10:56 am

          And everyone else will take the subway!

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            Kelly December 18, 2018 at 11:26 am

            Exactly. Portland’s public transit is so bad that of course everyone will drive. Tri-Met mostly focuses on the suburbs when building a new MAX line whereas the inner neighborhoods that would much better support rail transit have to settle for buses that get stuck in traffic anyway. Is it any wonder why so many people drive in this supposed “bike and transit friendly” city?

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              X December 26, 2018 at 12:07 pm

              This comment misses Michael’s point that greater density enables better transit. Also, the change is gradual. A block does not suddenly flip to a bunch of plexes.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 27, 2018 at 4:57 am

                No? Take a look at SE Taggers between 20th & 21st.

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    Boomer December 18, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Great! This proposal will only increase my property value! Although, I’ll likely have to up the rent a bit on my other property to compensate.

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      Kelly December 18, 2018 at 11:26 am

      Thanks a lot… It’s hard enough to pay my rent in this town already.

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      Chris I December 18, 2018 at 12:23 pm

      That’s not how it works. If you aren’t charging market rate, then yes, you can increase your rent. If you are already charging market rate, you will lose your tenants eventually and struggle to fill the rental property.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 12:51 am

        That is how it works — if prices are rising in your neighborhood, then it seems more attractive, and thus the market rate for rent will increase. That’s sometimes called “gentrification”.

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          Chris I December 19, 2018 at 7:27 am

          “increased property value” does not equal “increased rents”. Show me that it does.

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            meh December 19, 2018 at 8:15 am

            Increased property value is based on increased demand. If demand to live in an area goes up then so do rents. The demand is not just from those who want to buy.

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              Matt S. December 19, 2018 at 10:22 am

              I lived in a place where the home value was reassessed, property taxes went up, rent went up… And that was owned by a friend, they were nice with the rent hike.

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              Chris I December 19, 2018 at 10:41 am

              Rental unit supply/demand is somewhat disconnected from SFH/Condo supply/demand. You can have a shortage of SFH and a glut of rental units (we actually have a glut of mid/high-end rental units right now). In fact, cost of ownership in Portland has gone up to the point that it actually makes more financial sense to rent right now. This wasn’t the case a few years ago, when we had a significant shortage in rental units.

              https://smartasset.com/mortgage/price-to-rent-ratio-in-us-cities

              Portland’s ratio is nearly 30:1, so you would be stupid to buy a house just to turn around and rent it. If you were in Pittsburgh, where the ration is 12:1, it would be a sound financial move.

              If my 5,000sqft lot can now have 4 houses on it, that makes it more valuable, due to potential development. This doesn’t drive up the rental value, because the rezoning doesn’t immediately change the rental market. If anything, the zoning change will put downward pressure on the rental market in the long term, because more triplexes and 4-plexes will come on the market.

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    Kelly December 18, 2018 at 9:50 am

    You’re crazy if you think banning single-family zoning will make Portland more like Amsterdam. We still build everything around the car here and that won’t change for the forseeable future. Some people need to get around and not everyone can ride a bike…

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      MTW December 18, 2018 at 11:02 am

      Not everybody can drive a car either (visually impaired, people under the age of 16, etc.) Designing cities around any one method of transportation is inherently inequitable

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        Kelly December 18, 2018 at 11:07 am

        Visually impaired people can’t bike either. Judging by the numbers, most people drive because riding a bike just doesn’t feel safe in this town. Increasing densities will just bring more cars, making it feel even less safe. Since the city refuses to build infrastructure like in the cities citing in this article, we can fully expect biking rates to drop as density increases.

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          tee December 26, 2018 at 2:34 pm

          We get it. Density scares you. It’s definitely a different feel, but it will be okay. Or maybe, you just really, really like driving and the feeling of suburban style living just a couple miles from Downtown… Fortunately for you, we also have a pretty decent transit system (I am not saying perfect), so you can join us in riding the bus or max for situations/destinations where bicycling feels uncomfortable.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 27, 2018 at 6:44 am

            If you think the problem is “density is scary”, then you really don’t get it.

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    Matt S. December 18, 2018 at 10:00 am

    I enjoyed reading the article, the only thing I’m depressed about it the percentages were talking about: “probability of a trip happening by bike” is less than 2%. I imagine if the density increases, so too will biking, hopefully.

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      Kelly December 18, 2018 at 10:10 am

      Portland is still far to spread out to really see huge increases in bike commuting. This article uses Amsterdam and Copenhagen as examples, which makes no sense. These are much older and denser cities and Portland will never come close to them. We need to be comparing ourselves to other North American cities like Vancouver or San Francisco. Those are more realistic. This is still America and people need to drive. When East Portland (a suburb in any other context) is considered part of the city, we’ve got problems with how we expect urban development to occur. Try visiting a real city and tell me East Portland is part of “the city”.

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    • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
      Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 18, 2018 at 11:51 am

      Yes, though note that these are national figures. Portland probabilities are significantly better, though obviously not good enough.

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    David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 10:24 am

    ” is much less than the difference between 7,500 homes per acre (a lawn-and-driveway area like Beaumont-Wilshire) and 17,500 homes per acre. ”

    This is clearly a typo, but I’m not sure what you are trying to say. An acre is 43,560 square feet or an area slightly larger than a downtown Portland city block. Most blocks in inner Portland have 10-20 homes per acre. I’m guessing you are writing about the size of lots being 7,500 square feet versus 17,500 sq ft, but I could be wrong.

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      Lowell December 18, 2018 at 10:53 am

      I’m fairly certain the author meant 7,500 and 17,500 resident per square mile.

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        David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 11:44 am

        Maybe, but B-W is barely half that. Such densities are pretty much limited to NW, Goose Hollow, Westside, Downtown, and Glenfair (Rockwood) in Portland for the lower number and the upper number is still limited to just NYC/Manhattan.

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        • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
          Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 18, 2018 at 11:54 am

          I should have typed “residents per square mile.” Now fixed – thanks & apologies.

          Here’s the link to the Census figures showing Beaumont-Wilshire residential density of 7,831.5 people per square mile.

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        David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 11:58 am

        Let’s say for argument’s sake that we develop an entire square mile of Portland as 4-plexes, each on a typical 5,000 sq ft lot. There are approximately 20 blocks per mile in inner Portland, so one square mile would have 400 blocks (plus lots of 50-ft wide streets), each block being 200ft x 200ft = 40,000 sq ft (just under an acre). With 5,000 sq ft lots, there should be 8 lots per block or 32 4-plex units. so 400 blocks times 32 units per block = 12,800 units per square mile. The Pearl currently has 1.43 residents per unit according to the 2010 census. So our maximum holding capacity with 4-plexes over our square mile = 1.43 people/unit x 12,800 units = 18,304 people per square mile. Now this is every house is converted into a 4-plex. Most houses will not be converted ever. Some will be replaced (or already have been) by apartments with far more than 4 units. So a more realistic number is somewhere between the current mean (650,000 people on 145 square miles = 4,483 people/sq mi) and half the maximum = 9,152 people/sq mi.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 10:30 am

    New construction is the enemy of affordability. It’s true that a new 4-plex will probably have cheaper units than a new single family house, but it is often not true that a new 4-plex will have cheaper units than an existing single family house of the type that a developer would be willing to buy and demolish to build that 4-plex, especially if the original structure is used as group housing.

    In Ladd’s Addition, there is a ton of new ADUs being built. Those would provide lower cost housing without displacing other options, except, of course, they’ll all be rented on the short-term market because Portland is unwilling to stand up to anything bigger than a scooter company.

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      David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Yeah, after reading this, I started thinking along the same lines, Andersen’s “Let’s Build More Air BnB Housing in Nice Areas, Like They Have In Europe” proposal, since he’s specifically excluding any part of Portland that already allows 4-plexes but that is not touristy. Moreover, he’s not pushing to make those same poorer areas more bike-friendly.

      And it is a lot like Europe. The bike-friendly areas are typically in the inner parts of major and university cities, but not so much in the outer 20th century suburbs with their concrete highrises nor the older dirtier industrial cities away from the capital city – the places that tourists don’t typically visit.

      From an advocacy point of view, I find this whole article very cynical and nasty.

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      • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
        Michael Andersen (Contributor) December 18, 2018 at 11:59 am

        David, you may have missed the sentence in this post where I wrote “we should be improving biking everywhere,” but I don’t think you’ve missed my years of advocacy on this site and elsewhere for dramatically improved bike infrastructure in East and Southwest Portland.

        Also, I’m not sure what you mean about excluding parts of Portland that allow 4plexes but aren’t touristy. There are some higher-density zones outside that 3.5 mile ring where newer fourplexes have been allowed and exist; that’s great. The proposal I’m advocating here would legalize them in all residential zones of all urban cities.

        It’s true that my main attention here is to the benefits of adding housing to the more expensive, exclusive neighborhoods, because those are the ones many people are currently physically and/or financially unable to live in even if they want to.

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      Chris I December 18, 2018 at 10:52 am

      Let’s solve the housing crisis by not building anything. Great idea!

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 10:55 am

        Bad idea. We need to build affordable housing. This proposal, and others like it, would do the opposite.

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          Chris I December 18, 2018 at 12:25 pm

          I don’t think your going to find many people willing to vote for government housing projects. They aren’t a good solution because they concentrate poverty and crime.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 2:45 pm

            Publicly/non-profit funded housing (in whatever guise, not necessarily big high-rise developments) seems like the only solution.

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          Chris I December 18, 2018 at 12:26 pm

          Also, why can’t we do both?

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          Gary B December 18, 2018 at 12:32 pm

          Where do we build this affordable housing in your proposal? New construction being the enemy of affordability and all.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm

            What, exactly, is “my proposal”?

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            Chris I December 18, 2018 at 2:42 pm

            No solutions proposed, just vague generalizations with no facts to back them up.

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            Babygorilla December 19, 2018 at 12:02 am

            A non profit is developing 140 affordable units on the old Sugar Shack strip club / adult complex at Killingsworth and Cully and got a quarter million dollar loan from the city towards the multil million dollar purchase as was reported in the local news a few weeks back. The articles I saw didn’t delve into what would be affordable (not good journalism I’d say), but I think the nonprofit has a few buildings in the area that I think are affordable by whatever federal standards are. And they’ve really spruced up the area over the years.

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      maccoinnich December 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

      We have real world evidence that this is not the case.

      One of the few areas of inner Portland where it’s legal to build plexes in areas that’s already built out with single family houses is the area between N Interstate and I5. There is one developer who has consistently been building six plexes in that area, on 5,000 sq ft lots.

      There are two units currently for sale in a building a 5025 N Minnesota, priced at $315,000 — a price point that’s become almost non-existent in inner Portland. The house that was demolished sold for $305,900 in summer 2016. The house one lot to the north was worth $340,000 in summer 2016, according to Redfin, and is now worth $401,930. So I think it’s safe to say that those 6 units are providing housing at a price that is substantially lower than if that one house had remained.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

        “The house that was demolished sold for $305,900 in summer 2016.”

        $305K is also a price point unavailable in inner Portland, so if the idea is to rely on a supply of houses at that level that can be replaced, there is a problem.

        Besides, one data point is not much in the face of plenty of evidence that new construction is more expensive that what it replaced. For example, I can show you a house that provided housing for a group of adults for (if I recall, ~$500 each), replaced by 4 units (2 houses, plus 2 Airbnb’s), sold for a total of pretty close to $2M. This example, while somewhat extreme, is not atypical.

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          maccoinnich December 18, 2018 at 1:52 pm

          1) You’re ignoring the fact that house would no longer be worth $305,900, and would more likely be closer to $400,000.

          2) This is not the only example — this developer has built quite a few of these developments, as I pointed out — but there would be more of them if they weren’t illegal in most of the city.

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        Matt S. December 18, 2018 at 2:00 pm

        You realize that two adults each have to make $27/hr for that $315K home to be affordable. That is if you’re assuming one should stay at or under %25 of their gross monthly income for housing. The median household income for Portland in 2016 was about $53K/yr. Assume that’s for two adults, that’s about $12.50/hr, if they’re both working full time.

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          maccoinnich December 18, 2018 at 3:22 pm

          While I question your math that it takes a household income of over $100,000 to afford a $315k home, I am very aware that simply bringing down the price of for-sale housing isn’t enough to serve the housing needs of all Portlanders. That’s why I voted for both housing bonds, and why I was at city council a couple weeks ago advocating for approval of an affordable housing development in Northwest Portland.

          None of that changes my view that more houses in the $300k range are a good thing in a city where houses below $500k are increasingly scarce in the inner neighborhoods.

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          Matt S. December 18, 2018 at 6:32 pm

          I guess it all depends on the mortgage calculator you’re using. I used the Advantis CU. I ran a couple different scenarios, so yes the math could be different depending on your adjusted variables.

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            maccoinnich December 19, 2018 at 12:20 am

            A mortgage lender using standard underwriting guidelines will issue a mortgage for a $315K home on an income of much less than $100k; or conversely will issue a mortgage for a home worth much more than $315K on an income of $100K.

            I’m not saying it’s a good idea to take out the largest mortgage that a bank will ever issue, but it’s just plain untrue to claim that homes at $315K are only affordable to those with six figure incomes.

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              Matt S. December 19, 2018 at 9:00 am

              315K @ 4.5% w/ 0 down payment = $2,121 with fees, taxes, etc.. Divide that for two adults = $1,060. Divide that number by 0.30 <– percentage of monthly gross income for housing = $3,535 gross income. Divide that by 176 working hours in a month = $20/hr or $42,420/yr or $84,840/yr for dual income.

              I always use the rule of thumb of not spending more than %25 of gross income. If you abide by this rule, then you're at $1,060/0.25 = $4,240 gross income divided by 176 working hours = $24/hr or $50,880/yr or $101,760/yr for dual income.

              I calculated the monthly cost for the home without a down payment, because I don't think most people can come up with 20% down unless they save for several years.

              Also, the mortgage doesn't include utilities and maintenance, which will increase your costs.

              I refined my math. You can technically afford a $315K with 0 down payment with a dual income salary of less than $100K.

              References

              https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/06/how-much-of-your-income-you-should-be-spending-on-housing.html

              https://www.advantiscu.org/calculator/mortgage-rent-vs-buy

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        Sigma December 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm

        More real world evidence: Look at the west side of the 3900 block of NE Mallory Ave on google street view, October 2015 and July 2017, for the inevitable result of this policy proposal. (spoiler alert: 3 houses in the $300 – $400 range were replaced with 8 in the $1M + range. Any theories why this won’t be repeated all over the city? I’ll listen.

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          maccoinnich December 18, 2018 at 4:21 pm

          Sure. What was built on Mallory wouldn’t be legal on the sites rezoned through the residential infill project.

          Each of those 5,000 sq ft lots now has two townhouses on it, of 3,273 sq ft each; or 6,546 sq ft of development per former lot. That’s an FAR of 1.3:1. Under the residential infill project the maximum FAR that could be achieved is 0.8:1, and then only with triplexes or fourplexes that were affordable or visitable. The achievable price for the 800-1,000 sq ft fourplex units allowed by the residential infill project is going to be completely different to a 3,273 sq ft duplex.

          Furthermore, those houses were required by the current zoning code to provide off-street parking, which increases the minimum sales price the developer needed to make the project pencil. That would no longer be required under the residential infill project.

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            Sigma December 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm

            Fair enough, but zoom out a bit. Those exact houses might not be built, but the larger trend of modest, relatively affordable houses being demolished for a few more, much more expensive houses, is what I am concerned about. I have yet to hear a rip advocate articulate a case why that won’t continue, other than “trust us, it won’t. Supply will save us. Just look at this report the city’s consultant wrote.” I’d love to hear one because I don’t really oppose the policy, I just think proponents are naive to the possibility of unintended consequences; that his will have the opposite effect that they think it will.

            And aren’t partial below grade basements exempt from the area calculation? At one point they were. That seems like a loophole big enough to drive your Tesla SUV through, which you can then park in your gigantic driveway (that “wasn’t required”).

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              maccoinnich December 18, 2018 at 10:54 pm

              Yes, floors 4′ or more below the right-of-way are exempt from the floor area calculation as currently written… however the ramp to get down to 4′ below grade would have to be 26′ long at a 15% slope (which is a very steep driveway). We don’t see many homes built today with driveway ramps that long and steep, with builders tending to do the “jetway” stairs to get a first floor over the garage instead. I doubt we’ll start seeing them on a common basis after the residential infill project either.

              And to pivot back to your first question, which is why we wouldn’t see smaller houses torn down to build larger houses: the new code disincentives that. Under the residential infill project the largest single house that could be built on a 5,000 sq ft lot would be 2,500 sq ft. That makes the economics of a one-for-one demolition pretty challenging. What could instead be built is a 4,000 sq ft triplex or fourplex, i.e. three 1,333 sq ft units or four 1,000 sq ft units. Instead of one large and expensive home we’d more likely get three or four modestly sized and priced home. As I’ve mentioned up-thread, we already know that home builders are capable of delivering these—when they’re allowed to.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 11:02 pm

                I would actually support RIP if it disincentivized demolitions.

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      Daniel December 18, 2018 at 4:52 pm

      New construction seems like the enemy of affordability today, but it’s the only way that anything becomes affordable housing in the future. Everybody here shouting about how new construction isn’t doing anything to lower rents for themselves right now is absolutely correct, and also missing the point: we got into this mess because for the last 70 years, the only thing that was allowed to be built in many central city neighborhoods was single family housing. It’s incredibly short-sighted to look at zoning policy as if it’s meant for the present, and not something that has massive ramifications further down the road.

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    Jason Skelton December 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    “Making it legal — not mandatory, just legal — to build homes closer to each other is the way to do this.”
    Why is this controversial? It seems the current legal regime is more radical and poor public policy: prohibiting multi units on single family lot and requiring off-street parking for single family homes.

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      Chris I December 18, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      Because America (and Portland) is full of people with the “I got mine” attitude. They like what they have, and they don’t want it to change. Single family zoning keeps out people who they don’t want as neighbors.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm

        I would contend that your hints of racist motivation are utterly unfounded.

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          Chris I December 18, 2018 at 2:43 pm

          No need to hint. It’s a well-established fact, and was even documented in black and white in several Portland neighborhoods.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 2:45 pm

            Could you be more specific?

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            Kelly December 18, 2018 at 3:10 pm

            When? 1930? I think you’d be hard-pressed to find outright racist homeowners nowadays – especially in liberal cities like Portland. I believe people’s concerns are more rooted in fear of change (they want the neighborhood to stay the same as when they bought their home) rather than the racial makeup of their neighbors. Personally, I believe it’s ridiculous to expect a neighborhood to never change (maybe in a far-away rural community but certainly not in a larger and growing town like Portland), but that’s their line of thinking anyway.

            Just because housing bureaus implemented racist housing policies 80 years ago doesn’t mean that people living in those neighborhoods today are all racists.

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              Chris I December 18, 2018 at 4:09 pm

              I agree with you. As I stated, the biggest motivator is fear of change. They like their lifestyle and don’t want to have to give up driving, spend more time in traffic, etc. It is a popular sentiment that we can just oppose new construction and somehow avoid the economic forces behind the cost of housing.

              We also can’t ignore our racist past, nor can we ignore the mostly-subconscious racism that definitely exists even in progressive cities like Portland.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 4:23 pm

                I certainly don’t want to ignore history, or pretend it is something different than it was (as many on both the left and right are prone to do), but I am a firm believer that children should not be stained with the sins of their parents.

                Why do you characterize not wanting something you like to change “fear”?

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                David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 11:10 pm

                It’s true that Portland has had a very nasty racist past that it still has difficulty dealing with, even as recently as the past two decades, but your argument on the exclusivity of SFR is now much more classism than racism, that specific economic classes of people are excluded based upon income and/or wealth.

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                Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 11:13 pm

                I’m not even really sure it’s classism, or any ism at all. There is zero evidence it’s racism, but these days, what need is there for evidence?

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              soren December 19, 2018 at 12:16 pm

              “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find outright racist homeowners nowadays”

              You are mistaken.

              Citation:

              https://nextdoor.com/city/portland–or/

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 12:20 pm

                Yes, some homeowners are racists. As are some renters.

                That said, how do you figure out who rents and who owns on Nextdoor?

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          Kelly December 18, 2018 at 2:56 pm

          When you can’t win your argument, just call your opponent racist! Works every time.

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            Chris I December 18, 2018 at 4:10 pm

            To be fair, I never said anything about race, until I was accused of pulling the race card. By “people they don’t like” I’m thinking young people, hipsters, Californians, cyclists, etc. Just peruse Nextdoor for a few hours and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 4:14 pm

              It’s too late. The inner neighborhoods have lots of cyclists, Californians, hipsters, and young people.

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                David Hampsten December 18, 2018 at 11:18 pm

                It’s so hip that even NC A&T graduates are now gentrifying the area (young upwardly-mobile black urban professionals).

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              Kelly December 18, 2018 at 4:24 pm

              Yeah, people like to complain on the internet. It’s the entire basis for this website, even!

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        Middle of The Road Guy December 19, 2018 at 10:21 am

        I’m so glad I got mine in 2010.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      It’s controversial because of demolitions. If this were just about infill development, and building scale were kept consistent (maybe a little larger) with what’s already in the neighborhood, I think the controversy would largely disappear. For example, I haven’t heard any significant voices opposing internal conversion of existing structures to multi-unit housing.

      Instead of acknowledging the real motivations, some people would prefer to slander their opponents as racist. That’s not a recipe for progress.

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        Jason Skelton December 18, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        It seems it is more than demolition because some homeowners object to their neighbors or neighborhood changing. They fear their home value will decrease if existing homes are modified to multi-unit.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 2:43 pm

          Upzoning is as good as giving free money to current owners. Those that object are doing so against their economic best interest.

          The truth is people tend live places they like (that’s why they live there), and they don’t want to see the things they like demolished and replaced with something that changes the nature of their neighborhood. There’s nothing wrong with this, in my opinion. After all, homeowners literally own the neighborhood. Why shouldn’t they have a loud voice in its future?

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            bikeninja December 18, 2018 at 3:12 pm

            This whole “they own the Neighborhood” thing will probably be the downfall of our version of capitalism as it prevents , as you say. us as a society from making the necessary changes to adapt to a fast changing and chaotic future of dwindling resources, energy and available land. Instead of adapting where we live to meet the challenges in front of us we will probably ride our old car-centric , high energy use neighborhoods in to the dumpster of history. No wonder the native americans we displaced shook their heads as they knew our obsession with ownership of land would one day lead to our demise.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 5:03 pm

              Ah yes, the Wise Native American trope.

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                Middle of The Road Guy December 19, 2018 at 10:23 am

                When they were not busy warring with each other, they were being very wise.

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                Adam December 19, 2018 at 8:17 pm

                Credit where it is due, 12,000 years is a pretty good run.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 19, 2018 at 10:32 pm

                Sure… but the Africans have probably 100,000 years on them, and modern humans have inhabited Europe for 40,000 years. Which really tells you nothing at all.

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            Daniel December 20, 2018 at 9:15 pm

            I’m very much for upzoning single family home zoning, and it’s very much against my economic best interest. I own a home which is already zoned for much higher density, making it much more valuable as long as there’s an outsized demand for lots like mine, something that upzoning other areas will reduce. I probably stand to lose tens of thousands of “dollars” in fictional house value if this goes into place; my zoning has allowed fourplexes for decades, and if they’re suddenly allowed in areas that were R2.5 through R10, absolutely nobody would want to buy my house to build one.

            That being said, I currently bike past vacant houses on my way to work which are sitting there empty because the absent owner is hoping to maximize the value of a sale, and people camped out in tents on the sidewalk, all in the same 20 minute ride to work. The current zoning system encourages that. Those vacant houses are rotting and dying in a neighborhood where houses can sell for more than half a million dollars because there’s nothing pressuring the owners to put people in them. That’s pretty sick, and while zoning isn’t the reason things are that way, upzoning is a tool that can help fix it.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 21, 2018 at 12:19 am

              If you really believe in upzoning, why are you selfishly sitting on a redevelopable lot, and not building the housing for the upper middle class at the city so badly needs?

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    Glennsity December 18, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    More housing density is great, but people don’t expressly need to live closer to each other. It doesn’t hurt, but what they really need is to live closer to work and shopping. Which means mixing residential and commercial zones. If industry uses modern environmental practices (or is forced to by our wonderful strong forward-thinking and principled government… hmm…) then maybe you could mix industrial uses in there too. Basically I’m starting to think the solution might be to abolish all or most zoning. In cities that grew up before zoning was a thing, people self-arranged organically into patterns that “ended up” (in quotes because it’s no coincidence) being the most efficient and working for everybody. And those are attractive cities today.

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      bikeninja December 18, 2018 at 1:36 pm

      One can make the case that one of the biggest problems is our system of home/real estate ownership with large transaction costs. People buy a house on one side of town then often change jobs and end up commuting to the other end of the town. If there was a way for people to easily move to be closer to work it would cut down on traffic, pollution and congestion in a big way. But there are many barriers in the way of such a system, but it does seem silly that we spend Billions building highways, wearing out cars, stuck in traffic and buying gas that would not be needed if we could overcome this problem.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 1:49 pm

        We have such a system: it’s called “renting”.

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          Jason Skelton December 18, 2018 at 1:51 pm

          It is true. But home owning is strongly encouraged with mortgage interest deductions and the like.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 3:00 pm

            This is much less true under Trump’s tax cut.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 4:12 pm

              To clarify — because the standard deduction went up so much, itemizing (required to get your mortgage interest deduction) will be worthwhile for fewer people.

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              John Lascurettes December 18, 2018 at 4:44 pm

              Yes, he eliminated the need for the deduction for about half the people taking it. Guess who still is taking it? The wealthier people with bigger homes. Sticking it to the middle and lower class again.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 4:47 pm

                Well… would you rather have a lower deduction and get to deduct your mortgage interest, or a higher one where you don’t need to?

                Arguably, the rich, who still itemize, did not benefit from the increased standard deduction, whereas everyone else did.

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            John Lascurettes December 18, 2018 at 4:27 pm

            Speaking as a homeowner (still paying a mortgage), that interest deduction thing is bad. It was created to encourage home ownership but resulted in driving up real estate prices because it increases people’s buying power. That in turn drives up rent. The problem is, the genie is out of the bottle on that. How do you stuff it back in?

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty December 18, 2018 at 5:21 pm

              One way, probably easier than repeal, is a higher standard deduction.

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              Ps December 18, 2018 at 7:45 pm

              It does not increase their buying power, merely it made it justifiable to acquire a more expensive home.

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    Rachel December 18, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Bike Portland, thanks for including this here. The more discussions about the land use-transportation (of all types) connection we have here, the better. Having said that, this proposal isn’t outlawing single family zoning–its providing more options within that zone.

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      mh December 19, 2018 at 11:01 am

      I’m guessing you’re Willamette Week’s Rachel. If so, thank you for writing the important things for a more general, less targeted audience. Even recognizing the level of disagreement on the subject in BikePortland, this is closer to “preaching to the choir” than presenting similar articles to Willamette Week’s readership.

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    Ted Buehler December 19, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Michael — good points.

    But, your map is off.

    I pointed this out to you 4.5 years ago, and you still haven’t updated it.

    Much of the “grey” zoned land in your map that you don’t include in “can build apartments” or “can’t build apartments” is was zoned EX in 2014 (not zoned — build anything), and is now zoned CM (Commercial Mixed Use)

    Hence, your numbers are off, the blue areas of your map are dramatically underrepresented, and the premise of the story is also off. (Because of the more than amble EX/CM zoning, Portland has lots and lots of vacant land where apartments can be built).

    Just sayin…

    Ted Buehler

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    Ted Buehler December 19, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Here’s my post from 4.5 years ago on your original “Maybe this is why you can’t rent in Portland”

    *******
    Ted Buehler April 24, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Michael — I think you’ve made an error in your calculations.

    The Portland zone “EX” is termed “Employment” but what it really means is “Everything,” typically with a 65′ height limit (5 stories).

    In your map, you omitted all non “residential lands” from your buildable inventory. The EX land, while not zoned residential, is available for residential construction.

    There’s lots of EX land, suitable for building apartment buildings, that ie erroneously shown in “grey” on your map.

    For instance, many of the new apartment buildings in the inner N/NE are built on EX land, such as
    * The Albert, Williams and Beech, 64 units
    * The Payne, 18 units, Williams and Beech
    * 4200 N Williams 84 units, (under construction) Williams and Mason
    * Wilmore, about 50 units, (under construction) Williams and Skidmore
    * OAME site, about 184 units, soon to be under construction, Willams and Mason
    * Kaiser Towers, 8 stories, soon to be under construction, Williams and Fremont
    * Bakery Towers, 5 stories, 100+ units, soon to be under construction, Williams and Cook
    * new microflats, about 35 units, Vancouver between Failing and Beech
    * The Miss, ~40 units, Mississippi between Beech and Failing
    * The Sippi, ~25 units, Mississippi and Failing
    * The Prescott, ~? units, Skidmore and Interstate

    You might want to update your buildable land inventory map, and calculations, to include the EX zoned land…

    Here’s some screenshots showing where EX zoned land needs to be added to the “blue” section of your map — https://www.flickr.com/photos/11599639@N03/13995058791/

    Ted Buehler

    https://bikeportland.org/2014/04/23/maybe-this-is-why-you-cant-afford-an-apartment-in-the-central-city-104887

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    Daniel December 20, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    soren
    “I had a house of my own with two roommates, put up a room on Craigslist for $550, and I got over 60 responses begging, pleading, and sometimes practically threatening me for the room”it sounds to me like there is significant demand for this housing type. perhaps we as a society should stop denigrating this class of tenants and treating them like 2nd class residents.Recommended 0

    I agree, and I’ve both rented a room in a house and made rooms available for rent. You know what sucks though? I can put up a room on Craigslist for $750 tomorrow, and I’ll get another 60 responses. Half of them will be people who could very well have afforded one of those fancy skinny houses next door if there were 100 of them, but there’s not; there’s only 8 here, and they’re all full.

    So what’s your fix soren? Stop “denigrating this class of tenants”? I’ve never done it, purely out of self interest. I’ve been that “class of tenant” much longer than my current class of tenant. I’ve known plenty of people who would never insult someone who didn’t own their own home, but also did nothing to make housing more affordable for anybody. We’re both trying our hardest not to make anybody feel shitty, but our actions didn’t put anybody in a home.

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