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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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Adam Weis
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Adam Weis

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)

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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

Carlin
Guest
Carlin

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.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

People don’t like stopping and turning a bunch

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

mh
Subscriber

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

yarp
Guest
yarp

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…

MTW
Guest
MTW

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.

David Hampsten
Guest

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.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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

David Hampsten
Guest

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!

David Hampsten
Guest

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.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

And everyone else will take the subway!

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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?

X
Guest
X

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Boomer
Guest
Boomer

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.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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”.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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

meh
Guest
meh

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.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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…

MTW
Guest
MTW

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

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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.

tee
Guest
tee

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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”.

David Hampsten
Guest

” 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.

Lowell
Guest
Lowell

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

David Hampsten
Guest

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.

David Hampsten
Guest

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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.

David Hampsten
Guest

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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Also, why can’t we do both?

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

What, exactly, is “my proposal”?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

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.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

“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.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

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.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

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.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

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.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

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

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

According to the Oregonian, “Just under half of the city’s renters — 49 percent — put more than 30 percent of their income toward their housing, exceeding a federal affordability standard. And 27 percent devote half or more their income to paying rent.”

https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2018/12/portland-sets-record-for-new-apartments-but-housing-costs-still-burden-for-many.html

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

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.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

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.

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

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”).

maccoinnich
Subscriber

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I would actually support RIP if it disincentivized demolitions.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

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.

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

“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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Could you be more specific?

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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”?

David Hampsten
Guest

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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?

soren
Guest
soren

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

You are mistaken.

Citation:

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

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

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

David Hampsten
Guest

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

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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

Middle of The Road Guy
Guest
Middle of The Road Guy

I’m so glad I got mine in 2010.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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.

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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?

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Ah yes, the Wise Native American trope.

Middle of The Road Guy
Guest
Middle of The Road Guy

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

Adam
Guest
Adam

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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?

Glennsity
Guest
Glennsity

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.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

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

Ps
Guest
Ps

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

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

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.

mh
Subscriber

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.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

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

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

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

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

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.