Opinion: Some reflections on my carfree birthday

The actual anniversary came and went unnoticed, but I just realized that it’s now been over a year since I dropped my car off at a dealership, handed over the keys, title and registration and began my carfree life. This doesn’t really feel like a momentous occasion to me, but perhaps that nonchalance is all the more reason I should do some reflecting. So…what have I learned this year?

First, a bit of background. While I was always active on my bike as a form of transportation and leisure starting from a young age, I will honestly say I had some pretty big blinders on when it came to my own car use up until pretty recently. It’s remarkable — and pretty embarrassing — to me that I used to drive so casually, even as I was extremely worried about the climate crisis and thought I was being fairly responsible. Car dependency just wasn’t something I noticed. (I guess my story shows how much people can change in a short period of time.)

If I try to trace back my journey to enlightenment about car culture, I think I can point to a few waves of realization. One of the first one of these came about when I was working on a story about parking at the University of Oregon (UO) for the Eugene Weekly newspaper — my first-ever foray into transportation reporting. My initial angle for this story came from the perspective of disgruntled students and staff who were tired of paying exorbitant parking fees on campus. But I thought it might also be interesting to find out what some transportation faculty had to say about the situation.

I will always remember my conversation with Marc Schlossberg, the notable professor of city and regional planning at UO who very kindly schooled me on parking and transportation policy and changed my life forever. I still have the notes from our conversation on my computer —here are a few pertinent quotes I jotted down, my mouth agape as a new world unfolded before me:

“The existence of so much parking makes it impossible for other options to be viable…a city where walking, biking or transit is most convenient and comfortable and having ubiquitous parking everywhere are mutually exclusive realities…the UO campus is the first experience a lot of people have in an environment where they can’t find a parking space, and it’s always a real shock. If we’re really interested in issues of social justice, cohesion, economic equality, climate change, public health crisis around car crashes, we have to do something.”

I am astounded looking at these notes — how did I not know this stuff? His call to action was very inspiring to me. Through my reporting, I started to become interested in other aspects of infrastructure, and followed a bunch of city planning people on Twitter. Finally I embarked on my first carfree experiment in March 2021, when I was still living in Eugene. My goal was to stop driving for a month. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and I realized then that I wanted to fundamentally restructure my life so I could live carfree. From then on, it was only a matter of time.

After the intense climate despair I felt during and after the heat dome event in the summer of 2021 and my move to Portland a few months later, I was completely done with car ownership. Biking was my main form of transportation by that point anyway, and I felt a pit of guilt in my stomach every time I started the engine of my car.

The main reason I didn’t sell it sooner than February of last year is because I was procrastinating dealing with the logistics (cleaning it out, finding the paperwork, choosing where to sell it). But I was a little scared, too. What if I needed it? I knew there was no way I could feel good about driving my own car ever again, however, no matter the possible downsides that I feared might up later. Like Shannon Johnson asked in her great Family Biking column this week, “how does your mode of transportation…align with your values and priorities?” For me, driving a car didn’t. (I was also tired of throwing away money on insurance every month for a vehicle I never used.)

So I sold it! And I can say with 100% certainty that there hasn’t been a single moment of regret all year.

The big takeaway I want to tell people is that even though I don’t drive and the majority of my peers do, my life is pretty much…unremarkable. Obviously, my job is particularly well-suited to getting around on other modes of transportation, so I have a leg up there. But I do a lot of other things, too. I see my friends who live in different neighborhoods across the city, buy too much stuff at Trader Joe’s by accident, move houses…and I’ve been able to do all of that by bike, no problem.

Of course, I’m not saying that it’s always easy: people who don’t drive face a structural disadvantage when it comes to getting around Portland, and that needs to change. But one of the most troubling things to me has been experiencing people making the assumption that the things I have to do are less important than the things they have to do because I ride my bike or walk to get there, and they use a big, heavy machine. Compared to a lot of problems people face, this is a small one, but it’s a bit annoying.

When I tell people I don’t drive, I often find myself cutting their potential defensive comments off at the pass before they’ve even said anything. (I’ve even done it in this article.) I’ve heard these arguments enough times to know it’s easier to just have some justifying remarks ready right off the bat. I might say things like, “I’m lucky because I have the privilege to not need to drive a car…a lot of people aren’t so lucky,” or “We live in a car-dependent society, nobody should be shamed for driving. It’s the structures we need to change, not the individual.”

To some extent, these things are true. I don’t think shame is the best influencing tool. But my goal for the next phase of my carfree life is to stop making so much of those justifications. There are a lot of people who have the same advantages as I do who couldn’t be bothered to think about their car use — I would know, because it wasn’t very long ago that I was one of those people. If we’re ever going to get anywhere with our transportation and climate goals, this has to change.

So, I’m happy I’ve been carfree for a year, and it’s certainly been great for me in a lot of ways: I save a lot of money, I get much more exercise and while I still feel constant climate dread, I don’t feel nearly as much cognitive dissonance, which has been enormously helpful. But I’m not asking for kudos. A lot of people have never had their own car because they can’t afford it or are physically unable to drive one. I live a pretty normal — even exciting! — life, just without a car. Believe it or not, it is possible.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about selling my car for so long now (2012 Toyota Prius with mildly falling off bumpers and 140,000 miles if anyone is interested) but just haven’t gotten around to it. Part of the issue I’ve faced is that I really do love doing “outdoors” stuff (backpacking mostly) and without a car it’s pretty much impossible to do most of it. Well I do know it’s possible to do a fair number of backpacking trips via transit (mostly in Glacier NP and Olympic NP) but I’ve yet to work up the bravery/foolishness to convince anyone else to do it with me.

I also think the “it’s the structures that need to change, not the individual” is such a weak line of reasoning. The structures are made of individuals, they will not change if no one changes their behavior!

joan
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Yeah, I don’t think that the outdoors industry and the outdoorsy folks in it have reckoned with how many of our favorite activities are so car-dependent. I worked in outdoor rec in a rural area after college, and I left partly because I was tired of being so car-dependent in my “simple” life.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  joan

That’s such a good point, joan. I’ve been troubled for a while about how much gasoline we as a society burn for outdoor recreation. And many people obviously feel entitled to do it. When BP highlighted new trails in Forest Park that will have a large parking lot for cars, I pointed out the irony of people burning so much gas just to ride a bike, and you would have thought I had run over their dog. Clearly we who ride bikes b/c we CARE about the environment need to reckon with the ancillary damages we are causing.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Car-centric regulations such as bans on “jaywalking” appeared during the 20th century to appease the growing auto manufacturers. Certain individuals have way more power to change social structures than others.

Ryan Gallo
Ryan Gallo
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Whoa tell me about the transit options for backpacking in Olympic NP???

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Ryan Gallo

Well you can get to Port Angeles from Seattle via the Dungeness Line. From Port Angeles, Clallam County runs the 14 to Forks, which stops at or close enough to a handful of trailheads. I’ve looked at the Elwha, but you can also get to various other trailheads around Crescent Lake. There is also a bus to La Push from Forks, so you could try the South Coast trails as well (it’s about 2 miles from La Push to the Third Beach trailhead) but it only runs three times a day (and not at all on Sunday). You can pretty much get around the west coast of the park pretty well on Clallam/Jefferson/Grays Harbor Transit, but there is not any real trailhead access, and frequencies are pretty low. I think the only other backpacking trail within 5 miles of the road is the Bogachiel.

Clallam Transit also ran a Hurricane Ridge shuttle last year, which would definitely be the best overall option, but it’s unclear to me if they are doing it in 2023 or not.

https://www.clallamtransit.com/HurricaneRidge
https://www.clallamtransit.com/
https://dungeness-line.com/

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Rent a car. It’s unreasonably expensive to rent a car if you already have one, but as soon as you’re not continuously buying, maintaining, fueling, and paying fees on a car you barely use, it becomes completely reasonable to rent a car for the weekend to drive somewhere far.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I mean the car I own is 100% paid for and doesn’t cost very much to maintain or fuel (since I rarely drive it). My insurance runs about $250 a year, so maintenance+insurance would have to pencil out to less than I would expect to pay on car rentals for outdoorsy trips which doesn’t seem great. Eventually, the car I have now will tucker out and I probably won’t replace it (at least I’m not planning on it). If I sold the car for ~$5,000 and saved $500/year on maintenance+insurance and it cost me an extra $200/trip to rent, and I continue taking ~8 backpacking/camping trips per year I would be losing money by year 4. And 8 trips/year is pretty conservative – although there are plenty of ways where I would probably change my behavior. I would immediately start planning trips with my friends who still have cars more often for one.

It’s not always as simple as “cars expensive, car free save money”. There is a change of lifestyle that I would need to consider – one that I evidently am actively considering. But it would require me either spending a lot more time in transit to get to trails, spending more money to rent a car, or doing trips that require much more planning with more people. Maybe those changes don’t seem particularly large, but that is what gets me hung up – not the (fairly small) cost of maintaining the vehicle I already own.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Yeah, I’m not really saying you personally should rent a car since you already own one, I’m just suggesting that one doesn’t need to own a car to be able to do things like go on vacations and other trips.
If you already own a car, you have already committed, for whatever reason, and it doesn’t make sense for you to rent a car. But for those considering being car free, it’s cheaper to rent a car occasionally than to own one. Also, “100% paid for” still means you’re paying essentially the value that the car has left in it every day you hold on to it, which will continually decrease. For what it’s worth.

And if you find yourself driving on long trips every weekend, I guess I’d just wonder why you are considering being car free in the first place since those frequent long trips cancel out any good you might do by not having a car. Yeah, individual actions aren’t going to solve climate change or transit problems, so we could all just throw up our hands, get black pilled, and drive a hundred miles every other weekend in the summer to go backpacking, because screw it we don’t have time to take existing transit and we simply have no hope of ever having an alternative, and YOLO. I’m sympathetic to the YOLO perspective.

It really is as simple as “car expensive, car free save money”. Obviously also, “make myself dependent on driving, need car”.

PTB
PTB
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

If you aren’t a daily driver and use this a couple times a month to go backpacking/hiking, I’m not sure what you’re fussing over. You’re not the problem and it’s ok to use a car sometimes. You’re not even a drop in the bucket of Society’s Problems. Lighten up.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

I’m one of those people who for various reasons is unable to drive. I get a lot of “if you were serious about getting employed you would learn to drive” remarks from many people, including hard-core bicyclist friends, that I’m an irresponsible kid at 55 because I still can’t drive.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

Congrats on being car-free. I’ve done my own experiments with living car-free and I found they were okay but my world certainly got smaller: I needed to subsist within a two-to-three-mile radius (grocery store, work, etc). What you can do car-free certainly depends a lot on where you live. I lived in a suburb so options were limited, while you are young and probably live near downtown Portland, which gives you more options.

I’m convinced that our current world is configured for cars, and we who cycle are just hangers-on. The world won’t be truly configured for cycles until cars disappear (and humans might have disappeared by that time, unfortunately).

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago

A lot of the defensive reactions some people have to the idea of car-free living—or even losing a single parking space—are similar to how some people respond to vegans and vegetarians.

If you assume your habit of driving or eating meat is just a normal thing to do—and therefore “good”—someone else’s choice to not do those things might be a challenge to your identity. Maybe it means there’s something wrong with you for doing those things.

This is why we should legalize walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and make massive public investments in transit and bicycling. When the alternatives to driving are as easy as driving itself, more people will see them as “normal” and start leaving their cars behind.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

This is why we should legalize walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods

I live in one of these allegedly illegal neighborhoods (I won’t say which one in case the cops are monitoring this forum), and it is pretty nice. I’ve found the main impediment to more areas of Portland being completely walkable is the lack of a nearby grocery store or food co-op.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

New apartments are illegal to build in most of Portland, let alone neighborhood retail such as corner grocery stores. There’s nothing “alleged” about it: https://cityobservatory.org/we_love_illegal_neighborhoods/

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

There are plenty of new apartments in every neighborhood I visit, so someone has figured out how to build them. I see you want to take the conversation in a direction I find tiring because people generally try to win by defining terms and using sensational language (“illegal neighborhoods”).

It is true you can’t build everything everywhere, and I suspect most Portlanders think that’s a good thing. I don’t want to live somewhere that my neighbor can tear down their house and build a large apartment complex, grocery store, or something else that fundamentally changes the neighborhood where I’m building my life. Maybe you do, and for you there is a Libertarian paradise called “Houston”.

But I think I can pretty equivocally state that Portland has no illegal neighborhoods, plenty of room for neighborhood retail, and lots of new apartment buildings being built all over the city. What we do have is a shortage of affordable rentals, but that’s because they’re much less profitable than the market rate rentals that folks like us live in, and developers are tearing down every small house they can find.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I don’t want people dying on the streets from a lack of housing, or even having to forego the chance of living here and contributing to the life of the city because they can’t afford the rent. “Just move to Houston” is not the answer to the housing crisis.

New market-rate housing in fact causes rents to fall across the board. If housing is still unaffordable it’s because supply isn’t keeping up with demand after a century of exclusionary zoning, redlining, and other NIMBY tactics to preserve “neighborhood character”.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Lack of places to build is not why development is slow in Portland. Lack of labor and materials and financing is a much bigger factor. The Portland region is required by state law to ensure an adequate supply buildable land.

“Trickle down housing” works as well as “trickle down economics” . You can’t just build for the professional class and expect that to house everyone.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Is buying a used car “trickle down motoring”?

Is thrift store shopping “trickle down clothing”?

Why should housing be any different? Having “buildable land” is not the same as being able to build the type of housing the region actually needs.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

To some extent, the vintage clothing and auto markets are also segmented. I guess you can call a restored ‘58 chevy impala “used,” or a Chanel suit from the ‘60s. But it’s probably not what you have in mind.

I don’t think it is controversial that the housing market is segmented into sub-markets, and that a glut off high-end houses doesn’t do anything for someone looking for affordable housing. That’s established.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago

If that were true, then prices at the lower end wouldn’t go up when new people move to an area. But they do. Housing is more like a game of musical chairs; the rich get their pick of the entire housing market, the working class gets the leftovers, and the poor get nothing. It’s a cliché that New Yorkers will pay extortionate rents to live in a broom closet; it’s all about “location, location, location”. I hope you’re not suggesting that a lack of “luxury” housing means the well-to-do just throw up their hands and move elsewhere?

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I’m saying that there are different disequilibriums between supply and demand at different housing price bins. And that those segmented markets can have different elasticities.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago

Well, I’m no economist, but I don’t think the housing market is nearly as segmented as you claim. Joe Cortright explains in “Kevin Bacon & musical chairs: How market rate housing increases affordability”: https://cityobservatory.org/bacon_musical_chairs/

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I’m enjoying this conversation, Daniel, and am reading all the links you post.

You mean Joe Cortright has a conservative streak, who knew? I think I’ve read the Mast paper he cites.

I was showing off with “elasticity.” An elastic market increases supply in response to increased demand. An inelastic market just raises prices on the existing supply. The Portland lower-end housing market has been inelastic, that’s how Chloe Eudaly won a seat.

I’ve lived in six cities over the course of my life, and I don’t think any of them had a shortage of high-end housing. On the other hand, several cities I’ve lived in had a shortage of middle- and lower-income housing.

In economics-ese, I conclude that the affordable housing market is less elastic than the high-end market. And the problem is that there is much more demand for affordable housing than for high-end housing. So even if you accept the Kevin Costner dynamic, building higher-end housing is an inefficient way of supplying affordable housing.

Economists, even ones I like a lot, always talk about Houston and endless supply, and no regulation, as the solution to high housing prices and people living on the street. But they sure ignore or discount a lot of issues: environmental; risks of fire, flood; the density requirements of building a good public transit network; all the costs of sprawl.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago

Prices have gone up at the lower end precisely because supply has been artificially kept low by making it illegal to build density in all but a few areas (mostly along traffic-choked arterials, euphemistically labeled “transit corridors”). Cortright’s point is that there is no real division between the “high end” and “low end” of the housing market. The answer to more well-off people bidding up the cost of existing housing is to allow more dense, mixed-use development in the places where people already want to live. The only alternative is more homelessness and more sprawl.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Do you know how much land currently zoned for dense residential is already developed to the full potential its zoning allows? I understand how rezoning to increase the amount of land available for dense residential development can facilitate more dense residential development. On the other hand, there must be acres and acres of land in Portland currently zoned to allow dense residential development that’s occupied with parking lots and small buildings.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

That’s true, especially downtown. On one hand it’s unrealistic to expect 100% of available land to be built to capacity. On the other hand there are some property owners that seem to deliberately put off building anything in anticipation of a bigger payday from a developer down the road. That’s why I say we need a parking lot tax to make land hoarding way more expensive.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago

Put another way, when New Seasons is out of organic, pasture-raised eggs, well-off people who really need eggs will head over to Fred Meyer and buy regular eggs. And when those are gone, people who need eggs will go to Walmart and buy even cheaper eggs. And *everybody* needs eggs in this analogy. The only answer to increased demand is to increase the supply, or see massive price jumps and shortages.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

A better example would be why you can’t buy eggs *at all* in some neighborhoods (food deserts), but have a choice of Zupans, Whole Foods, Fred Meyers, Trader Joes, in others.

PS
PS
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

How do you define the line that some people who have lived in a neighborhood get a say in what happens out of concern about displacement and gentrification in that neighborhood and then other people exhibiting the exact same behavior are NIMBY’s because they don’t want the fabric of their neighborhood altered detrimentally to their historical uses?

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  PS

Concerns about displacement and concerns about “historical uses” are not the same thing. I’m not opposed on principle to landmarking certain cultural institutions, but wanting “your” neighborhood frozen in amber is just anti-social.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Seeing new buildings going up along a handful of busy arterials does not mean there are “plenty” of new apartments. Rents are still sky-high and apartment vacancies were only 3.4% as of last June:

https://www.wweek.com/news/2022/09/22/despite-the-blight-portland-apartment-rents-are-up-and-may-be-heading-higher/

Labor and materials costs and financing are national issues. They haven’t stopped the suburbs of Phoenix, Atlanta, or Dallas–Fort Worth from building large amounts of new housing (in car-dependent sprawl):

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2023-02-21/what-do-us-growth-zones-have-in-common-they-build-housing

What’s holding Portland back are artificial limits on density and a needlessly complex bureaucracy:

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/07/19/portland-oregon-aims-to-streamline-building-permit-process/

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

That article is four years old. You can legally build a 4-plex in almost all single-family zones. In the very typical R5 zone, your lot only needs to be 3,000 sf for that.

I’d like to see increased ability to do multi-family projects in single-family zones, but I wouldn’t say “new apartments are illegal to build in most of Portland” when fourplexes are legal and have always been a common (albeit small) apartment building size.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

I don’t think a fourplex is what comes to mind when most people think of apartments. The individual units are often bigger than typical apartments, because they are meant to house families. When I say “new apartments”, I mean apartment blocks with anywhere up to 80 units like the ones built all over Northwest Portland 100 years ago:

American_Apartment_Building_-_Portland_Oregon (1).jpg
qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I agree that large new apartment buildings aren’t legal to build in single-family zones. NW and other lose-in neighborhoods have scores of fourplexes with one-bedroom units, so are not meant to house families any more than any no-studio units in larger buildings–and I don’t know the relevance of unit sizes here.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

Well, larger units generally cost more because they use up more of the available land. Higher prices keep more people from living in walkable neighborhoods. Density, whether via smaller units, adding floors, or more lot coverage, encourages a mix of uses because there are more people with money to spend in a given area.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

The pink areas shown are where it was formerly illegal to build more than single-family housing, and where it’s still illegal to build or run a corner store, delicatessen, café, restaurant, boutique, doctor’s office, school, etc. We’re a long way from a truly walkable “15-minute city”.

portland-mobile.png
soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

It was legal to build small apartments and plexes on R1, R2, and R3 zones (which are now RM1 and RM2) but there simply wasn’t any demand from the so-called “free-market”. When I served as a tenant union stakeholder for the BHD process*, BPS admitted that the vast majority of development on these lots were mcmansions/single-household-homes. It’s pure fantasy to believe that further libertarian deregulation will cause speculative profit-oriented developers to build housing that they clearly don’t want to build.

*BHD did not sufficiently encourage housing types that poor people, immigrants, and working-class people could afford and over incentivized market-rate “luxury” housing. In particular, It should be legal to build public/social/L-E-coop housing on any lot to any FAR.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  soren

Regarding developers wanting to build high-end, upscale houses, that’s been going on for decades. I was involved in land use issues 35 years ago in another city. Developers preferred to build “ranchettes” in the middle of nowhere, rather than the middle income housing that their own market analysis showed was in demand.

There are some notable exceptions to this in Portland, for example, Edlen & Co, which has built a number of sustainable and affordably priced developments, often in partnership with civic organizations.

https://bikeportland.org/2021/07/30/air-rights-and-freeway-caps-an-interview-with-developer-matt-edlen-335749

soren
soren
1 year ago

“Affordable” housing is often not affordable to poor and lower-income working class people. For example, the median household that qualifies for so-called affordable housing can earn as much as ~$83,000 (and this will rocket up in 2023). And even when a low-income household attains a housing voucher many landlords illegally refuse to rent to them. “Affordable” housing is also often a temporary band-aid because it can be converted back to market rate housing in as little as 10 years.

IMO, “affordable housing” is a term that is often used to obscures the classist and racist injustice of our crony capitalist housing system.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  soren

Look at their projects.

soren
soren
1 year ago

Edlen is an uber-wealthy developer who has used his “capture” of politicians to create “affordable housing” policy that provided his firm with massive property tax credits while guaranteeing the eviction of most low-income tenants in 10 years as so-called affordable units convert to “market-rate”.

A Tenant Enrolled in a City Affordable Housing Program Just Received a 50 Percent Rent Increase.

The ten-year tax incentive program is set to expire in June 2024, meaning all affordable units could jump back up to market rate prices overnight. When the MULTE program was created in 2012, the city didn’t include a strategy for making sure low-income tenants weren’t immediately displaced after the tax exemption period concluded…

The Prescott’s landlords are certainly aware of this expiration date. Representatives from Green Cities were involved in establishing the city’s MULTE program. Before 2021, Green Cities went by the name Gerding Edlen Investment Management.

https://www.portlandmercury.com/news/2022/09/21/46087834/a-tenant-enrolled-in-a-city-affordable-housing-program-just-received-a-50-percent-rent-increase-how-is-that-possible

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  soren

The company split up. Green Cities is different entity from Edlen & co.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Only in Portland would so many people living in “free-market” housing say we don’t need any more free-market housing. Claiming there’s no demand from builders is not accurate. The first six months of the Residential Infill Project saw twice as many permits for twoplexes/triplexes/fourplexes as for single-family houses:

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/05/25/how-oregon-is-bringing-missing-middle-housing-to-the-state/

Over a longer period, upzoned parcels produced three times the new housing density as non-upzoned parcels:

https://citymonitor.ai/housing/does-upzoning-drive-new-development

I agree it should be legal to build social housing on any lot. That won’t happen without upzoning, so why not just upzone anyway? Our current exclusionary zoning laws are deeply rooted in racial & class discrimination. Anyone who cares about equality, let alone preventing more sprawl, should want more housing density any way we can get it.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

“Only in Portland would so many people living in “free-market” housing say we don’t need any more free-market housing. Claiming there’s no demand from builders is not accurate. ”

I have consistently supported upzoning so-called “market rate” housing so stop making things up, Daniel. My main difference with “urbanists” is that I believe the city should incentivize dense rental housing and disincentivize bougie low-density owned homes.

“twice as many permits for twoplexes/triplexes/fourplexes as for single-family houses”

The claim that several dozen low-density units could possibly address our *low-income rental housing crisis is absurd . Moreover, many of these so-called “plexes are single unit structures (detached or attached) that are predominately owned by well-off people. From my perspective there is little moral difference between building a $650,000 mcmansion or a $600,000 low-density “Sightline” condo/row house.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

I never said several dozen low-density units would significantly address the low-income rental housing crisis. The actual number was 91 duplex/triplex/fourplex units permitted in the first six months of RIP. Obviously more are being permitted and built in the meantime, and many more still have to be built.

I agree that the city should incentivize dense rental housing over fourplexes let alone SFH. Making it legal to actually build dense rental housing seems like the logical first step.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Please read your own link before commenting: 91-50 (previous year span) = 41.

This is not even a rounding error. Anyone who would use several months of data immediately following a policy change to make some sort of argument is not behaving in good faith. Moreover, given that the Minskian real estate boom is deflating, I expect private starts to evaporate. The speculative nature of the real estate market is precisely why anyone who cares about housing abundance would focus on non-market housing instead of on the inefficient, fickle, and profit-driven private market.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

From OPB:

“We were looking at some permit data for the first six months and we’ve seen ten, ten duplex units, nine triplex units and 72 fourplex units. So, a total of 91 units permitted. When you contrast that to the same amount of [single-family] homes that were permitted in the same period, there were 50 homes, so about twice as many units in the plexes as there were new single family homes.”

It’s not 91-50, it’s 91+50 (plexes+SFH). This was just the first data I happened across when looking for information about new “missing middle” construction, which you claimed developers “don’t want to build” for some reason. And I already posted a link showing that upzoning alone produced three times the new housing density as non-upzoned parcels over a period of *15 years*.

I agree we need more non-market housing. I tend to focus on upzoning & rezoning because it costs basically nothing and you can’t build decent non-market housing without allowing more density.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

The entire context of the quoted 91 homes was the “supposed” boost as a result of RIP. Therefore the 50 baseline homes from the previous year should be subtracted. Of course, this kind of anecdata is always ignored by Sightline and company when it later turns out to have been a blip due to market dynamics.

which you claimed developers “don’t want to build” for some reason

I think developers prefer single-unit homes because that’s where the margin is (due to a whole host of regulatory and crony capitalist market incentives). I don’t see urbanists challenging many of these incentives because it would — maybe — possibly –impact supply profit. A great example of this is RIP’s lot-subdivision deregulation which unambiguously encourages the production of single-unit homes.

 I tend to focus on upzoning & rezoning because it costs basically nothing 

I support rezoning only as a regulatory reform that can force private developers to stop building exclusively for the upper classes. At the same time my ultimate goal is decommodification of housing (I want to make private ownership of someone else’s home rare or, even, illegal).

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

OPB again:

“When you contrast that to the same amount of homes that were permitted in the same period, there were 50 homes, so about twice as many units in the plexes as there were new single family homes.”

The 50 SFH permits were from *the same time period*, not a previous baseline. Not sure where that idea is coming from. Once again, almost twice as many missing middle permits as SFH permits from just the first 6 months. Those developers must have forgotten what they prefer to build!

“This kind of anecdata is always ignored by Sightline and company…”

Good thing we have more long-term data as indicated in the other article I linked. Those data show that upzoning alone produced three times the new housing density over a 15-year period.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I’m glad you’ve gone from saying “illegal” to “formerly illegal”. But that’s a pretty convoluted way to say “legal”. The reality of new zoning is that you can build at least small (four units) multi-family projects in just about any single-family zoned area in Portland.

And while you can’t build some of the uses you mention, you can build others (schools, medical centers) with conditions.

Also, while you can’t build a restaurant or grocery store in those pink residential areas, a significant amount of housing in those areas is within walking distance of zoning that does allow those. I live in one of those pink areas, but am a block from a grocery store and even closer to several businesses.

I agree that zoning is still overly restrictive, which I think is your main point.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

I said non–single-family housing was formerly illegal. Apartment blocks of more than 6 units (tiny for an apartment block) are still illegal to build in most of Portland.

You’re fortunate to live a block from a grocery store. The vast majority of residences in the city lack those kinds of walkable amenities. That’s what I think needs to change.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I didn’t realize you were excluding smaller projects as counting as apartments.

I agree the majority of residences lack many walkable amenities. I was pointing out my case to show that many people like me live in residentially-zoned areas but are close to grocery stores and other amenities or needs. And even more, who are not close to grocery stores, are close to areas zoned to allow grocery stores. A map showing residential areas more than a reasonable walking distance from areas zoned for grocery stores, etc. would look much different than the one showing residential zoning.

So yes, things need changing so more people live within walking distance of things like grocery stores, and in some cases, it’s zoning that’s getting in the way of achieving that, and in other cases it’s not.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

The Portland Plan from 2010 includes a map of “20-Minute [walkable] Neighborhoods”. The highest concentration is in inner areas that were built up before single-family zoning in the 20th century locked in those benefits for the affluent few. And the “walkable” areas that do exist still require people to navigate noisy, polluted, and dangerous arterials to reach those amenities. No wonder most people drive.

Rezoning neighborhoods to allow a mix of uses and more density would go a long way to bring walkability to those not fortunate enough to own property in the most desirable areas.

20-minute.png
qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Yes, I agree. The rezoning would help, and so would addressing the non-zoning issues such as the noisy, polluted and dangerous arterials that you mention as barriers even in areas where the zoning supports walkability.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

It seems we generally agree. I tend to focus on land use because for better or for worse, the city relies on property tax revenue to fund transportation projects. The main reason PBOT has a $4.5 billion maintenance backlog is that we have too little density to support our existing infrastructure, even with relatively high property taxes.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

When multiunit housing is targeted to “transit corridors”/traffic sewers this insures that renters live in the most polluted and dangerous areas (traffic violence) of Portland. Tenant organizers (PHIMBYs) have been excoriating the city and “YIMBYs” for their laser focus on building renter housing near traffic sewers for decades to little avail. Despite the fact that many tenant organizers have consistently supported allowing rental housing in upscale “bougie” residential areas, we have been repeatedly maligned as “left-NIMBYs” by PfE/P:NW organizers.

Speaking for myself, one of the reasons that I no longer engage in transportation advocacy with organizations like BikeLoudPDX is that I refuse to be in the same room as a YIMBY advocate or sympathizer.

soren
soren
1 year ago

I’ve biked over 200,000 miles almost exclusively for transportation and have driven less than 50,000 miles. I’ve toyed with getting rid of my car on several occasions but as I’ve aged I am increasingly grateful that I own a ~3,600 lb EV. In particular, my EV has proven to be indispensable when I’ve had major medical issues. I only use my car for someone else or when every other option is impossible/exceedingly-difficult.

Happy carfree birthday!
Happy carfree birthday!
1 year ago

Congrats! Your story sounds very similar to mine — I eventually got rid of my car for the same reasons. And in 2022 I celebrated the tenth anniversary of being carfree! I have not regretted it once.

It’s been surprisingly easy and freeing. Not worrying about the car, where to park, getting gas, maintenance, etc is a huge relief. Another bonus is that it removes the temptation to go to box stores, fast food, or other soul-sucking car culture behaviors.

The worst part of being carefree for me has been an increasing sensitivity to the absurdity of car addiction and an increasing disappointment in my peers for not recognizing their own addiction. Everywhere I go (work, grocery store, cafe, the gym), I’m surrounded by people who burned fossil fuels, spewed toxins, and operated a deadly weapon within mere feet of their neighbors just to get there. It’s crazy.

Your story is a reminder of our potential for change — thank you for sharing!

Champs
Champs
1 year ago

Apparently I’m middle aged now, and never went through this rite of passage with passing tests or owning a metal box with wheels. I’m not flaunting this “virginity” in front of more vocal, less moderate advocates, I’m just not fully able to relate.

The closest I come is about the apprehension and relief of quitting smoking. I know there’s going to be some right leaning reader from social media who thinks it’s cringey to say this, but both of them ARE terrible addictions.

Anyway, you are me at the one year mark, recalling the apprehension and reliving the positive. A decade later, it’s a fifteen second anecdote about crushing on a girl at work and realizing how much better I could breathe.

We got laid off a few months later, I never got to ask her out, and in hindsight it was never going to work out. My point is that the destination isn’t always what you expect. Welcome to the journey.

Julian Dunn
Julian Dunn
1 year ago

Congratulations, Taylor! Ironically, I’m coming at it from the other side — I was 41 before I had to buy my first car, because my wife and I lived in cities that always had amazing transportation options, like Toronto and New York. When we moved to Portland, we were here for two years car-free before realizing that we truly needed to have a car (my wife starting a master’s program at Lewis & Clark, on the giant hill, was a huge contributor to this). It still makes me sad that we have to own one, but comparing Portland to those other cities just makes it evident how much further we have to go here in terms of our transportation infrastructure.

I still predominantly bike everywhere and really hate driving.

wallis
wallis
1 year ago

I understand that God will be soon sending a directive. Only bicyclists and walkers get through the Pearly Gates. Those who drive better get use to the heat; both on earth and in hell. The car free life might might be difficult, but it will pay off in the end.

rainbike
rainbike
1 year ago
Reply to  wallis

Yes, I’m sure She has it in for all those Meals on Wheels drivers delivering food to the elderly, and the school bus drivers, and the firefighters, and the police (wait, is that still a thing?? I haven’t seen one on the street in a while).

Austin Palucci
Austin Palucci
1 year ago

Portland needs to strive to become a “15 minute city” ’if we truly want to reduce car dependence.

“A concept in which most daily necessities and services, such as work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure can be easily reached by a 15-minute walk or bike ride from any point in the city. This approach aims to reduce car dependency, promote healthy and sustainable living, and improve the overall quality of life for city dwellers.”

https://www.wired.com/story/15-minute-cities-conspiracy-climate-denier/