Housing regulatory relief, bike parking, and a blow to transparency?

BikeLoud PDX Chair Nic Cota testifies before the Planning Commission.

I am so proud of Portlanders. Tuesday night’s Planning Commission work session was a three-hour marathon of public testimony—I know, I know, that might be a special ring of hell for many of you—but at some point during the first hour I just kicked back and said to myself, “Portland benefits immensely from such an engaged and informed public.”

How did we get that way? Well, we have a culture of volunteerism in this town—all the government advisory committees, the neighborhood associations, the advocacy groups, the PSU/PBOT Transportation class … I know that some BikePortland readers have strong feelings about various groups, but you can’t deny that they contribute to Portland having an engaged community.

Tuesday’s testimony was about the draft package of Housing Regulatory Relief (HRR) amendments to city building code being proposed by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS). The proposal targets numerous regulations for amendment (the document is 187 pages long) in an attempt to close the gap between the number of new housing units Portland is projected to need in the coming decades, and the rate at which they are actually being produced. Some changes call for a five-year suspension of the regulation, others permanently strike the regulation from code. The commission will consider the amendments and vote in November to forward a recommendation to the Portland City Council about adopting them.

But this is not an easy decision or political lift. Many of those regulations come with committed supporters and are the product of years of study and outreach. An engaged community is not only a resilient community, it also creates resilient city code. A lot of the public testimony was technical and was from informed people who have worked on their issue for decades.

Several critics of the rollbacks found them to be short on the data and analysis needed to show they would effectively boost housing production, and HRR proponents did not make a strong case why the code modifications would promote affordable rather than market-rate housing increases.

Let’s dive into the issue and what went down Tuesday night.

Portland’s housing problem

Jill Chen, the Portland Housing Bureau’s (PHB), Housing Investments & Portfolio Preservation Manager, presented a slide which showed that the city will need 120,000 new units over the next 20+ years, which averages to 5,200 new units a year. Chen continued,

PHB, or the city, needs to produce about half of that as affordable. As a benchmark, so far, even with the housing bonds—the Portland housing bonds, and the Metro bonds—PHB, on average, has produced under 1,000 housing units. So there is a huge amount that is still needed.

She pointed out that costs to build have increase 50% since 2016, but that incomes have only increased 29%, and rent rates 24%, during that same period. Rent rates are significant because they “pay for your debt.”

Chen ended by talking about the levers the city has to influence housing production. Although PHB is focused on building affordable housing, regulatory changes are an important tool because they “impact every income bucket” of housing needs. She called for more flexibility in ground floor activation and bike parking. In particular, she said that units for the elderly or disabled do not have the bike parking needs for which current code mandates they build.

Sandra Wood, from the Portland Bureau of Sustainability (PBS), spoke next, and reminded the commissioners of why the HRR effort was undertaken. “We are trying to influence what we can at this time to close the development feasibility gap.” In other words, lessening the regulatory costs of building to make it “pencil out” as being attractive to more developers.

The public response

A woman had too much to say to fit into her allocated 2 minutes. So she wore a sign.

The Planning Commission received a whopping 200 written testimonies, two thirds of which were about the proposed rollbacks to bird-protective glazing on windows and also eco-roof requirements. The Audubon Society and other environmental groups did an impressive job turning out their supporters. Those commenters were well-informed and persuasive, and several had technical knowledge that called into question the framing of eco-friendly building as being in tension with housing affordability.

Regulations covering Bike Parking and Neighborhood Contact also received sizeable public response. I’ll summarize those comments further below.

Developer comment

Developers did an admirable job of presenting why they need regulatory relief. One woman in particular, Stephanie Kondor, Senior Vice-President of development at Related Northwest, was allowed to speak at length. Her company has been active in developing affordable housing, with 1,200 units completed or in construction/design.

I’ve experienced the impacts of code and policies that are diminishing the delivery of housing, and in my opinion the recommendations before you are largely fair, balanced steps that are necessary to get housing production back on line.

I appreciate everyone’s testimony here and their perspectives. I do however feel that our housing and homelessness crisis has been an ongoing and desperate problem, so we need to prioritize housing our people.

Housing in the Portland area has all but stopped. I’m getting calls weekly from market-rate developers who are selling their permitted projects because they can’t make their deals work under current conditions and policy.”

Those current conditions include rising interest rates and cost escalations that are beyond Portland’s control.

Bike Parking

Transportation advocate Chris Smith testifies.

Chris Smith (former Planning commissioner and key author of existing bike parking codes), Victor Duong (board member of The Street Trust), Nic Cota (chair of BikeLoud PDX) and Paul Buchanan (board member of The Street Trust) spoke in defense of bike parking.

These advocates acknowledged that bike parking regulations could be adjusted, while also emphasizing that affordable housing and affordable transportation go hand in hand. Housing availability and affordability was in crisis, but they viewed cycling as part of the solution and secure parking as being a requirement for getting people to use bicycles for transportation.

Paul Buchanan was a new voice for me, and he described himself as having “the rare distinction of being a bike parking professional. Every day I work with Portland code, as well as code in cities from Los Angeles to Bellingham to Astoria on the design and implementation of bike rooms.”

He went on to assert that there are a number of code aspects that can be adjusted to “maintain functionality [and] reduce friction in the review process.” He mentioned removing the alcove requirement entirely, eliminating the 50% in-unit cap for buildings of 20-units or less, as well as the 15 ft rule. Those changes would “eliminate over 75% of conflicts.”

Chris Smith pointed out that progressive housing and cycling organizations are on the same page and he referenced the joint letter from Bike Loud and Portland Neighbors Welcome. He joined those groups in recommending that the commission move ahead with the bike parking provisions in the HRR, but then to

follow up with a more nuanced process. We believe there are two benefits to that. One is to find additional space-savings … but also to make sure that the parking being produced is usable. The policy you are dispensing with was literally six years in the making with PBOT …

I want to particularly focus on the in-unit parking standard. In removing the alcove standard, you are reverting to a standard which was in place from 2009 to 2019 and which we know did not produce a lot of usable bike parking. I really want to see a followup group go back and see if we can keep looking for ways to make that in-unit standard work … before the current code we ended up with units with hooks over the bed where you could never actually put a bicycle.

Neighborhood contact and transparency

If you were playing a game of “which one of these does not fit with the others,” the correct choice would be the Neighborhood Contact changes.

Keep in mind that the purpose of the BDS survey which informed this regulatory relief effort was to identify “the top five requirements the City of Portland should consider suspending or modifying to support increased housing production.” “Neighborhood contact” ranked 16th of the 25 code requirements surveyed. It was not near the top of anyone’s list.

This issue gets even deeper into the insider baseball of code change, but it matters for transportation. Neighborhood associations are often the loudest voices advocating for bike lanes and sidewalks in the parts of town which are not fully built out. Having timely access to information about proposed developments is crucial for them to join the process early enough to be effective advocates. The Neighborhood Contact requirements ensure that developers inform adjacent neighbors and neighborhood associations of their plans early in the review process.

But the HRR code modifications exempt residential development from notification requirements for five years, “Development that includes a residential use is exempt from the neighborhood contact requirements until January 1, 2029.” This five-year notification holiday is being proposed without any evidence that it would result in more housing.

As a reporter, however, I was most concerned by the strikethrough of this code, about putting information online. This amendment would be permanent:

The Bureau of Development Services must make the information required by Subparagraph A.3.a available in an accessible online format and as an open data set. The bureau will also provide a way for community members to subscribe to get proactive notification of new information.

I rely on online development information, including architectural and infrastructure plans, for my reporting. Maybe I don’t fully understand the ramifications of this, but it looks like it might make my job more difficult. (It would be helpful to have an independent land use lawyer look at some of the amendments to explain their impact.)

Both code changes strike me as being blows to transparency.

What’s next?

One can imagine a rush to get approvals during the five-year exemptions HRR proposes to many regulatory requirements. This could be a bonanza of regulatory relief. But as one man testified Tuesday night, if we are going to have a building boom, isn’t that when you most want your regulations to be in play?

It is not obvious if the Planning Commission will recommend the Housing Regulatory Relief plan to the City Council unaltered, but the excellent public testimony in opposition to the HRR amendments will hopefully encourage the Commission to think carefully.


— Watch the full commission meeting on YouTube.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Todd/ Boulanger
Todd/ Boulanger
8 months ago

Reverting to the past rules is not going to get a good design outcome for the majority of housing projects (as I had toured many), speaking as a bike parking facility designer/ operator and as the technical advisor to the BTA (The Streets Trust) for the current PBoT bike parking ‘rules’.

Now if the Portland Councillors, really see these design standards as a major impediment to the creation of new affordable housing, then they must ‘own’ the changes and impliment a new solution…assuming they wish to still achieve their other community wide objectives for climate, health and modal adoption (Bike 2035). One such solution, would be to build public mobility hubs (secure bike parking structure, EV charging for apartment renters, etc.) on every high density mixed use block…say where gas stations are currently*. [*Condemnation process with remediation of such property…might be a good deal for owners with legacy corroded underground fuel tanks, waste oil tanks, etc.]

X
X
8 months ago

I like the idea of mobility hubs. I don’t know if Portland has had a tragic fire resulting from charging a high capacity battery in a residence but a few incidents of that type will set back adoption of e mobility (as well as hurting people which is the real issue I guess). Such batteries also need a certain amount of climate control for longer usable life. They represent a big part of the cost of an e bike so security and proper use is important.

Gas stations are kind a blight on the landscape where they exist, with large areas of impermeable surface among other things. Some dense neighborhoods are almost completely lacking in gas stations, a notable example being NW Portland. Eminent domain condemnations are a heavy lift so maybe we’ll have to take a hard look at overbuilt car infrastructure such as redundant slip lanes and the area underneath raised highway lanes and bridge ramps.

Josh Sargent
Josh Sargent
8 months ago

There’s not going to be a building boom. At this point (barring massive changes in interest rates), the goal is to incentivize any meaningful construction in the city so we don’t end up in a massive housing deficit. Besides all of these proposals, the city should be looking at waiving inclusionary zoning for at least 5 years.

Chris I
Chris I
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh Sargent

Portland has been losing thousands of people every year. Are we also losing housing? I’m trying to figure out how we can get to a housing shortage when it looks like our City is in a state of decline for the foreseeable future.

Josh Sargent
Josh Sargent
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Households look really different from historical norms (there’s some good articles on household formation if you want actual numbers), so strict population growth isn’t that useful and is why housing prices in Portland haven’t dropped with the outflow of people. Three years of population loss, mostly during a pandemic, isn’t that much of a trend, either.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh Sargent

Imagine what Portland would look like if it actually did build 60,000 affordable housing units in the next 5 or so years, as well as another 60,000 market-rate units – that’s a lot of older buildings and houses torn out and demolished, mostly along higher-density corridors of major arterial stroads. Where would they put them all? The Pearl is already mostly built out. High rises in Woodstock & Sullivan’s Gulch? 6-story units all along NE Glisan in Hazelwood? SE Foster suddenly looking like Paris? Think of the traffic congestion, the pollution, the noise. 120,000 units should yield 250,000 to 300,000 new residents, Portland at nearly a million people.

Josh Sargent
Josh Sargent
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

If all the places I was expecting to see full blown NIMBYism, BikePortland was not on the list.

Foot Patrol
Foot Patrol
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Why not allow mid-rise apartments off the main roads like you already see in Sunnyside, Irvington, Sullivan’s Gulch, Brooklyn, Eliot, and Sellwood-Moreland? It would alleviate the zoning pressure to put all new residents onto Portland’s corridors which have the highest traffic safety issues and vehicle emission volumes. I agree, let’s not put all our housing eggs into one basket (or corridor) and diversify the housing opportunities throughout the city. Otherwise, the surrounding communities absorb the new growth which leads to traffic in our neighborhoods. Many existing homes are reaching their end-of-life cycle utility, particularly those that have not had regular maintenance and renovation. Of course, al this new construction should consider additional regulations to balance the carbon impact of the embodied phase in construction.

Hotswap
Hotswap
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

That’s why we make sure to continue building out our mass transit options like trains, buses, bike, and walk infrastructure.

Serenity
Serenity
8 months ago
Reply to  Hotswap

Are you saying *we should* or *we do*?

Chris I
Chris I
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh Sargent

That makes sense. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed an uptick in divorced families in my neighborhood. What was a household of 4 in one house is now a household of 4 in two houses. That would definitely have a macro-level impact. We also have a lot of boomers “aging in place” in giant, empty houses that could be housing families of 4-6 people.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Divorce rates in the US have been falling for some time.

R
R
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I never got married so I haven’t contributed to divorce statistics but by my son still lives in two households and I’m not looking forward to finding two plus bedroom apartments for the foreseeable future.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  R

Not many developers seem to be building larger format apartments. I suspect it is far more profitable to build more tiny units than fewer larger ones. This is another way which our housing policy has failed us.

cct
cct
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

what Portland is doing now as preferred policy is eliminating existing affordable housing and building 2 or more small replacement units with a price point that requires vouchers for middle-income residents to afford them. In effect, forcing the working poor into homelessness and creating a subsidized class of entry-level professional workers. Housing policy is a definite failure.

I have asked several developers why they do not build 3 or 4 bedroom family units; they all insist surveys show potential residents preferred studios. the implication was that single people were looking for housing in the city and families were not. A self-fulfilling prophecy; can’t move in to what you can’t find. It’s a great way to hollow out a city!

JP
JP
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I’m seeing the same thing anecdotally. I live in a neighborhood which is very popular with families, however, on my block over half the houses are occupied by childless couples or single retirees. These are houses with at least 3 bedrooms, sitting mostly unused except as a large container for “stuff.” I get it. Few people want to go back to apartment living after owning a home; there needs to be better options and financial incentive for people to downsize to a smaller homes.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  JP

Every year we lose more smaller houses to the wrecking ball. If we want people to downsize from larger houses to smaller ones, we need incentives to stop demolishing them.

Will
Will
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Josh Lehner at the OEA posted about this yesterday. The metric to watch is less overall population and more rates of household formation.

https://oregoneconomicanalysis.com/

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Will

On a national basis household formation has dramatically slowed as WFH reverses and housing affordability hist multi-decade low.

comment image

H/T Calculated Risk: https://calculatedrisk.substack.com/p/lawler-early-read-on-existing-home-407

Lehner’s graphs did not show aggregate household formation but focused on particular cohorts (e.g. millenials) and could, therefore, be misleading.

Will
Will
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

His first chart encompasses all cohorts, unless you’re seeing something I’m not?

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Will

I did miss it and it does show a drop in household formation. I also noticed that Lehner cherry-picked 2019 (instead of 2018 or 2017) to show an increase in housefold formation over the past few years.

Will
Will
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Pegging it to 2017 or 2018 would show an even greater increase in households relative to housing completions, which is largely the subject of the post – and which gets at the underlying question which I was answering to begin with (how does a housing shortage persist when overall population is declining). You are correct that looking at percent change of household formations from 2019-2022 does peg it at an artificial low point (comparing a 2010-2019 would probably be better).

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  Will

Thank you for sharing this! I had been wondering the same. Seems like the people who can afford to are “spreading out” into the available housing stock.

Serenity
Serenity
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Landlords (whether big corporations, or not) get greedy. They raise rents & change rules….they outsource everything; front door call box systems, security, etc… quietly decide that they don’t want their buildings to include affordable mood units anymore,, and make it to the people who live in them, can’t afford to move. Only build luxury apartments that the richest residents can afford. If there are income restricted units, make the rent sky high, and/or make the qualificatins for those units so narrow that almost nobody would even qualify to live there- so they can say they have affordable housing without acttually having to have affordable housing. That is how you get a housing shortage.

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

Are landlords more greedy now than they have been in the past?

Serenity
Serenity
8 months ago
Reply to  Charley

it would seem so…

Lidwien Rahman
Lidwien Rahman
8 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

Many mom and pop landlords are pulling out of the Portland/Multnomah County market because eviction rules and relocation cost requirements make it onerous to be a landlord here. At any given time the majority of the housing stock is existing housing, not new development, so reducing development rules alone is not going to solve the affordable housing crisis.

22 years renting in PDX
22 years renting in PDX
8 months ago
Reply to  Lidwien Rahman

make it onerous to be a landlord here

Private mom and pop landlords have a historic legacy of housing discrimination, tenant harassment, housing code violations, and illegal eviction. I celebrate each and every mom and pop who pulls out of Portland! After all the “law of supply and demand”* indicates that decreased landlord demand for “investments” should lead to cheaper housing costs, right???

* /s

Watts
Watts
8 months ago

Finally! Someone speaking to the merits of large distant corporations controlling the housing supply!

qqq
qqq
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I’ve been bringing that up for years in regard to zoning regulations, and always felt like nobody even understood why it mattered. Generally, I think the City still doesn’t.

Over the next few years, at least on the commercial side, there’s going to be a massive transfer (already started) of ownership of downtown properties from local to distant ownership. The auctions of buildings that have defaulted on loans as leases of current tenants expire has already started. The only buyers will be large companies from elsewhere who can afford to have them sit empty for the short term.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Fortunately, these large property holding companies are scrupulously ethical and provide excellent tenant services.

Surly Ogre
Joseph Bicycles
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh Sargent

The barriers that developers are facing are increased interest rates and increasing building material cost. Developerd aren’t asking banks for lower interest rates or home depot for cheaper bags of concrete. Why is it that the funding is never local? It is always “investors are interested in some other places” and are “challenged by the environment here in Portland. ” Why aren’t Portland investors, banks and credit unions investing in Portland? Where is the money here in Portland to build housing? Phil Knight? the Schnitzers? Zidell? etc…

OregonSmartGrowth attempted to overwhelm all other testimony. Planning Commission members have until Nov 1 to ask for amendments. Entire package will then be discussed and voted on at Nov 14 planning commission meeting. Consideration by council sometime in December. 

Surly Ogre
Joseph Bicycles
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh Sargent

Oh, and today President Biden wants to provide some $ to make housing in already built buildings. https://thehill.com/newsletters/business-economy/4280334-biden-administration-wants-to-turn-office-buildings-to-housing-space/

Serenity
Serenity
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh Sargent

We *are* in a massive housing deficit, aren’t we…

Watts
Watts
8 months ago

So, in summary, on the topic of bike parking, Chris Smith was arguing for repeal now, replace later. I find that a disappointing position for someone who is usually so thoughtful.

And for proponents of evidence-based policy making, this proposal should be a complete non-starter. It overrides years of detailed policy work without any evidence whatsoever that it will increase housing production.

Fred
Fred
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I am – surprisingly – in complete agreement with Watts on this issue.

So disappointed in our so-called leaders – from Kotek on down – that they are allowing themselves to be played like a violin by development interests who have ALWAYS sought to maximize their profits at the public’s expense.

If you want affordable housing, pass laws that incentivize the building of affordable housing! Make it profitable for a builder to put up affordable housing! Or strengthen the regimes that build affordable housing outside of the developer-profit framework. Other countries do it (though they are doing it less and less).

As Watts says, there is zero evidence that waiving every regulation in the book will lead to more affordable housing. We need better political leaders.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I am – surprisingly – in complete agreement with Watts on this issue.

This is one of those rare occasions where I’m not completely irrational.

SeaTacgoride
SeaTacgoride
8 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Comment of the week Fred. Unfortunately our local Carmen Rubio seems as fond of the development lobby as Kotek. 🙁

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Despite Chris’ desire to rescind bike parking regulations his position was somehow described as:

Chris Smith … spoke in defense of bike parking.

This is some sloppy writing, according to my opinion.

SeaTacgoride
SeaTacgoride
8 months ago

It’s really embarrassing how local far left progressives are choosing to abandon our environmental protections and policies to curb global warming in their all out rush for housing at any cost.

Willamette Riverkeeper has fortunately been raising their alarm on these troubling developments being pushed by Carmen Rubio and Kotek. I’m afraid they’ve been sucked in by the developers who have convinced them to jettison regulations so they can increase their profits.

https://www.wweek.com/news/2023/09/20/elected-on-promises-of-a-greener-city-commissioner-carmen-rubio-defies-environmentalists-on-a-floodplain-plan/

https://www.wweek.com/news/2023/08/11/koteks-housing-advisory-council-proposes-suspending-tree-codes-to-speed-development/

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
8 months ago

The bureau will also provide a way for community members to subscribe to get proactive notification of new information.

Large portions of city code was written during other periods of newfangled technical innovation involving carrier pigeon, vacuum tubes, FAX, beepers, dial modems, and clunky email databases. Part of the high overhead costs of running government is employing technicians who have to be re-trained to use outmoded 1970s and 80s technology that the code requires the city to still maintain for public access, even if the public is no longer using such technologies.

The quote above probably refers to the snail-mail postal mailing BDS sends out to neighborhood chairs about upcoming land use and development cases.

cct
cct
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Yes, part of that section is removing specific internet methods being a requirement – but the overall thrust is to put the burden of being notified ON THE CITIZEN; if you don’t know to subscribe to something, obviously you won’t receive it! SUCH a burden on developers to pop a postcard in the mail to the NA, or nail a notice on a tree somewhere.

They also want to get rid of a number of public meetings that are required.

They want to cut neighbors out of knowing what’s going on IN their neighborhood, period.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
8 months ago
Reply to  cct

It’s actually BDS who sends out the notices. Public meetings have never been required for any development that follows the code – it’s only when someone wants to do something different that may (or may not) trigger a public meeting, depending on the type of review – and as a result most projects have never had public meetings ever.

When I have attended public land use meetings, I’m always amazed how utterly blissfully unaware neighbors are about the rights of development their neighbors on the other side of their back fence legally have – taller buildings that block sunlight, no on-site parking required, ugly bland building facade designs – all perfectly legal from a code written 30 years previously.

qqq
qqq
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Actually much of that is wrong. Public meetings ARE required for several types of projects, even if the project isn’t asking for any deviations from the code. For instance, projects in Design Overlay areas over a certain size must hold a public meeting.

Also, those notices ARE sent by the project, not by BDS. BDS does send other types of notices, such as land use review notifications.

https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/code/420-design_0.pdf
https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/code/33.705-neighborhood-contact.pdf

It IS true that most projects, even some pretty significant ones, aren’t required to hold public meetings.

And it’s certainly true most people don’t know what development rights their neighbors have. On the other hand, I’ve been involved in countless projects where owners claimed they had rights they DIDN’T have, and often the City (BDS and City Attorney) agreed with them, only to either later either come to realize they were wrong, or to get told they were wrong by hearings officers or in appeals.

And saying the code was written 30 years ago isn’t really correct, either, as it’s constantly updated. There’s been hundreds of updates in the last 30 years.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
8 months ago
Reply to  cct

All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years

X
X
8 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

A rare LOL on BP! Thank you Mr. Guy.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

The quote above probably refers to… 

I would have no problem replacing paper notices with emailed ones; if that’s what they wanted to do, it’s what they should have put in the proposal.

Emphasis added, btw.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago

Housing in the Portland area has all but stopped. I’m getting calls weekly from market-rate developers who are selling their permitted projects because they can’t make their deals work under current conditions and policy.”

Housing starts are slowing nationally as elevated interest rates convert a mild boom into a bust (and quite possibly a severe bust if interest rates stay elevated for a long time).
.
This deflation of housing production, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with local parking regulations and is a good example of how the Randian free-market that YIMBYs worship is an utter failure when it comes to producing needed housing.
.
FFS, even if you are a liberal who objects to non-market housing for ideological reasons it should be obvious that we need counter-cyclical housing creation during the inevitable busts of our speculative and predatory capitalist housing system (also has fuedal overtones).
.
Housing is a human right and rent is theft!

dw
dw
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Within a liberal/capitalist framework, the only way for house prices to go down is for a massive public housing investment. Which IMO the feds should do. Government is the only institution with the power to put downward pressure on the market. “Affordable” housing is subject to the same market forces that make tear-down 1 bed bungalows cost half a mil.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  dw

“Affordable” housing is subject to the same market forces that make tear-down 1 bed bungalows cost half a mil.

I agree and would add that private affordable housing is often managed by profit-driven driven real-estate companies that have a long history of tenant harassment and high rates of eviction.

aquaticko
aquaticko
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Another pretty ungrounded reading of YIMBYism.

I’ve yet to read anything by a self-proclaimed YIMBY person that is anti-public housing. On the contrary, a desire for strong, active public housing authorities, as among means of circumventing local over-empowerment, is a running theme for most of us. The problem with “affordable housing” built as a contingent of a small increase in total housing stock doesn’t stay affordable; the pressures against private companies building this way are too great. If NIMBYism can stifle high-profit development, why would developers build for even lower profits? (Hence the import of a public housing authority that can build on its own)

Unless housing is built en mass, and aside from some controversy on barring corporate ownership (which I’m in favor of), there’s nothing to suggest that building en mass won’t provide housing-as-right whether it’s designed as “affordable” or not. Really, I think that a public housing authority is probably THE most important weight against the sloth, failure to modernize/modularize, and general backwardness of our private housing construction industry.

Honestly, YIMBYism is pretty simple: build, build, build! Anything to get everyone a home at cost or less; everything else is negotiable. The biggest obstacle to that right now is localized community opposition—the NIMBY foil YIMBYism specifically exists to oppose. Any anti-regulatory bent you perceive in us is most significant in its opposition to NIMBY abuse of regulations to exclude new housing and new people.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

I’ve yet to read anything by a self-proclaimed YIMBY person that is anti-public housing

Yeah…the centrist YIMBYs call it “social” housing that should built by private real-estate developers, must include a high-percentage of market-rate apartments, and has a ground floor for the bougie shops needed to “activate” space.
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And your comment is pure propaganda because while there are some YIMBYs who claim they support thoroughly capitalist “social” housing, there are also many right-wing libertarian YIMBYs who think the “free” market is the only thing that’s needed (and that government should be drowned…). Nice coalition you have there…

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I’m sure there are some “right-wing libertarian YIMBYs” who fit your description. But most of the YIMBY activity I see consists of pointing out the ways in which NIMBY culture and NIMBY systems impede the development of any kind of housing- whether private, public, or mixed.

Personally, I’m not opposed to public housing, as long as it doesn’t concentrate poverty. The more housing, the better! Let’s make landlords compete for tenants!

But the massive cost of providing it should give us some pause- given the budget cuts our City agencies are now facing, could the City afford to build enough public housing to make a dent in the cost?

On the topic of coalitions: perhaps you’d only be happy with housing as long as it’s perfectly public, free of “bougie” shops and market-rate tenants. In this comment and others, I see a preference for ideologically inflexible stances that preclude building coalitions.

It sounds like you’ll need a revolution, in which you vanquish your numerous enemies of the right and the not-left-enough, and then maintain power and ideological purity forever. Without that kind of victory, you’ll never have the power to build. Democracy requires coalition building, and abhors this absolutist brand of certainty.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Personally, I’m not opposed to public housing.

I don’t believe you.

you’d only be happy with housing as long as it’s perfectly public, free of “bougie” shops and market-rate tenants.

Market rate housing and bougie shops do nothing to address the chronic low-income housing crisis. (I don’t care about the housing travails of upper income YIMBYs at all.)

It sounds like you’ll need a revolution

I think the housing crisis will continue to worsen because the so-called free-market IS the problem.

ways in which NIMBY culture and NIMBY systems

I’m just going to quote Harlo here:

Peak lib brain is acknowledging that individual homeowners have an interest in protecting their asset value, but not recognizing that the RE industry as whole has the same interest and will not crash prices against their will

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Charley: “Personally, I’m not opposed to public housing.”
Pierre Delecto: “I don’t believe you.”

Have you ever met me? What facts are you referencing to base your assessment of my trustworthiness? You and I disagree about several political issues- is that sufficient evidence that I am a liar?

By the way, I absolutely agree that we should repeal the Faircloth amendment. It wouldn’t magically create billions of dollars of federal funding, or magically increase the supply of concrete, 2×4’s, or construction workers, but the law is a vestige of Reaganite Southern Strategy BS, and shouldn’t be on the books anymore.

aquaticko
aquaticko
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

This is an instance in which I don’t care who my bedfellows are. At the present, we don’t have any public agency which could build mass housing; on the contrary, as I’m sure you know, the Faircloth amendment specifically prohibits the construction of additional housing which would become public property by anyone. Ergo, in the meanwhile, it should be built by private companies until we have a public agency that can build, and creating that latter should be an immediate priority on regional metropolitan and national levels.

I’m not going to purity test people who, by whatever means, end up reducing homelessness. I think what you’d find is that libertarian YIMBYs who are really pro-capitalists in disguise end up becoming NIMBYs as soon as they realize that building more housing is an essential means for reducing the value of housing as property, thereby diminishing the role of private property as a pillar around which to structure society.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

as soon as they realize that building more housing is an essential means for reducing the value of housing as property,

And this is where I vehemently disagree. The private real estate industry has used regulatory capture to create a scarcity-based system designed to juice profits. Residential real estate investors will never willingly overbuild enough to markedly lower inflation-adjusted prices because they are incredibly protective of their margin. Allowing a basic human need to become a speculative market is the problem problem and no amount of trickle down deregulation will fix this flaw.
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FWIW, I’m not opposed to upzoning multi-story apartment buildings everywhere but what really interests me are mechanisms that incentivize non-market multi-story rental housing. I’m neutral to mildly supportive of market-based rental housing upzones but if these upzones are paired with strong incentives for non-market-based housing then I would be more supportive.

aquaticko
aquaticko
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I have no problem with any of that, but I think the more productive angle from which to approach the issue is, ultimately, stronger support for public housing authorities. Absent that–and crucially, absent any demonstration of public competence of the sort that reforming housing market regulations could evince–I’m willing to at least see if the market might be able to provide housing better than it currently does. Tackling the problem from a pro-social angle rather than a pro-market one is a hard sell in the U.S., even if it ought to be a more compelling one.

An interesting counterfactual here is the extent to which we’ve privatized the mobility market in the U.S. For whatever reason (I suspect it’s largely competitive consumption and marketing-driven; lower profit margins on cheap cars are an obvious factor), the market for truly cheap, simple cars has evaporated over the past 2 decades, and of course the providers of those cars are profit-driven private companies–much like our housing market. That’s certainly an example in favor of your position rather than mine, but I like to think that housing being more essential than transportation could bring the paradox to light sooner, and so induce either private sector change or public sector action.

There’s also the fact that the barrier for entry for private housing development is a lot lower than for cars, giving the private sector more wiggle room to meet demand before lowering profit to a point that pressures to meet demand simply won’t matter.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

giving the private sector more wiggle room to meet demand before lowering profit to a point

The problem is that lowering profits at all will keep most developers away if they can make more developing the usual gourmet developments.

To get more affordable housing from private developers, it has to be more profitable to build/own/operate, or it has to be a requirement for building the tasty expensive stuff. In practice, this probably means subsidies or public ownership.

That second option runs directly against the notion that city rules are keeping developers are building (which I believe to be a complete fiction).

aquaticko
aquaticko
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Again, the obvious solution to a problem the market fails to solve under a capitalist economic structure is to take the matter out of its hands.

Not to be a flaming Marxist (though definitely guilty-as-charged), but I think the failure of highly-privatized economies, like the U.S.’, to provide basic necessities en mass without terminally indebting the public is a pretty clear sign that insofar as a failure to provide those necessities is perceived as a failure (and I’m not even going to entertain arguments that it shouldn’t be), even staunch capitalists should have to admit that it’s a sign that the system doesn’t work unless you’re really committed to your misanthropy.

If profit’s the only thing that’s allowed to matter, the beatings will continue until the margins improve. That should be unacceptable. I’m willing to admit to some political pragmatism in the meanwhile, but claiming the way it is now is the only way it could be is a bridge to far.

(Idioms, here, idioms for sale.)

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

Profit is not the only thing that’s “allowed” to matter. You can build whatever you want, motivated by what matters to you.

But unless you want to do this one time only, or you have barrels of money, you’ll probably need the first project to generate enough a return to pay for the second one. And if you had to borrow money to build the first project, you’ll need to pay that back as well. And most people (not you of course, but the shallow and callous among us) want to get paid for their labor.

I’m not how else it can work (except, of course, for public housing, which I mentioned earlier).

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

You seem to think that real estate developers act as a unit, in concert, to limit development in order to artificially reduce supply and maintain higher prices.

I certainly could see that happening in a smaller market, but cities like Portland have many, many firms and individual developers, who are actually in competition with each other. In a market so constrained and so profitable, the potential profits for any renegade developer would be enormous. That creates a stronger incentive to develop than any kind of strong-arming by would-be capital strikers.

I think what you’re gesturing at is actually more likely the case of slowing development due to a lack of profits. If the market becomes saturated to the point that housing actually is affordable, profits would decline and investors would seek profits in different industries and kinds of investments.

That’s reminiscent of what happened in the Great Recession (though it has more to do with financial deregulation), and it is a great failure of governance that, while interest rates were low and construction workers were idle, the Federal government didn’t enact a WPA style infrastructure program to stimulate the economy and invest in the future of the country.

I remember Obama advocating for just that, and comparing Republicans to guys unwilling to help fix a flat tire, so as not to risk making the driver look good.

John V
John V
8 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

I’m not going to purity test people who, by whatever means, end up reducing homelessness.

I can very easily think of some pretty dark ways to reduce homelessness, most of them with historical precedence. So I am going to purity test on that.

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  John V

YIMBY’s aren’t advocating for genocide or Mao-style reeducation camps. There’s a huge difference between proposals to loosen the stranglehold of racist zoning laws and authoritarian population reduction strategies; if you can’t see that difference, you’re living in a Manichean fantasy world.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Charley

There’s a huge difference between proposals to loosen the stranglehold of racist zoning laws

Which will do little do address the chronic low-income housing crisis caused by the highly-speculative housing market you all worship.
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Exclusionary zoning is racist but our housing market is also very racist and classist.

Vans
Vans
8 months ago

Great work Lisa, I barely understand the overall gravity but its not rocket science, the steam roller is getting much bigger on all of this.

Josh Sargent
Josh Sargent
8 months ago

Not sure neighborhood associations have much of a track record of pushing for the “public good”, unless your definition is preventing multifamily housing everywhere they can.

OregonRainstorm87
OregonRainstorm87
8 months ago

I worked for a nearby very small city that froze SDCs to encourage housing. They did get two complexes built… I lived in one while I worked there and had to move out when my one bedroom rent was raised to $1800… as far as I know, 3 years later, the ground floor retail spaces have yet to be rented.

The developer lives in a lake side mansion in Lake Oswego. He got $$$ out of this deal but at what cost to both the city losing SDC income and the renters paying insane amounts that can be raised at any time ….. We’re financing rich guys getting richer

surly ogre
surly ogre
8 months ago

Developer ‘FEE’ on top of everyone else getting paid is close to $600,000 on a $20 million dollar project.

cct
cct
8 months ago

I see other places share our problems and ‘solutions:’
https://boingboing.net/2018/10/24/welcome-to-the-grim-new-car-de.html

from the comments there:

In desirable cities with housing shortages, developers and their tame politicians use the situation to call for lowered inspection and zoning regulations. “We desperately need more housing for ordinary people!”, they cry like socialists, hoping no-one will note that the only housing they want to build are high-margin luxury condos and McMansions.

Charley
Charley
8 months ago

It’s frustrating to see all this. Housing underproduction and homelessness are very real, very bad problems. But the solutions on offer here seem so small-bore and peripheral, while imposing real costs on the environment that our regulations are meant to protect.

Ultimately, the solution probably requires fine-tuning these kinds of regulations, while taking a chainsaw to larger barriers, like single-family zoning, downtown river view rules, and BDS permitting delays. These are simple fixes!

Also, it sounds like inclusionary zoning might not be working well, outside of Central City, and System Development Charges are a thorny problem (new apartment buildings do need sewers, and someone does have to pay for that).

As others have pointed out, we need to lower material costs and decouple the Fed’s sole anti-inflationary lever from necessary investment. Someone who is smarter than I am will have to figure out those problems.

I can understand that it’s frustrating to people that, in the absence of a sudden, revolutionary government investment in public housing, we depend on the profit-seeking motive of multi-family housing developers to build housing for the population. Why won’t they accept smaller profits to work within the system as is?

Thing is, NIMBYism and over-regulation impede even the development of housing by non-profits (such as Proud Ground), homeless shelters, below-market-rate housing, and public housing. If that’s true, the problem doesn’t just reflect an ideological discomfort with profit-seeking businesses, but a willingness to impose unjustifiable costs on any building by anyone for any reason.

The solution isn’t to “stick it to the man”: doing so will hobble the potentially good, dense growth of Portland, and incentivize only the building of McMansions and suburbs.

Choosing in favor of stricter rules and NIMBY processes is choosing in favor of homelessness and sprawl.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Charley

As others have pointed out, we need to lower material costs and decouple the Fed’s sole anti-inflationary lever from necessary investment. Someone who is smarter than I am will have to figure out those problems.

Rescind the Faircloth amendment and build millions of public housing units.

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Where in the world have you seen me arguing against this???

Sure! Repeal Faircloth!
Government housing can be great!

I’m just asking what government is going to pay for it? Does the City have sufficient funds to build tens of thousands of units of housing right now? Do you think Representative Johnson’s US House is going to pony up the cash for us?

If you think the US is on the brink of a real change-of-heart, and will build a socialist paradise any minute now, then these solutions are truly valid.

But people are living on the streets *right now* and the fantasy of suddenly having a socialist government doesn’t keep the rain off or the cold out.

In the constrained environment of of reality, in which roughly 50% of the country’s voters seem to share the unhinged belief that a public school library can be a stalking horse for communism, the fastest way to build housing includes private sector developers.

Again, I ask: is there a way to achieve the social good of abundant housing that does not require vanquishing every one whose politics are not as far left as yours?

Even if the US gets to that point, how long are you willing to wait? How many years should people plan on living on the streets until political sentiments have shifted your way?

I shouldn’t care about the impractical politics of idealists, except the outcomes are truly horrendous.

X
X
8 months ago

A development bureaucracy that is looking at regulations with a view to suspending some of them should do a post-crash examination of the Gibbs St. sidewalk debacle. A sub rosa decision to omit the most basic infrastructure for humans shows that the default system is pretty much capable of anything.

Memo to Portland bureaus: Walking is transportation that works when everything else is broken.