Comment of the Week: Housing regulation—Style and substance

My post last week on the Housing Regulatory Relief proposals moving through the Planning Commission is still, even as I write, receiving excellent comments. Charley’s comment initially caught my eye because he did such a good job of integrating his links into the argument he was making. It was a style thing. But if you take the time to read the articles he cites you can learn a lot about building, especially in Portland. So his style caught my eye and his substance left me better informed.

Isn’t that a big part of what style is about, though? What is nice about Charley’s writing is that he cares about his reader, he keeps his reader in the front of his mind. No insider jargon, no reddit quips or acronyms, no big expression of emotion. Nope, he just wants to guide you through his ideas.

But about that substance—Charley knows what he is talking about. You don’t have to agree with him, but reading his comments in this thread (and the articles he links to) will leave you with a better understanding of housing supply issues, including economic policy, “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…”

Here’s one of Charley’s comments:

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.

Thank you Charley, for taking the time to write a well-documented primer on building housing in Portland. The entire thread is really, really good, and will bring you up to speed on many different opinions about our housing crisis.

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

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6 months ago

Awww shucks. Maybe commenting is just an unhealthy way to procrastinate and vent… but I’ve learned *so much* on BP over the years and I feel like helping to maintain an opinionated yet informative forum is the least I can do.