This post is written by Neil Heller, a Portland-based planning consultant.
I recently visited a shop to get a new bike. I was shown two options: a gorgeous, yet expensive, custom-built single-speed cruiser and a massive cargo bike with all sorts of gleaming add-ons including an electric assist.
I like both of these bikes but they don’t quite fit my riding style — short commutes but also a bit of recreational road cycling on the weekends. I asked about a more versatile bike, one in between the two I was being shown, but was told road bikes are illegal.
Certainly I had seen some road bikes being ridden on my way over? These types are all an older style, I was informed, and can only be purchased used. No new road bikes are being built right now. Sorry.
By now it’s likely that you already see the metaphor and realize I never visited such a shop. I think this metaphor for housing choice is a good one because it highlights how laughable having such limited options can be.
As Portlanders debate ways to deal with the city’s continuing surge of housing prices, a coalition of local affordable-housing developers and service providers says Portland can’t afford to continue banning so-called “missing middle” housing from most of the city.
Duplexes, triplexes, internal home divisions and two-story garden apartments are common throughout many of the neighborhoods Portland built in the early 20th century. Today, those neighborhoods are the city’s most walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly — but since 1959, city code has made it illegal to build more neighborhoods like that. Homes with multiple kitchens or space for fewer than two cars are forbidden even on most residential land in the central city.
Most of Portland’s conversation about ways to create enough new homes to defuse our deep and ongoing housing shortage has focused on the four-story apartment buildings rising along a few main streets.
But there’s a growing awareness in Portland’s housing policy community that low-rise apartment buildings — let alone the taller buildings rising in the Lloyd, Burnside Bridgehead and Pearl — aren’t the only buildings that can increase the supply of housing in the walkable, bikeable parts of Portland. In fact, the other options might be more popular with neighbors, too.
The only problem: in almost all of Portland, creating such buildings is forbidden.