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Resident Infill: Revelations

Anyone planning to attend their neighborhood open house on the zoning change proposal? Mine is tonight so I started looking into the plans.

"The goal of the Residential Infill Project is to adapt Portland’s single dwelling zoning rules to meet the needs of current and future generations."

Reminds me of the mad-lib inspired subject line of a broken spam email.

"The goal of the <<CITY PROJECT>> is to adapt Portland's <<THING TO ADAPT>> to meet the needs of current and future generations."

That draft proposal booklet is a lot to digest. And the survey asks you stuff like "so you like the direction this proposal is going?" and never defines what the proposal does, so you have to go through the PDF and study it, then come back to the survey.

Proposal 6 is the only one with a helpful "Opportunities/Challenges" breakout, which would be nice to have for all of them since I can't figure out what most of these proposals are trying to accomplish. Other than meet the needs of current and future generations of course!

Increased density & adding more housing inventory are goals I can understand and get behind. But how does lowering roof-lines and requiring garage-less houses fix that? And letting a house have 2 ADUs instead of one is great for AirBnB but I'm not sure how that helps Portland.


  • I will offer my perspective as a longtime NoPo renter.

    People live in ADUs, which allow more people to live (relatively independently) on a single lot. Garages take up space that an ADU could be built on. We should control the building of single- or double-car garages if we want to go dense.

    As for lowering the house roofline: it puts me in mind of a City Club event I heard on the radio featuring Steve Novick, about a year ago, discussing housing affordability.

    I tuned in to hear a Commissioner talk about plans for addressing displacement, and instead I heard him reassuring home owners that density wouldn't interfere with the views from their windows. There was a total lack of awareness of the actual problem from the point of view of people who aren't owners. Aesthetics matter (personally I think the new fake brick veneer they're putting on apartments should be outlawed) but we need to be looking forward toward urban values.

    I think it's a reasonable set of proposals, though most of them seem designed to placate current homeowners, whose concern is [an outdated model of] property values.
  • Multiple ADUs on a single residential lot seems like an end around of the purpose of zoning laws. You can already split big houses up into multiple units, build duplexes on corners, and build cottage-style if the lot is big enough. If you need more density than that, then rezone! (Which they are already doing in the high-traffic corridors, so kudos to them for that.)

    The number of second ADUs will not make an appreciable dent in Portland's lack of housing inventory since only 1% of single family homes in the city have an ADU. Vancouver, BC has 35% of single family homes with ADUs! One of the reasons for this is that ADUs are a trailing indicator of the real estate market (a normal house in BC proper will run MILLIONS of dollars). Lots of ADUs mean your real estate market is already bonkers. Why else spend $100k+ to add a little apartment? And then there's the AirBnB issue, which will require regulations by the city to solve, else they will just become $50-$200/night hotel rooms. So I see add'l ADUs having no effect, or perhaps even a negative one on housing inventory and hence, pricing.

    Mandating garage-less houses is just bizarre, they actually list "more onstreet parking" as a pro, ignoring the fact the resident will simply park in front of their house. Did the same people that came up with the parking-less condo units take over another planning department? Limiting garage size I can understand, offering advantages to setback rules for garageless houses I can understand. (allowed to build closer to the street if you don't have a garage, etc) But I don't understand how requiring garageless single family housing helps density or livability for any generation, current or future.

    To me, urban values mean accepting increased density (I can't believe how close the houses are together!) a mix of housing types (as opposed to the suburban Edward Scissorhands planned developments) and the use of zoning laws to limit land to uses that foster community, efficiency and sustainable city growth.
  • I have always seen that Portland is heading towards where Vancouver BC is at, so I'm sure that ADU percentage will keep going up.
  • As a homeowner I should probably be rooting for us to follow in Vancouver BC's footsteps but I fear for Portland if every 2BR+ single family house within 20m of the city center is $1M+

    I *think* that is what the city is trying to avoid. I just can't follow their logic with a few of these proposals.
  • I have to move back to a rental soon and I feel very doomed. I overhear a lot of unecouraging conversations.
  • Hey Miranda, FaceTweet, & anyone else who's really interested: I have been invited to an event on 7/8 to learn more about a new organization called Portland for Everyone (my favorite quote from their website: "Portland for Everyone prioritizes housing for humans over housing for cars.") They have been tracking and commenting on the proposed comp plan zoning changes and so they would be a good organization to engage with if you want to understand the current proposal better. I got permission to extend the invitation to a couple more people. If you want the details, let me know.
  • No thank you, but thanks for offering :)
  • @FaceTweetPlus, I guess I don't understand your feeling about ADUs. Do you mean, for example, that instead of adding a garage-sized cottage on a lot that contains a 1-family house, it would be better to clear the lot and build an apartment?
  • I just saw that the IPRC got their rent raised prohibitively. Endeavors that aren't straight up commerce are going to start disappearing.... and that's why new portland sux.
  • 300% hike! Yikes. That's unethical and ridiculous. I am more optimistic though. I think a lot of the endeavors and people that feel like they are forced out will still exist, just farther on the outskirts like every other big city. The bummer being, Portland will just become like every other city; pockets of good stuff surrounded by a whole lot of bullshit.
  • @Loose_Thread my personal feeling is that living next to houses with ADUs built specifically as AirBnBs suck. That garage 2' from your backyard property line? Now it's a hotel room overlooking your raised beds!

    My civic feeling is that adding the option for a 2nd ADU doesn't measurably add to the housing density, inventory, or help with affordability. I would maintain it does the opposite as now every single family home in Portland is (even more of) an investment property.

    @freddy thanks for the links they do a much better job of talking about the goals and benefits of the city proposals than the city. So who is Portland for Everyone? Their site is pretty basic and has a few blank pages where I would expect to see coalition members and info about who/what is behind the org. It doesn't look like they are doing much more than parroting the city recommendations, do they have a different take on the issue?

    "Portland for Everyone prioritizes housing for humans over housing for cars" makes no sense to me. From a transportation standpoint I understand the humans over cars sentiment completely, we want to plan our city around multimodal transit and there is an established history of city transportation planning being based on cars and only cars.

    But what are they saying here? Portland has too many garages and parking lots?! That we plan housing around vehicle use? I honestly have no idea.

    And @Thor "pockets of good stuff surrounded by a whole lot of bullshit" sounds like a pretty good summary of the human experience.
  • Oh and @Loose_Thread I didn't mean to ignore your specific example, I just didn't understand the choice presented. ADUs and apartment buildings accomplish two different things and require different zoning, so I'm not sure this example makes sense.

    But if your goal is to slow the rise of housing costs and increase density, then replacing a single family home with housing for 4-10 households is obviously the better choice.
  • edited July 2016
    I don't know the details, but I think that new regs went into effect blocking huge residential rent increases--but evidently not commercial, as in IPRC. My property management company has responded by not allowing any more month-to-month leases, only 12-month. Not sure what this means for me yet other than a big fee if I need to move.
  • They didn't limit rent increases, they only increased the notice time required if landlords raise rent 5% or more :(

    I don't think state law allows the city of Portland to enact rent control or limit rent increase amounts. It's gnarly.
  • I have been waiting to learn more about whether AirBNBs are actually reducing available housing stock in a meaningful way, or if that's just sort of a thing that anti-infill people are saying/freaking out about. To that end, I found this article about Seattle interesting. There are now 4-5000 short-term rentals available in Seattle. Proposed new regulations:

    "Under the regulations, only property owners using their primary residence would be allowed to operate short-term rentals year-round, according to Burgess. Those not using their primary residence would be limited to 90 total nights over 12 months.

    Even property owners using a primary residence would need a special new license from the city to rent for more than 90 nights during a 12-month period."

    Of course, if AirBNB manipulates their listings to hide multiple-property owners, regulations still might not solve the problem.
  • edited July 2016
    I'm not sure reduction of housing stock due to AirBnB is a thing, at least in Portland. I think the issue is that the "sharing economy" plus a lack of coherent policy and enforcement by CoP makes single family homes even more valuable as investment property, making it even more likely that a prospective 1st time home owner will be beat out by a cash offer, or a renter will be priced out of their home.

    Some interesting analysis by data nerds scraping SF Craigslist and city records are indicating that only two things drive housing prices: availability of jobs and inventory. I don't think ADUs help with inventory since only a small subset of housing seekers are willing to live in a 300 sq ft apartment with a kitchenette. We need to increase the type of housing that a middle class couple/family moving to Portland for that new job to wants to live in. Love 'em or hate 'em the condo bunkers do a much better job at this than ADUs ever will, even if we allowed 10 per lot.
  • Yeah, those condos suck but, and I'm by no means an expert on this topic, it seems like everything I have read says pretty much nothing else works to keep rents down other than flooding a market with rentals. Those condos make a lot of rentals very quickly which seems like what Portland needs. Rent control seems to only fix things very short term and has a billion and one problems and ultimately makes problems worse. You can subsidize a bunch of places to keep their rents down, but again only seems to work for a little while and then creates a rental price increase bomb for later. I like both of those ideas in theory though. I just would love to hear somebody explain to me why they are a good solution and not just kicking the can down the road or creating super abusive landlord and tenant relationships. Basically, it's hard to get around rent boom problems because we live in capitalistic country. I don't know. I would love to be more educated on this. What seems like the legitimate best solution to you guys? I feel like I am always wading through a pile of feel good ideas like rent control that end up backfiring on people, but sound like really good ideas in theory. Sorta like the fluoride debate. There are a lot of things that sound good (or bad in the fluoride case) but not much solid science or evidence to back up those good sounding ideas. I do like the place that a lot of those ideas come from though. Seems very loving and caring, and I do like that about Portland.
  • Possible solutions: good public transit (check), rezoning (check), encourage density with city codes (check).

    I might quibble with a couple of the bullet items but you can't say local government isn't pulling the levers that are available to them.
  • After doing a bit more reading and thinking, garageless houses are starting to make sense to me if I take the long view. Like in 20 years when my kids are being shuttled around by self-driving Ubers and wondering why so many houses have these giant rooms leading to the street. I still think it would be better to encourage it through more advantageous setback rules or something of that nature rather than mandating. (However I fear in this future they will be microleasing rooms and portions of houses for 1-3 months at a time in some sort of hyper-shared economy)

    Also the terror on Nextdoor makes me think the city is doing something right. And this article talks a bit about the people behind Portland for Everyone if you are curious. TL;DR google "1000 Friends of Oregon"
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