What UNR does, and why

Portland grassroots group United Neighborhoods for Reform seeks to stem the demolition of viable, affordable housing and its replacement with expensive and inefficient large single-family homes. Our demolition/development resolution, developed through significant neighbor outreach, gathered endorsements from 43 neighborhood associations citywide. We also regularly take our message to City Hall, starting in December 2014, continuing in 2015 on Feb. 12, June 3 (UNR presenters start at 51:20), Oct. 14 (UNR at 1:07:35), and Nov. 25 (UNR at 1:05); in 2016 on Feb. 17, Nov. 9 and 16, and Dec. 7; and in 2017 on May 17.

Next up: A whole lotta "engagement theatre" arrives in form of Residential Infill Project open houses
• 5-7 pm Thursday, Oct. 19, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, 4815 NE 7th Ave.
• 5-7 pm Monday, Oct. 23, Central Northeast Neighbors, 4415 NE 87th Ave.
• 5-7:30 pm Monday, Oct. 30, Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 SW Capitol Highway
• 5-7:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 2, Kenton Fire House, 8105 N. Brandon
• 5-7:30 pm Tuesday, Nov. 7, Southeast Uplift, 3524 SE Main.
Written comment to: residential.infill@portlandoregon.gov and/or City of Portland Bureau of Planning, Attn: RIP, 1900 SW 4th Ave., Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201.

"The time is always right to do what is right."
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

This movie will move you, and so should the latest zoning scheme

This summer, journalist Cornelius Swart previewed his movie, Priced Out, chronicling changes in Northeast Portland to private audiences; now it's headlining and premiering at the 44th edition of the Northwest Filmmakers' Festival at 7 pm Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, 1219 S.W. Park Ave. The cream always rises, and this film's no different; grab tickets here.

It couldn't be better timed for the RIP-roaring days ahead brought to you in the form of the city planners' Residential Infill Project. More on that coming soon. If you're already versed in the proposal and its sweeping and inequitable impacts (here's another movie, this one detailing a Seattle neighborhood's experience with similar upzoning), go ahead and write here online or to:

residential.infill@portlandoregon.gov and/or City of Portland Bureau of Planning, Attn: RIP, 1900 SW 4th Ave., Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201

(Be sure to save a copy.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

This is not the kind of RIP city we are

Welcome back, hope you all had a good summer, and now we're back to land use school as the city's Residential Infill Project (RIP) moves to the fore, promising further luxe plexing and more landfilling of old growth resources.

Portland can bloom while it booms: Let's keep the housing we 
have—much of it modestly sized, "green," affordable, 
and durable—then apply creativity to our copious 
vacant land within the urban growth boundary.

Julia Gisler of the Bureau of Planning offered only RIP hints at the September meeting of the Central Northeast Neighbors land use committee, only saying that the public's influence on the proposal would be limited (perhaps nil?), that Commissioner Fish's approved request for alternative mapping would be too much work, and that, to paraphrase, staffers were hell-bent on getting to the Planning Commission for the "green" light. Maybe they don't even want us to see the developer-guided directive at all, considering the teardown blitz it encourages.

With changes to the RIP mission made on the fly and outside of the public eye (Mayor Wheeler supposedly merely gave the nod), United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) believes the public should be included if it is to be so impacted. Also: Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants (Louis D. Brandeis).

The latest proposal—already heavily contested in its first forms—is slow to come, but UNR will track it as ever, and respond as necessary to defend our wide range of housing that can shelter many more generations—and certainly more cheaply than any new construction.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Despite the "gut-and-stuff," neighbors win

It's baseball season, and one player's
pronouncement speaks to the activism
that beat down a bad bill.
It took a lot of energy and effort, but House Bill 2007, which would have accelerated demolitions beyond developers' wildest dreams, finally died, but not before some of the less onerous parts of it were folded into some child-care bill, which was renamed then ushered through Salem in a last-minute move before the session ended. So—that's how it works.

Hopefully, the players behind HB2007—and the developers' lobby in the form of 1000 Friends of Oregon/Portland for Everyone (now so thoroughly co-opted they chime in on behalf of developers for _expansion_ of the urban growth boundary)—got their wake-up call.

Pouring money into the effort and the misinformation, just as they do in attacking neighborhoods' desire to become historic districts, their side did little more than name-calling because they didn't have any stats to back up the theory that building more leads to affordable housing. As we've seen in this construction boom, building more has led to a housing crisis, and in some areas near-complete displacement (read on).

So far on the ground level more and more of us have seen too much of the theory—dumping modest homes in the landfill, erecting upscale housing in its place—that it's hard to garner much sympathy for the desperate desire to create more "market-rate," "needed" housing. Really, we need a break.

Most Portlanders have well-developed BS detectors and—the testimony against HB2007 gives ample evidence—they are using them.

Now see this

Cornelius Swart presents a screening of his newly
completed Priced Out late last month at Billy Webb Elks
Lodge in Northeast Portland. Order a copy, chance into a
screening, or catch it on the festival circuit.
Filmmaker and journalist Cornelius Swart chronicled the Albina area in NorthEast Passage: The Inner City and the American Dream. Fifteen years on, his Priced Out serves as the sequel and tells the story of a neighborhood decimated by the city's demolition-favorable policies, through the lens of one activist who eventually fled what had been home.

In her and others' wake the neighborhood's thoroughfares turned into walls of shiny apartments for the well-heeled. Priced Out takes a sharp look at the changes, with nuggets such as how the city dropped the ball on building hundreds of units of affordable housing and why there's that weird empty field next to Legacy Emanuel hospital. See the film, and understand.

If you thought we had learned the lessons of "Urban Removal" efforts from decades ago, this movie prompts a rethink.

old-time Albina
With our centers and corridors set to become characterless cityscapes, it's still not too late to fight for the diverse life at their borders, quality construction (the tragedy of Grenfell Tower provides a few lessons), old-growth architecture, and the places that make Portland unique. We can start with saving people's homes—as we did in beating back HB2007.

North Williams Avenue now
Perhaps the city, too, has noticed the class stratification, the neighborhoods made up of less-invested residents, and the general malaise.

While Sunday Parkways threatens not to stage rides because not enough volunteers have signed up as in the past, the city suddenly wants to talk about heritage and "historic resources" (emphasizing its commitment to "meaningful involvement"; as opposed to—?) and commemorate Portland's "Black Broadway." For the latter, the art will be wonderful and the irony delicious, considering the now unrecognizable North Williams Avenue (above) and the overwhelming shade of the population able to live there.

Friday, June 23, 2017

It's not too late to kill the bill

If you believe our viable affordable housing isn't disposable and could serve future generations, please write here,
with "oppose HB2007" the subject line. Read on for plenty more reasons to say no to HB2007.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Here's how to look forward, with less destruction in mind

The ill-conceived House Bill 2007 certainly has brought on the turmoil and even name-calling by Speaker Kotek, who can't seem to figure out how to gracefully back away from the toxic mess. (By the way, the controversy has managed to stave the bill off the House Ways and Means agenda for another week, which means there's still time to make your voice heard—please do! See next post.)

Take it from a schoolkid: We can reuse houses, too.

It's especially refreshing to hear forward-looking words on land use, such as this from a recent article by Michael Mehaffy, who testified (along with Peggy Moretti of Restore Oregon) at the "information session" given HB2007 earlier this month:
We in the planning and development field need to work harder and more sincerely to find win-win approaches. At the same time, the neighborhood residents need to work harder to find the basis on which that win-win approach might operate. Right now the process is unnecessarily adversarial, and the winner too often is just plain bad development. 
Visit his blog here for more fresh thinking on Portland's problems and how to solve them less destructively.

Watch our movie here to see the city's losses (always affordable housing) and gains (never affordable housing) during this building boom, which continues even as stats from the U.S. Census Bureau show the city's growth rate is slowing.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Please do this

Supporters of House Bill 2007 want it passed before the session ends in Salem (read on for the many reasons why it's a bad idea).

Here's how you can help stop it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Let's get real about housing affordability

As HB 2007 speeds through the legislature in Salem with an "informational meeting" Thursday morning, Jim Heuer, chairman of the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources, has this to say:

The economic pain caused by soaring housing costs is affecting Oregonians well beyond the Portland metro area. In response to this, the State Legislature has introduced three bills to address the housing affordability crisis, two of which may actually help (one relating to tenant protections including rent stabilization and one encouraging tiny houses). 

The third, HB 2007, could actually do more harm than good. 

HB 2007 was originally designed to speed permitting for construction of truly affordable housing. It was quickly—and very quietly—amended under pressure from the Oregon Home Builders Association and (surprisingly) from 1000 Friends of Oregon, to include provisions that encourage construction of “needed” housing. In the bill “needed housing” is defined to include pretty much everything, but since developers are almost exclusively building highly profitable luxury housing, that’s what the bill is encouraging!

But wait a minute! Haven’t we heard that “supply and demand” will work in housing and that after a time of building high-end housing, prices will fall and mid- and low-income residents will find affordable housing as a result. Sadly, no! Housing affordability advocates have learned from decades of experience that tens of thousands of new high-priced market rate rental units don’t translate into affordable housing. San Francisco and the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Toronto are case studies.

Ever greater income inequality allows affluent residents to bid rents higher, and affordable housing is destroyed in the process. “Build-baby-build” may sound great, but the real estate economists have proven that the benefits won’t “trickle down” to help out average folks for 30 years or even more. Your 20-year-old daughter, priced out of today’s market, just might find affordable housing by the time she’s middle-aged.

Unfortunately, HB 2007 simply promises more “build-baby-build” by provisions that either do nothing for affordability or actively work against it:

· Weakening protections of affordable historic listed resources. Historic protections cover less than 3 percent of Portland’s residential land. This provision is just a wild stab to encourage demolitions on a tiny fraction on our residential land, while providing no assurance of affordable replacements. It further ignores the amount of relatively affordable single and multi-family housing already in our historic districts that would be threatened by demolitions under these provisions.
· Mandating simplified “design review” standards for housing to encourage more development. This provision ignores the fact that state law already provides for that simplified “design review” in residential areas—a case of doing nothing and calling it success.
· Forcing all Oregon cities to allow duplexes throughout single-family zones. This is simply legislative over-reach. 1000 Friends of Oregon is an advocate for this approach in Portland, but that doesn’t make it right for the entire state. Worst of all, it encourages still more demolition of affordable single-family houses in favor of less sought-after duplexes—selling for distinctly non affordable prices [see next post for the $2 million duplex, now popping up in Portland and poised to sprout like mushrooms after a storm]. 

If legislators were really focused on housing affordability, why aren’t they considering the following as elements of HB 2007?
+ Mandating demolition review for affordable housing to ensure that the replacement structure be affordable as well—by accepted HUD standards of affordability
+ Providing tax incentives for rehabilitation of existing work-force housing, with special emphasis on energy efficiency, lead paint mitigation and seismic retrofitting
+ Supporting building code changes to allow cheaper conversion of existing single-family houses to duplex or multi-family use, while ensuring protection of health and safety
+ Simplifying ADU rules and providing for “templates” for quick approval
+ Placing limits on ever-expanding conversion of rental housing to short-term rentals—with reasonable enforcement provisions which are sorely lacking in Portland and other Oregon cities
+ Identifying a permanent source of funding for affordable housing construction bonds, providing new housing where it is needed now, and allowing for new construction of truly affordable housing every year into the future
+ Providing enforcement to ensure that “affordable” units in privately owned buildings stay affordable for at least 50 to 60 years—correcting a glaring weakness in today’s low-income housing programs

Unfortunately, HB 2007 only pretends to make real strides toward needed housing affordability for Oregonians. It needs to be fixed to focus on the real needs that prompted it in the first place—focusing on ways to increase the amount of real affordable housing in the next 12 to 18 months, not 30 years from now!

For more stats on one player in Portland development—Renaissance Homes—illustrating the building problems of lost affordable housing and its replacement with far less affordable products, read here. There's a lot of money at stake here, and it's funneling straight to the "grassroots" through the former environmental group 1000 Friends of Oregon and the ironically named Portland for Everyone. Follow the funds, and understand the HB 2007 flashpoint.