What UNR does, and why

Portland grassroots group United Neighborhoods for Reform seeks to stem the demolition of viable, affordable housing. 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; in 2017 on May 17; and in 2018 on Feb. 1.

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

If you're not astonished, you're not paying attention

Catastropolis, by Christophe Vorlet - Urban Development, 2004.
The assault on modest affordable housing continues as the big guys (and they do all seem to be guys) keep applying pressure on all fronts. Just as the Oregon legislature decided to pass the luxe plexing bill of HB 2001 in some of the last hours of the session (after ducking the climate control bill—must have been some awkward phoning around there, like, "You don't have to pass this bill, but you gotta get in there and pass 2001!").

It was a banner week for Clyde Holland, billionaire developer out of Washington (and that state's No. 1 Trumper and this state's bankroller of YIMBY groups), who got his HB 2001 and to stand over Trump's shoulder (that's him clapping on the right in this UPI pic) in Washington, D.C., to laud the signing of another deregulatory measure ("We can't thank you enough, Mr. President.").

Meanwhile, this formerly progressive city (probably also at the behest of business interests anxious to wrest local control from the locals) continues to press to take neighborhood associations out of the mix, in favor of special interests and identity politics, none of whose groups seems to follow public meetings laws, conflict disclosures, and other safeguards of democracy. Neighborhood associations are the most egalitarian form of representation Portlanders have—all you have to do is exist here and you belong.

Complaining that neighborhood associations don't represent you is like complaining about democracy when you don't vote. Portlanders can choose to make the situation better through personal involvement in their neighborhood association, or stay home and accept the results of the hard work of those who care enough to get active. It means volunteering a few hours a month, but neighborhood meetings are where the people meet, and positive things happen.

As NW Documentary showed recently, no
urban tree happens by accident—and many
Portlanders will fight for what's right.
Just five years ago, the city refused to deal with neighbors taking on a non-code compliant building in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, saying that we had to speak up through the neighborhood association to have our voices heard. We did, but that, along with recent concerted efforts of other neighborhood associations, didn't sit well, apparently, because now supposedly such locally knowledgeable and all-volunteer groups have had a "devastating" effect on our city; never mind the teardown developers' steady displacement of people of color, renters, and lower-income earners. Hm. So whose fault is it that Portland neighborhoods are becoming more homogenized?

We can learn from San Franciscans' newfound ennui with their same-same housing and neighbors. This Guardian story, including the headline "'We all suffer': why San Francisco techies hate the city they transformed," teaches much, such as:
“The housing crisis has a huge negative impact on quality of life because of who it excludes from living near you,” said Simon Willison, a software developer who moved to San Francisco from London five years ago. “When I visit other cities I’m always jealous of their income diversity: that people who have jobs that don’t provide a six-digit salary can afford to live and work and be happy.”

“Even though people think there is diversity in the city, there isn’t really,” said Adrianna Tan, a senior product manager at a tech startup who moved to San Francisco from Singapore. “Sure, you get people from all over the world, but the only ones who can move here now come from the same socio-economic class.”

A tree-themed night at the movies
showed the best kind of sellout.
One quibble: We don't have a "housing crisis" but an "affordable housing crisis"; see Craigslist for the desperate apartment hawkers now touting "six weeks free!" for thousands of empty units, most priced out of rich of most everyone.

Portland's once-vaunted neighborhood system produced some pretty lucrative development opportunities for out-of-town players, who just seem to want more, but so many cheaper homes (many of them rentals) stand in the way.

Still, we can't stop caring, and fighting. Last week the fine people at NW Documentary unveiled Canopy Stories, a collection of short films focused on trees. Although the developer-bankrolled YIMBY movement wants to politicize this too, lots of Portlanders love the trees; it's part of Portland's allure.

The sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Theatre heartily cheered Giants, the movie about neighbors who took on Everett Custom Homes' plan to take down giant sequoias in Southeast—and won. As accidental organizer Arthur Bradford says in the film (and I paraphrase), In the end we're not going to be proud of a bunch of cookie-cutter homes, we'll be proud of preserving a natural legacy.

Friday, January 11, 2019

We've got enough empty density already

Let's fill 'em before we tear down anything else.

Local NAACP President E.D. MondainĂ© tells it like it is Jan. 5 at City Hall. 
In the meantime, write your leaders (info in margin at right) to repeal the mandate for placarding and deed encumbrances on 1,640 Unreinforced Masonry (URM) buildings, which threatens some 8,000 housing units (many, if not most, affordable), churches, music and arts venues, and businesses (usually small) throughout the city. Already the mostly noncorporate, local landlords are getting calls from the teardown crowd (one observer likened it to "sharks in the water").

A strong coalition shows to protest a land grab
bad for Portland, its artists, local business and believers.
Perhaps because developers notice the sinking saturated residential market (see above), they mean to go bigger and free up more prime, larger sites elsewhere? Who better to pick on than buildings with public housing, where artists and musicians meet, where the faithful gather—in other words, those whose owners have little commercial voice and power in contrast to the out-of-town interests that increasingly dominate our landscape and City Council through astroturfed groups such as 1000 Friends of Oregon, Portand for Everyone, and now Up with Growth.

Get informed, and get active; learn more URM details from a KGW news report, and here (mandate explained).

While we gear up to continue fighting the RIP-off of the doomed and despised Residential Infill Project, educate yourself about Portland housing history at free screenings of Priced Out, one of the best local land use movies you'll ever see.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wait, it could get worse?

As the Planning Commission decides to up the rezoning ante by recommending fourplexes on standard-size lots throughout much of the city, it ought to subsidize a massive printing of these signs:

Courtesy of The Hightower Lowdown
One commission member, Andre Baugh, had the temerity to ask re the Residential Infill Project (RIP), "Who's this for? ... We're not building affordable housing." Yet there he was later voting for the fourplexes. In a rezoned landscape incentivized for multiple-unit payouts, modest homes don't stand a chance (nor do those who would like to buy or rent them); we're already seeing duplexes and triplexes demolished for more luxurious and higher-profit housing.

These are confusing times, for sure. For instance, many people still believe the misinformation of RIP, that it will "limit" the size of new construction (not when the top and bottom floors are exempted from the allowance--gotta wade into the fine print for that). RIP was written, driven, and approved by the teardown lobby and has plenty of money push behind it. On this topic especially, all Portlanders are encouraged to read widely and well, sniff out the $ trail, and dig deep for truth.

Increasingly, this is a city that seems to think lip service can actually fix things. A Vision Zero campaign for traffic safety mostly shuns actual infrastructure improvements in favor of a bunch of orange Twenty Is Plenty signs, and guess what? Pedestrian and other deaths by traffic keep rising.

In the same way, the City Council's adoption of a "housing crisis" paved the way for RIP's all-out giveaway to teardown builders, with a wave of support engineered by paid lobbyists flush with Trumper money. And guess what?: the homeless population and loss of affordable housing keep increasing. (By the way, that Trumper behind Portland for Everyone/1000 Friends' support of RIP is a billionaire developer from Washington salivating over Portland sites to create another "trophy community," which probably would not include a diverse range of inhabitants representing all income levels.)

As on the world stage, operatives are at work, here undermining decades of careful land use planning and its success in creating "complete" neighborhoods full of open space, trees, old-growth housing, and a wide range of residents. The recent record-breaking years of demolitions already have taken a toll on neighborhood diversity, as noted by city staffer Paul Leistner, formerly of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. RIP promises more Mississippi Avenue-style whitewashing.

The grassroots effort to keep affordable housing out of the landfill has no money, (clearly) not much influence, and no city bureaus or leaders at its beck and call. But you can't buy moral high ground, and as sincere, local, and unpaid defenders of an inclusive, sustainable city we hope you'll join us in the months ahead. Maybe we better change the signs above from "poor people please leave quietly" to "let's make a stand—and big noise." No one should sleep through RIP.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Rest up, and get ready

Planning chief Joe Zehnder was all ears at a Planning
Commission hearing on RIP in May, but so far RIP remains
unchanged, essentially a tool for more teardowns. As a resident
of a neighborhood largely protected from demolitions, he has
not fully experienced their impacts.

The lull in activity on the Residential Infill Project (RIP) gives a rare moment to recharge for the City Council hearings on the way for the developer-driven plan to radically rezone much of the city.

But that doesn't mean nothing's happening. If anything, teardown builders seem to be on an additional tear (sorry) recently, perhaps to beat any new rules coming down the pike or just to take advantage of a playing field tilted toward demolition rather than preservation of a dwindling resource: viable affordable housing.

For instance, read here about neighbors in Northeast Portland neighborhoods taking it on the chin in both processes to delay demolition and to reduce exposure to known hazardous materials. Some of these neighbors even tested their dirt! Huzzah. Keep fighting the good fight out there, and keep properties out of the trackhoe's maw and available for future generations of Portlanders.

Duplicity wins the demo permit

In the Roseway case, ombudsman Margie Sollinger wrote a pointed opinion on the matter, but to no avail. Some excerpts:

"The Bureau [of Development Services, or BDS] acknowledges that 'because residential demolitions are a contentious issue in Portland at this time, some property developers who know they want to demolish a home will use various methods of disguising who the true owner is' (5/17/18 email from [BDS's] Nancy Thorington). Obscured identity of the property owner makes it difficult, if not impossible, for interested parties to meet the appeal criteria and win more time to engage in discussions about alternatives to demolition. Even though it undermines the integrity of the process, the Bureau is reluctant to take protective action."

"The Bureau has declined to accept my Office’s recommendation. It argues that it does not get into tracking the various stages of real estate transactions. The Bureau also somehow concludes that there is no evidence of misrepresentation by the permit applicant in this case. In general, the Bureau appears to be taking the position that a property owner’s attempts to disguise and obscure ownership are beyond the Bureau’s purview, viewing such efforts as another way for a property owner to express their non-desire to negotiate alternatives to demolition with neighbors."

A modest home in Roseway was demolished in a hurry;
the demolition permit was issued under shady circumstances,
and city staff failed to address the problem and denied
the neighborhood a demolition delay. Luxury housing
will take its place.

"The Bureau has declined to accept my Office’s recommendation. It argues that it does not get into tracking the various stages of real estate transactions. The Bureau also somehow concludes that there is no evidence of misrepresentation by the permit applicant in this case. In general, the Bureau appears to be taking the position that a property owner’s attempts to disguise and obscure ownership are beyond the Bureau’s purview, viewing such efforts as another way for a property owner to express their non-desire to negotiate alternatives to demolition with neighbors." 
and finally:  
"Where a permit’s issuance is predicated on misinformation supplied by the applicant and that misinformation disenfranchises community members from exercising their rights under City Code, the Bureau is obligated to take remedial action."

If only the neighborhood could get back a well-sited 1913 house, built with care, craftsmanship, and old-growth materials. In London, they actually make bad actors make good, by forcing a rebuilding.

Now that the Trumper financial backing of Portland for Everyone/1000 Friends of Oregon—the most vocal of RIP supporters (read next post)—is exposed, it's ever more apparent who RIP is for, and what it aims to do. If the past building bonanza (and the resulting glut of vacant units—see craigslist) is any indication, additional luxe housing hurts more than it helps, especially when it takes the place of old-growth homes catering to people of a wide range of incomes.

Monday, May 14, 2018

There's no slack in the RIP rodeo

In June 2016 a slide presented by the
Bureau of Planning announced what
RIP wasn't, affordability included.
Courtesy of David Minick
Last week's testimony on the Residential Infill Project (RIP) drew impassioned people from all sides, although definitely too few renters who generally did not receive a yellow rezoning notice and arguably will be most affected by the proposal.

Of particular note was the wave of fervent supporters of the Portland for Everyone pro-RIP program, flushly funded by Trumper money and other darlings of the teardown builders' landscape, including Airbnb (read on for more on this topic, below). There didn't seem to be a whole lot of outright engineering this time (definitely some scripting at 3:27), but it does seem to be easier to round up earnest recruits with paid policy outreach professionals, free food at happy hours, event planning, and office space and equipment helping to drive the drumbeat. Go Goliath.

It's gratifying to hear the frequent calls for affordable housing—heaven knows we need it, but it almost never will appear in the luxe plexing promised by RIP. If only these voices arose when planners announced from the get-go that the project would not address affordability.

No big diff: RIP's drafters just want more.
A slide (above) recently prepared by David Sweet, a member of the RIP committee and a neighborhood land use rep, showed the only discernible difference he found between the last RIP draft and the one now before the planning commission. After mountains of comment, the only change: a drastic reduction of the already-token affordable-unit part of the proposal along with a provision to pay for the privilege to build bigger, a

How can we sell the forest without the trees?
cost that would easily enter into any pro forma. So RIP is even less about affordability than it ever was (must be going for sub-basement level now).

I know it's not as hella sexy as modern steel and concrete, but you'll never get back neighborhoods full of diverse homes of all sizes and styles—at a wide range of price points—that are thrown in the trash. Old-growth housing comes with old-growth trees. Oxygen is sexy as hell.

But what about the Trumper thing?

For this we have guest poster N.E. Lettanay laying it out:

"Take a look at this recent O article:

"It exposes a major exemption to the 'one host, one home' policy negotiated by Airbnb recently (apparently there are exemptions for zoning as well as proximity to downtown).  It also makes it clear that there is a blatant disregard for the housing crisis as well as short-term rental regulations on the part of developers/owners/operators of new market-rate apartments.  
If you thought something didn't smell right with 1000 Friends' turnabout
and the coyly named Portland for Everyone, now you know why.

"Affordable housing advocates are infuriated and rightfully so.  But the other wrinkle is that the building featured in the article, The Ladd, is owned and operated by Holland Residential.  Both Holland and Airbnb are major donors to 1000 Friends of Oregon (parent of Portland for Everyone) in addition to being major sponsors of their annual 'McCall Gala.'  

"Holland calls itself 'a premier developer of core urban infill residential and mixed-use trophy communities with a disciplined focus on high barrier-to-entry markets that appeal to the rising creative class.'

"In FY 2016, 1000 Friends accepted donations totaling at least $10,000 to $20,000 from the CEO, Clyde Holland, as well as separate donations through Holland Partner Group.  The 2017 annual report is not available yet, but both Holland and Airbnb are listed as major sponsors of the 2018 gala.

"1000 Friends even runs positive PR for Holland.

"And here's the kicker:  The CEO of Holland is a right-wing billionaire who was the largest donor in Washington state to the Trump Victory Fund with his $94,600 contribution, but also co-hosted a private fundraiser for Trump before the candidate's rally in Everett, Washington.  

"In his home state of Washington, he donated $150,000 toward an effort that would have wiped out $1 billion a year in funding for schools and other vital public services. 

"If the partnership with the Home Builders Association in last year's HB 2007 debacle was enough to prompt some people to remove 1000 Friends from their estate plans, I think this new information might be even more compelling."

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Let's activate

Did you and your neighbors get a yellow notice from the city, saying your neighborhood is going to be rezoned?
April 2018

This rezoning allows developers to demolish more houses and replace them with more expensive housing, up to four units per lot. 

It Is time to stand up and be heard:
Submit testimony to the planning commission

To submit testimony online no later than May 18:
1. Go to the city’s Map App.
2. Click testify button.
3. Fill in your name, address, etc.
4. Type or paste your testimony into the box.
5. Check the “Required” box.
6. Click SUBMIT.

In addition, please also copy and paste the comment and send to City Council, presumably the next stop; addresses at right, scroll down.

Tell the Planning Commission what you think in clear terms.
·      Tell them that you oppose RIP, and why.
·      Be specific.
·      Use your own words.

What are others saying about RIP?
·      Stop demolishing Portland: Don’t trash our smaller, more affordable homes to build expensive housing few can afford.
·      The size of new houses should be limited to less than what is being built today.
·      Smaller houses means less expensive houses.
·      Smaller houses means more green space and mature trees to support environmental and human health.
·      Do not allow profit-driven development to push people with less money out of the city. Maintain the widest range of equity opportunities for the largest range of income levels.
·      I support Truth in Zoning.
·      Encourage density where applied in the latest Comp Plan update, along corridors and centers. Try a RIP pilot on vacant land within the urban growth boundary.

·      There is no indication that RIP-style development will result in homes that first-time homebuyers can afford.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Questions—we got 'em

Is it more "refill" than "infill"? Planners take the RIP show to East Portland.  
Planners' one-on-one format didn't sit well with some attendees.
With just a few RIP events left before the proposal heads to the Planning Commission (see banner above), now's your chance to get some answers from the planners shepherding the proposal through the process. Show up early as these events draw many engaged Portlanders who seek more info on the far-reaching proposal, and planners have run out of handouts (please dig deeper and read other perspectives on it, however) and capacity to handle the crowds.
Many attendees were not able to wait their turn.

At the Midland Library on Southeast 122nd Avenue last week, many attendees left as the sign-up list reached 47 people. Some people clamored to be heard in a group setting; that way everyone can benefit from the questions of others, and the answers they receive.

How sad that a proposal with such heavy irreversible impacts is getting short shrift in its rollout to the public. It feels as if nothing is meant to get in the way of the developer-drafted and developer-driven program to dramatically change how our city looks and lives.

Take heart, though. A RIPpish bill in California died in committee, but not after stirring up many of the same arguments as here and some ugly behavior (salient quote from the president of the Chinatown-based Community Tenants Association in San Francisco: "I think the YIMBY have no heart."). Many Portlanders seem to be attuned to the nuances of the proposal, its effects, and motives lurking under the glossy presentation.

Portlanders bring patience to divine another kind of RIP city.
Before we further erase neighborhood diversity—and equity opportunities for a wide range of income levels—under RIP's teardown incentives, it's worth asking even more questions. If planners don't have enough time at the remaining events, tackle them with the Planning Commission, the next stop for this push for more luxe plexing, on May 8 and 15. For starters:

• How does throwing homes in the landfill satisfy our environmental goals?
• How does elimination of existing affordable housing satisfy our affordable-housing goals?
• Why not try the upzoning in a pilot project—or in neighborhoods clamoring for it—or only apply RIP to vacant land (planners report we have 2x what we need to meet density goals until 2035)?
• Hasn't the recent update of the Comprehensive Plan already accounted for projected additional population; why do we need RIP on top of that?
• Looking at the three areas exempted from the upzone overlay because of acknowledged displacement impacts, why is it that low-income renters must only live in these three areas to be protected from RIP? What is the equity of extending protections to a few small areas of the city while foisting undesirable displacement on the rest of the city? If displacement is not a goal, then why push RIP at all?

• Shouldn't something this dramatic and divisive be decided by public vote? After all, of the 130,000-some people who received a yellow notice, few or none were renters, who will be disproportionately impacted by RIP's upzoning. 

Bulldozed but not dozing: The same night as the RIP event
an exhibit opened at Cobalt Studios on Southeast Clinton
that looked at how and what we lose in these demo days.
Above all, the question on many people's minds seems to be: What problem is RIP trying to solve? Beyond that: Whose problem is RIP trying to solve? Planners and RIP supporters freely acknowledge, in writing and in public, that this proposal is not meant to produce affordable housing; RIP also was famously steered away from urgent issues such as demolitions, affordability, loss of tree cover, and so on—problems that many Portlanders do care about, and had hoped the city would address.

You can read on here about RIP and its sad history—nearly a third of the committee broke away to expose the false promises of the proposal (the "RIPSAC 7")—or you can watch a video showing RIP-style policy in action in the Pacific Northwest.

One needs only check Craigslist and its hundreds of daily posts for empty units to witness the current housing glut. There are 16,000 vacant units (some landlords now offer two months' free rent), and 25,000 more are under construction. Does RIP kill the golden goose? Hopefully we won't have to find out.

The imminent departure of Planning Bureau director Susan Anderson perhaps shows cracks in the juggernaut, although it appears she will stick around for RIP's end game. Whoever follows her in the post inherits the challenge of rebuilding trust and goodwill between planners and Portland's people.