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.

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

One neighborhood's stats tell the story

Encouraging signs start to pop up
everywhere, from a yard in Beaumont-
Wilshire and all the way to the mayor's office.
United Neighborhoods for Reform member Barbara Strunk crunched data collected from Portland Maps, Bureau of Development Services building permits, and real estate ads to present some salient demolition facts to City Council on Dec. 17.

Here are some of her findings from a two-year period (2013-2014) in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, where 85 demolitions and "remodels" that had the impact of demolition occurred:

• New houses were on average 2.3 times as big and 2.4 times as expensive as the homes they replaced.

• Of the 85 demolitions and "remodels," three (or 4 percent) were undertaken by homeowners who continued to live in the house.

• The median price of the new houses was $765,950, compared to the median house price in all of Beaumont-Wilshire of $449,000.

• If demolitions and "remodels" that have the impact of demolition continue to occur at the same rate, all original homes of Beaumont-Wilshire will be gone in 52 years.

She capped her testimony with the sobering thought, "I do not want to see my neighborhood become a place where the great majority of Portlanders cannot afford to live."

Mayor Hales has announced his intention to establish a task force to create new rules for replacement construction and control hazmat during demolition. We look forward to hearing more about these overdue and very welcome reforms—which account for nearly two-thirds of the UNR demolition/development resolution—at City Hall on Feb. 12, when Council will hear more about demolitions and their deleterious effects on Portland and Portlanders.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Let's get the lead (and asbestos) out of demolitions

Who needs to breathe? A developer prepares a site
by removing every tree and shrub. Then the house
was bulldozed on a windy day this week, likely
releasing hazmat across the neighborhood.

Some supporters have embraced the demolition/development resolution from United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) for the public-safety element alone. Control of hazmat, particularly lead and asbestos, is such a no-brainer for health protection that it is already regulated in painting and renovation jobs of 6 square feet or more. But not for demolitions, when typically thousands of square feet of construction is involved and clouds of these materials can travel up to 400 feet throughout the neighborhood, with particles tracked inside by people, picked up by children, and posing irreversible damage.

The Centers for Disease Control's position on lead: "No safe blood level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement." They say the only way to avoid lead poisoning is eliminating exposure in the first place; United Neighborhoods for Reform demands that lead (and asbestos) fallout during demolition receive the serious attention they deserve.

Given that the average age of the homes being demolished in Portland is 87 years, there must be multiple coats of pre-1978 lead-full paint on walls, floors, trim, and ceilings crumbling along with the rest of the structure. In the first half of the 20th century, up to 70 percent of a can of paint consisted of lead pigments. Put another way, public health historian David Rosner estimates that a gallon of paint then contained 15 pounds of lead. Read more on this issue here.

Aside from refraining from eating any backyard produce for a couple of years (or ever?) if you live within a few hundred feet of a demolition site, what else can you do? Ask City Council to prioritize public safety over developers' profits, and to quit passing the buck to state and federal authorities. Across Oregon, cities such as Medford, Lake Oswego, Hillsboro, and Tualatin require more control of hazmat in demolitions than Portland does—and they're probably not losing hundreds of classic, affordable well-built homes every year.

Stumptown it is.
For a long, thorough look at the irresponsible, dangerous demolition practices in place today, watch this video of a Portland demolition, including a hapless neighborhood kid wandering close (5:10) to the trackhoe and presumably breathing whatever emanated.

As UNR member and Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association president John Sandie pointed out in his testimony to City Council on Dec. 17,
"Protecting the safety and health of its citizens is a core responsibility of any municipality's governing body. Mayor Hales said it himself in a recent op-ed, and I quote: 'Governments must ensure the safety of everyone.'"
What are we waiting for?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What's up, DRAC?

The hearth is here, but the home's in the landfill, along with decades-old
quality craftsmanship and materials, and generations of history.
Photo by Mark McClure.


Puns aside, the Development Review Advisory Committee's demolition subcommittee met today, but the public wasn't invited. It's hard to sit one out when the stakes are so high, but perhaps the recommendations will return improved, and tailored to stem the increasing loss of affordable housing in Portland neighborhoods. It also would be great to see hazmat control during demolitions and deconstruction (incentivized by an increased tip fee for construction debris, for example) made part of the package.

As United Neighborhoods for Reform continues to field requests from neighborhood association leaders for presentations of the demolition/development resolution, interest in the effort grows and so do hopes for inclusion of neighbors' voice in conversations about building Portland. After all, Portlanders who have helped create thriving neighborhoods, through everything from tree plantings and cleanups to delivering newsletters and attending meetings, can be trusted to have a say in their neighborhoods' future.