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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Before we talk turkey, let's talk demo tax, and a more necessary anti-demo measure

The city has some ideas for curbing the rampant loss of viable
old-growth housing, and so does United Neighborhoods for Reform.
Illustration courtesy The NW Examiner by Jeff Cook.
Tomorrow City Council takes another stab at the mayor's proposed demolition tax, this time without the rebate for building multiple units. The rebate in the original proposal would have accelerated demolitions instead of reducing them, running counter to the tax's stated mission to alleviate the reduction in the diversity of housing stock and the "decreased ... availability of affordable housing within the City."

Along with the tax, we think the ongoing demolition epidemic, and the exponential, uncontrolled public exposure to hazardous materials, warrants serious action by city leaders.

While a temporary measure, a demolition moratorium would help the city hit the pause button on an overheated, even irrational housing market (now developers eliminate homes just to put the lots up for sale, actually subtracting units during a city-declared "housing emergency").

More important, a moratorium would give time and incentive for city staff and federal regulators to effectively protect people and the environment from hazmat during demolitions and prevent "irrevocable public harm," which is grounds alone for a defensible moratorium under Oregon law. The Oregonian recently exposed the extent of uncontrolled hazmat during demos in a multipart series and follow-up articles.

We look forward to a productive discussion.

When: 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, November 25
Where: City Hall chambers, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.
Who: Your elected leadership
Why: Support the demo tax, without the rebate for multiple units, and a demolition moratorium
How: If you can't make it downtown, send letters to council (contact info at right, scroll down) urging serious and meaningful anti-demolition measures; consider testifying (sign up beforehand just outside chambers) about the effects of demolition and if you believe the city has a moral responsibility to protect its people from exposure to hazardous materials during demolition

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's working

Commissioner Fritz worked hard to
ban smoking in parks. Hopefully she
 will tackle the even more dangerous release
of hazmat during demolitions. For more
kid-related concerns, read on.
When one of the weeklies refers to the "incessant teakettle shriek" over home demolitions, you know that we are making a difference. Antidemolition activists won't stop at at being heard; they want action, that is, an end to unnecessary demolitions of viable, affordable housing.

We will continue to protest at demo sites and post signs, attend meetings, and speak up for sustainable solutions and public safety, among other activities, to turn the tide away from nonsensical demos and toward more responsible growth.

Buyers of replacement homes are starting to feel the chill, too, because when a perfectly good house disappears just so a developer can make 20 percent (or more) profit, neighbors notice. And they can't help but mourn the loss of a home that contributed character, open space, mature trees, and allowed sunlight and privacy for neighboring properties.

The only way to quiet the storm is to, yes, stop demolishing.

Front lines are everywhere
Here we go again: Activists gear
up to dish on the demo tax
at City Hall on Oct. 14.

Recent discussions at City Hall and the Bureaus of Planning and Development Services show the challenges ahead.

A couple of weeks ago City Council got an earful about the demolition tax. While a sound idea, the tax needs quite a bit of fine-tuning to disincentivize the destructive, lucrative market out there for exploitive development. United Neighborhoods for Reform is actively involved in trying to shape the tax so it is effective and actually helps bolster funds for affordable housing (however, the irony of taxing the loss of affordable housing to build affordable housing is not lost on us).

On paper, the Residential Infill Project looks
promising. In practice, it may not be given the
time and resources to be effective.
The Residential Infill Project (RIP) soldiers on despite city staff's attempts to minimize the group's scope and meetings. At the "optional" meeting on Oct. 20 (not the only one) members were asked to "think" and "brainstorm" but solutions are much harder—and take more time—to grok.

RIP member Rod Merrick worried that the timeline does not allow for careful evaluation and iterations of making changes, but city staff brushed off the concern. It would be a shame if all these creative, powerful minds were brought together only to waste their potential.

DRAC member Hermann Colas:
What about the kids?
At last month's Development Review Advisory Committee (DRAC), member Hermann Colas wondered aloud after a presentation by senior planner Barry Manning where all the kids of the new wave of Portlanders would go play once their families moved into the proliferating high-rise apartment/condo buildings. Manning breezily answered that there was a small amount of footage required for open space per unit—but that it could be satisfied with a private balcony. "Go out and play kids—just don't run past the railing!" Imagine how easy it will be to bat for the fences from up there.

Maybe it will be best to plug kids into their screens, so they won't miss the nature that's disappearing around them. Every time a demo occurs, most if not all of the mature trees around the house are sent to the chipper. As RIP member Sarah Cantine said at the recent meeting, the bloated new houses overwhelm their own lots so that they are forced to lord over their neighbors' too.

Members of DRAC's demolition subcommittee and the Office of Neighborhood
Involvement's Paul Leistner (middle) convene late last month for a collective head scratching.
Finally, the DRAC's demolition subcommittee met Oct. 26 to begin review of how the new demo-delay rules are working. Again, Chairwoman Maryhelen Kincaid (left) had the chance to say, "These rules were never about stopping the demolitions." Heard that, Council? It was astonishing to see the folks there wrestle with how to reach the right person for giving notification of impending demolitions. When UNR was doing its outreach to neighborhood associations last year on behalf of the resolution, we right away encountered the many instances of out-of-date information maintained by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. If the office is as unable or understaffed to do this important work, perhaps there is reason for it?

By the way, those new demo-delay rules are apparently so DRAConian that now there is a toolkit for neighborhood activists to help navigate them. Props go to those who helped craft it, and to those who dare use it.