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.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Who let the unicorns out

Sunnyside chair Tony Jordan (left) goes through the motions
at a neighborhood meeting at Southeast Uplift on Aug. 11.
This week Sunnyside Neighborhood Association joined King in voting in favor of replacing their neighborhoods' single-family homes with multiunit housing. Those neighborhoods feature many unique homes built of old-growth materials, but if the land under them increases exponentially in value they won't stand a chance.

This after a presentation from Portland for Everyone, which sends people out to the neighborhoods to share a utopian vision of housing for all. Their PowerPoint shows quality, creative architecture of the kind that usually isn't built anymore, and likely would be replaced with bigger, new construction with vastly superior income-earning potential. 

Portland planning chief Joe Zehnder at last month's East Portland open house touting the similarly flawed Residential Infill Project admitted the multiunit housing slated to replace single-family homes was assumed to be rentals for Portland residents, not projects for them to own. Turning people into long-term tenants works great for landlords, but a Metro study shows that's not what most Portlanders want

As we've seen under the city's current demolition-favorable policies, and in the last few years of record-breaking numbers of demolitions, seniors, minorities, veterans, and low-income people will have to make yet another exodus if Portland for Everyone has its way. So many already have been displaced in the rush to create "market-rate" housing. With the ready cash that developers have at their disposal, ordinary Portlanders will be hard-pressed to outbid them and buy even modest homes.

Many neighbors only have to look beyond their property line to see the kind of developers plying Portland, and the impact-heavy products they typically throw up after trashing a vintage property, but here's a video refresher just in case. Instead of modestly sized projects on what would usually be a lot for one home, Portland for Everyone advocates for multiunit buildings, up to octo-plexes, where all single-family homes now stand. 



The market in Portland is increasingly controlled by nonlocal, even Wall Street, interests, which necessarily have little oversight or concern for the property and the community where the investments occur. It's all about the rent checks.

At the Sunnyside meeting, you could almost feel the befuddlement in the room as most of the neighbors who spoke up voiced concern for loss of trees and permeable surfaces for handling runoff, open space, and the ability to age in place, among other issues. As the Portland for Everyone proposal sailed through a yes vote, it seemed not even its presenters were happy with how it went down. Maybe it felt yucky to ignore the divergent voices in the room, or to have a board that already knew how it would vote, and got it done. 

Still, I was happy to share the tools United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) has developed to counter the loss of homes (the Neighbor Pledge) and to help people protect themselves and their families from known toxins during demolitions.

The Sunnyside presentation's subtext of "We love you Portland—now change" begs the question: Why move to a place so unsuited to one's ideals instead of accepting and trying to understand a city's history, including its built landscape and the people who call it home? Wouldn't it be easier to live in a place that was less developed and therefore more moldable, that had plenty of open space to test and execute the idea of a zoning free-for-all? How about picking a place to live based on its existing appeal, and helping to protect those appealing features?

Real density proponents always have Manhattan.

The group sponsoring Portland for Everyone is the former environmental group 1000 Friends of Oregon. 1000 Friends may be a friend to the state, but not to Portland's old-growth resources. That includes the houses made of durable materials, and the mature urban tree canopy that typically accompanies them. Why would a group proud of its environmental leanings endorse a rezoning that involves even more demolitions and the uncontrolled release of hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos?

When the Portland for Everyone train rolls into your neighborhood, be sure to catch the slide show that includes great architecture (if that was what was being built today, UNR probably would not exist), a pro forma based on a $250k lot (do tell where), and even a still from Happy Days. Yes, the Fonz lived over the garage—and he still can under current zoning code. We all want happier days here again, but looking beyond the unicorns and rainbows, it's going to take a lot more than feel-good proselytizing to fix Portland.

Let's start by saving houses.