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.

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.

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