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.

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