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; in 2018 on Feb. 1; and many dates since.

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Portland planners drew up local shopping list for Wall Street

Portlanders, was your place for sale?
As our once fiercely independent city got ready to RIP, Portland planners worked to ensure speculators could get the real estate deals of the century under the radical upzoning of the Residential Infill Project (that's yer RIP). Read the details and visit a scalable version of the suppressed map here.

As suspected, the most profitable places tagged for redevelopment generally are the ones where lower-income people and renters live.

More and more the truth of RIP bubbles to the fore.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Save the date—June 3! Sign up by June 2 to testify from your keyboard in defense of existing affordable housing

RIP will remove existing affordable housing and mature
urban tree canopy in favor of refill with high-impact,
high-profit projects, which developers and planners deem
"highest and best use" of land previously home to diverse residents.
Rendering courtesy RIPSAC 7  
After postponing the RIP hearing March 12, the same day the mayor put COVID-19 restrictions into effect, Wheeler resumes his push for the Residential Infill Project, this time in a City Council online hearing set for 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 3.

However! You must sign up to testify by 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 2! Now's your chance to give our leaders a three-minute view of the avoidable outsize impacts of RIP; the deeper, uh, profitability bonus (at least the city's RIP announcement puts "Deeper Affordability Bonus" in quotes--'cause who we kidding); the laughable "limits" on McMansions (assuming they are unchanged from excepting the square footage of "basements" and "attics" generously interpreted); and so on.

Other methods to testify per the Bureau of Planning:

Click “Residential Infill Project” and then click the "Testify" button. 

City Council (scroll down at right for individual commissioners and the mayor)
Residential Infill Project Testimony 
1221 SW Fourth Avenue, Room 130 
Portland, OR 97204 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Wanna save Portland? Well, then, get activated!

Years in the making, the Residential Infill Project comes soon to City Council. A commissioner's staff member has said that the only way to stop or mitigate this destructive proposal is to show up en masse or at least send in testimony to the council. Stay tuned for the date to appear and make a difference. For more info, read on.

United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) Call to Action –  RIP Testimony
Call to Action
Ø  City Council will hold another hearing on the Residential Infill Project. 
Ø  This may be the final opportunity for us to submit our opinions about RIP.  Even if you only have time to write a single paragraph for your testimony, please do it!
Ø  Submit your testimony online:
o   It doesn’t have to be long. Begin with “I oppose RIP” and keep it short and simple
Ø  Please email the Commissioners directly in addition to submitting your testimony on the MapApp.  They don’t always read the testimonies on the MapApp. 
Ø  The focus for this hearing will be on proposed amendments to RIP.  The specific amendments can be seen at this link:
o   Scroll down that webpage to the section titled: “Amendment Packages for Council’s March 12 Hearing”.  You may testify on any or all of the amendments, but this email from UNR focuses only on Amendment #6.
Amendment #6:
With each iteration of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Residential Infill Project (RIP) proposals, the potential impacts on Portland neighborhoods have increased.
Ø  Amendment #6 would allow a building with up to six units on all R2.5, R5 and R7 residential single family zoned lots if at least half of the units (so three units if the building is a six plex) are affordable as rentals to those earnings not more than 60% of Mean Family Income (MFI).  
Ø  The amendment would allow additional floor area ratio (FAR) for these ‘multi-dwelling structures”.  Under the proposed amendment, the following sizes would be allowed for these buildings:
o   3200 square feet in the R2.5 Zone
o   4500 square feet in the R5 Zone
o   6000 square feet in the R7 Zone
Ø  Amendment #6 would also grant an additional height bonus of 5 feet in the R5 and R7 zones which means buildings could be 35 feet tall.
Ø  Data from the City of Portland shows the median Portland house is 1500 square feet and 15 feet tall (to the midpoint of the roof pitch).  The multi-dwelling structures allowed under Amendment #6 would be grossly out of scale in almost all Portland neighborhoods.
Ø  One of the goals of the original Residential Infill Project was to modify building codes so the scale of new construction would fit in better with existing homes in a neighborhood.  In the five years since this project began, each iteration of RIP has become more removed from achieving this goal.  Amendment #6 takes us ever further from the goal of changing city code to create compatible infill.
Ø  Furthermore there is nothing in RIP or in Amendment #6 that would require or even encourage the higher density units to be located near frequent transit.
o   The 2035 Comprehensive Plan directs us to focus density around centers and transportation hubs.  
o   Instead of well-planned increases in density directed by the Comprehensive Plan, RIP ignores the Comp Plan by allowing random density throughout the residential neighborhoods, without consideration of infrastructure needs, including parking.
o   A better plan would be for the City to focus the levels of Middle Housing around town centers and transportation corridors with frequent (every 15 minutes), reliable and safe public transit.
Ø  Amendment #6 is likely to result in more demolitions; BPS has not analyzed the demolition risks associated with this amendment.
Ø  Finally, while BPS acknowledges there is a displacement risk with RIP, they have no proposal to mitigate this displacement. The City should wait to pass RIP until it has a serious anti-displacement plan in place. This plan would need to have long term funding and a tracking system to determine if is effective.
Other Resources:
Ø  Check out this new website created by a Southeast Portland neighbor:
Ø  Sign up for email updates from BPS to stay informed about RIP:

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.

Friday, January 11, 2019

We've got enough empty density already

Let's fill 'em before we tear down anything else.

Local NAACP President E.D. Mondainé tells it like it is Jan. 5 at City Hall. 
In the meantime, write your leaders (info in margin at right) to repeal the mandate for placarding and deed encumbrances on 1,640 Unreinforced Masonry (URM) buildings, which threatens some 8,000 housing units (many, if not most, affordable), churches, music and arts venues, and businesses (usually small) throughout the city. Already the mostly noncorporate, local landlords are getting calls from the teardown crowd (one observer likened it to "sharks in the water").

A strong coalition shows to protest a land grab
bad for Portland, its artists, local business and believers.
Perhaps because developers notice the sinking saturated residential market (see above), they mean to go bigger and free up more prime, larger sites elsewhere? Who better to pick on than buildings with public housing, where artists and musicians meet, where the faithful gather—in other words, those whose owners have little commercial voice and power in contrast to the out-of-town interests that increasingly dominate our landscape and City Council through astroturfed groups such as 1000 Friends of Oregon, Portand for Everyone, and now Up with Growth.

Get informed, and get active; learn more URM details from a KGW news report, and here (mandate explained).

While we gear up to continue fighting the RIP-off of the doomed and despised Residential Infill Project, educate yourself about Portland housing history at free screenings of Priced Out, one of the best local land use movies you'll ever see.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wait, it could get worse?

As the Planning Commission decides to up the rezoning ante by recommending fourplexes on standard-size lots throughout much of the city, it ought to subsidize a massive printing of these signs:

Courtesy of The Hightower Lowdown
One commission member, Andre Baugh, had the temerity to ask re the Residential Infill Project (RIP), "Who's this for? ... We're not building affordable housing." Yet there he was later voting for the fourplexes. In a rezoned landscape incentivized for multiple-unit payouts, modest homes don't stand a chance (nor do those who would like to buy or rent them); we're already seeing duplexes and triplexes demolished for more luxurious and higher-profit housing.

These are confusing times, for sure. For instance, many people still believe the misinformation of RIP, that it will "limit" the size of new construction (not when the top and bottom floors are exempted from the allowance--gotta wade into the fine print for that). RIP was written, driven, and approved by the teardown lobby and has plenty of money push behind it. On this topic especially, all Portlanders are encouraged to read widely and well, sniff out the $ trail, and dig deep for truth.

Increasingly, this is a city that seems to think lip service can actually fix things. A Vision Zero campaign for traffic safety mostly shuns actual infrastructure improvements in favor of a bunch of orange Twenty Is Plenty signs, and guess what? Pedestrian and other deaths by traffic keep rising.

In the same way, the City Council's adoption of a "housing crisis" paved the way for RIP's all-out giveaway to teardown builders, with a wave of support engineered by paid lobbyists flush with Trumper money. And guess what?: the homeless population and loss of affordable housing keep increasing. (By the way, that Trumper behind Portland for Everyone/1000 Friends' support of RIP is a billionaire developer from Washington salivating over Portland sites to create another "trophy community," which probably would not include a diverse range of inhabitants representing all income levels.)

As on the world stage, operatives are at work, here undermining decades of careful land use planning and its success in creating "complete" neighborhoods full of open space, trees, old-growth housing, and a wide range of residents. The recent record-breaking years of demolitions already have taken a toll on neighborhood diversity, as noted by city staffer Paul Leistner, formerly of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. RIP promises more Mississippi Avenue-style whitewashing.

The grassroots effort to keep affordable housing out of the landfill has no money, (clearly) not much influence, and no city bureaus or leaders at its beck and call. But you can't buy moral high ground, and as sincere, local, and unpaid defenders of an inclusive, sustainable city we hope you'll join us in the months ahead. Maybe we better change the signs above from "poor people please leave quietly" to "let's make a stand—and big noise." No one should sleep through RIP.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Rest up, and get ready

Planning chief Joe Zehnder was all ears at a Planning
Commission hearing on RIP in May, but so far RIP remains
unchanged, essentially a tool for more teardowns. As a resident
of a neighborhood largely protected from demolitions, he has
not fully experienced their impacts.

The lull in activity on the Residential Infill Project (RIP) gives a rare moment to recharge for the City Council hearings on the way for the developer-driven plan to radically rezone much of the city.

But that doesn't mean nothing's happening. If anything, teardown builders seem to be on an additional tear (sorry) recently, perhaps to beat any new rules coming down the pike or just to take advantage of a playing field tilted toward demolition rather than preservation of a dwindling resource: viable affordable housing.

For instance, read here about neighbors in Northeast Portland neighborhoods taking it on the chin in both processes to delay demolition and to reduce exposure to known hazardous materials. Some of these neighbors even tested their dirt! Huzzah. Keep fighting the good fight out there, and keep properties out of the trackhoe's maw and available for future generations of Portlanders.

Duplicity wins the demo permit

In the Roseway case, ombudsman Margie Sollinger wrote a pointed opinion on the matter, but to no avail. Some excerpts:

"The Bureau [of Development Services, or BDS] acknowledges that 'because residential demolitions are a contentious issue in Portland at this time, some property developers who know they want to demolish a home will use various methods of disguising who the true owner is' (5/17/18 email from [BDS's] Nancy Thorington). Obscured identity of the property owner makes it difficult, if not impossible, for interested parties to meet the appeal criteria and win more time to engage in discussions about alternatives to demolition. Even though it undermines the integrity of the process, the Bureau is reluctant to take protective action."

"The Bureau has declined to accept my Office’s recommendation. It argues that it does not get into tracking the various stages of real estate transactions. The Bureau also somehow concludes that there is no evidence of misrepresentation by the permit applicant in this case. In general, the Bureau appears to be taking the position that a property owner’s attempts to disguise and obscure ownership are beyond the Bureau’s purview, viewing such efforts as another way for a property owner to express their non-desire to negotiate alternatives to demolition with neighbors."

A modest home in Roseway was demolished in a hurry;
the demolition permit was issued under shady circumstances,
and city staff failed to address the problem and denied
the neighborhood a demolition delay. Luxury housing
will take its place.

"The Bureau has declined to accept my Office’s recommendation. It argues that it does not get into tracking the various stages of real estate transactions. The Bureau also somehow concludes that there is no evidence of misrepresentation by the permit applicant in this case. In general, the Bureau appears to be taking the position that a property owner’s attempts to disguise and obscure ownership are beyond the Bureau’s purview, viewing such efforts as another way for a property owner to express their non-desire to negotiate alternatives to demolition with neighbors." 
and finally:  
"Where a permit’s issuance is predicated on misinformation supplied by the applicant and that misinformation disenfranchises community members from exercising their rights under City Code, the Bureau is obligated to take remedial action."

If only the neighborhood could get back a well-sited 1913 house, built with care, craftsmanship, and old-growth materials. In London, they actually make bad actors make good, by forcing a rebuilding.

Now that the Trumper financial backing of Portland for Everyone/1000 Friends of Oregon—the most vocal of RIP supporters (read next post)—is exposed, it's ever more apparent who RIP is for, and what it aims to do. If the past building bonanza (and the resulting glut of vacant units—see craigslist) is any indication, additional luxe housing hurts more than it helps, especially when it takes the place of old-growth homes catering to people of a wide range of incomes.