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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mayor's demolition tax clears the way for more destruction

Mayor Hales, shown at the first meeting
of the Residential Infill Project last month,
says he wants to reduce demolitions,
but his tax won't.
After the mayor polished up his version of a demolition tax late last week, loading it with exemptions and rebates that keep it from becoming the excellent anti-demo measure that it could be, United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) crafted a demo tax that's easier to understand and administer, and serves the intended goals of maintaining and supporting affordable housing.

It is:
$35,000 per demolition or major remodel

Join us 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave. as we present this revised demolition tax to City Council and point out the problems with the mayor's version. After months of discussing how to curb demolitions and their damaging effects on neighborhoods, we are ready for action. A flat tax on demolitions and major remodels without any loopholes helps achieve that aim, especially if adopted with other measures.

Other disincentives to taking down viable affordable housing include effective abatement and control of hazardous materials at demolition sites, solid results from the Residential Infill Project (read on), mandatory deconstruction where demolition must occur, and a ban on lot splits and confirmations.

After seeing all the bungling of the demolition-delay rules adopted in spring, the city can't handle another cumbersome, ill-understood process. Bureau of Development Services staff are overloaded as it is, not financially able to enforce current complex permitting rules according to Council staff, and do not need to parse more labyrinthine code language that in the end does little to cure Portland's demolition blitz and likely will accelerate it.
Welcome home, Portland. Under the mayor's version of a demo tax, replacement houses will grow bigger.
All developers have to do is set aside a few rooms inside or detached from the replacement house, call it an additional living unit, and the tax doesn't apply. Replacement houses will become even bigger, and more houses will go down to make way for them. All the loopholes in the mayor's version of the tax practically ensure that no one will have to pay it. So much for progress.

Let's keep it simple: A house, or a majority of it, goes to the incinerator or landfill, a tax is paid for the privilege.

Let RIP roll with its mission

Planning chief Joe Zehnder (with mayoral staffer Camille
Trummer looking on) exudes optimism for the mission of
the Residential Infill Project at its first meeting. So why the
attempts to halve the meeting schedule and narrow the scope?
When Portlanders answered the call to serve on the stakeholder advisory committee for the Residential Infill Project (or RIP SAC), they were briefed on the scope, challenges, and time commitment expected for the project. Same with the outside consultants hired for the 18-month journey.

The idea for such a task force that would create new-construction guidelines came to the fore via the UNR demolition/development resolution, endorsed by 43 neighborhoods citywide.

The project launched with fanfare, then city staff suddenly halved the schedule for the meetings of the august group, and attempted to whittle its workload accordingly. It's almost as if—after that first meeting last month, when all members gave a short self-introduction—someone feared this group might accomplish something.

After objections raised by members of the group and others, meetings may be added back, and the scope re-expanded, but one wonders if the committee will be allowed to do what it is supposed to do. Just as ominously, staff kept reminding those assembled at the last meeting that the group only was meant to make recommendations, not actual changes, and few if any votes were expected.
Neighborhood activists show off signs of the times at
a meeting of the Residential Infill Project last week.

Planning chief Joe Zehnder stayed up until the public comment period at the second meeting last week, but not before emphasizing the goal of fast results. We couldn't agree more, and would add that well-thought-out results are just as important. Hopefully under a restored meeting schedule and scope, the group can deliver both, according to the initial plan.

After two hours of staff and facilitator holding forth at the last meeting, RIP SAC member Eli Spevak pointed out that if staff weren't so busy presenting administrative materials that could easily have been emailed or distributed as handouts, the group could get started. Yet later after more advising, the outside facilitator said, "We really want you guys to talk," but at that point the meeting had just 20 minutes to go.

Activists citywide fill the chairs to show they care.
Those last few minutes of the meeting were some of the liveliest. During the 10 minutes accorded for public comment, activists from South Burlingame and Multnomah Village covered almost all the bases for what's wrong with current Portland development. They said they would keep coming; we hope they do—and you, too. Submit your info here to learn about the next meetings.

Protection starts here

The first semiorganized effort to spread the word about control of hazardous materials during demolition occurred in Hosford-Abernethy, where an 1895 house is proposed for demolition at 2834 SE 20th Ave. If you receive the UNR flier, thank the person who delivered it and took the time to help neighbors protect themselves and their families from irreversible lifelong, and even life-threatening, illness.

For those who seek to downplay the potential effects of exposure to hazmat, note that these materials are regulated in renovation projects of 6 square feet or more but not for demolitions when they billow across the neighborhood in far greater amounts to settle in vegetable gardens and on kids' play equipment. The Centers for Disease Control says no amount of lead is safe in children. More background on hazmat and links to research are here.

See the next post for the flier itself. Submit your email at top right if you would like a printable pdf of it. The flier has a place to write in the address of the intended demolition at the top right. We recommend distributing copies to neighbors within 300 feet of the subject property, and up to 400 feet, the distance at which the feds have shown the demolition-related hazardous materials' presence in the air returns to background levels. That's about the width of eight standard R-5 lots in Portland.
A homegrown developer keeps it real in Northeast Portland.
Let's clone him.

Silver is golden

Local architect-designer Benjamin Silver recently bought a unique well-sited and -scaled home at 3865 N.E. Klickitat St. Where the short-term profiteers plying Portland would have smashed it in a second, Silver decided to make the home even better, and it represents a win for everyone. Read all about it here.