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.

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.

Monday, May 14, 2018

There's no slack in the RIP rodeo

In June 2016 a slide presented by the
Bureau of Planning announced what
RIP wasn't, affordability included.
Courtesy of David Minick
Last week's testimony on the Residential Infill Project (RIP) drew impassioned people from all sides, although definitely too few renters who generally did not receive a yellow rezoning notice and arguably will be most affected by the proposal.

Of particular note was the wave of fervent supporters of the Portland for Everyone pro-RIP program, flushly funded by Trumper money and other darlings of the teardown builders' landscape, including Airbnb (read on for more on this topic, below). There didn't seem to be a whole lot of outright engineering this time (definitely some scripting at 3:27), but it does seem to be easier to round up earnest recruits with paid policy outreach professionals, free food at happy hours, event planning, and office space and equipment helping to drive the drumbeat. Go Goliath.

It's gratifying to hear the frequent calls for affordable housing—heaven knows we need it, but it almost never will appear in the luxe plexing promised by RIP. If only these voices arose when planners announced from the get-go that the project would not address affordability.

No big diff: RIP's drafters just want more.
A slide (above) recently prepared by David Sweet, a member of the RIP committee and a neighborhood land use rep, showed the only discernible difference he found between the last RIP draft and the one now before the planning commission. After mountains of comment, the only change: a drastic reduction of the already-token affordable-unit part of the proposal along with a provision to pay for the privilege to build bigger, a

How can we sell the forest without the trees?
cost that would easily enter into any pro forma. So RIP is even less about affordability than it ever was (must be going for sub-basement level now).

I know it's not as hella sexy as modern steel and concrete, but you'll never get back neighborhoods full of diverse homes of all sizes and styles—at a wide range of price points—that are thrown in the trash. Old-growth housing comes with old-growth trees. Oxygen is sexy as hell.

But what about the Trumper thing?

For this we have guest poster N.E. Lettanay laying it out:

"Take a look at this recent O article:

"It exposes a major exemption to the 'one host, one home' policy negotiated by Airbnb recently (apparently there are exemptions for zoning as well as proximity to downtown).  It also makes it clear that there is a blatant disregard for the housing crisis as well as short-term rental regulations on the part of developers/owners/operators of new market-rate apartments.  
If you thought something didn't smell right with 1000 Friends' turnabout
and the coyly named Portland for Everyone, now you know why.

"Affordable housing advocates are infuriated and rightfully so.  But the other wrinkle is that the building featured in the article, The Ladd, is owned and operated by Holland Residential.  Both Holland and Airbnb are major donors to 1000 Friends of Oregon (parent of Portland for Everyone) in addition to being major sponsors of their annual 'McCall Gala.'  

"Holland calls itself 'a premier developer of core urban infill residential and mixed-use trophy communities with a disciplined focus on high barrier-to-entry markets that appeal to the rising creative class.'

"In FY 2016, 1000 Friends accepted donations totaling at least $10,000 to $20,000 from the CEO, Clyde Holland, as well as separate donations through Holland Partner Group.  The 2017 annual report is not available yet, but both Holland and Airbnb are listed as major sponsors of the 2018 gala.

"1000 Friends even runs positive PR for Holland.

"And here's the kicker:  The CEO of Holland is a right-wing billionaire who was the largest donor in Washington state to the Trump Victory Fund with his $94,600 contribution, but also co-hosted a private fundraiser for Trump before the candidate's rally in Everett, Washington.  

"In his home state of Washington, he donated $150,000 toward an effort that would have wiped out $1 billion a year in funding for schools and other vital public services. 

"If the partnership with the Home Builders Association in last year's HB 2007 debacle was enough to prompt some people to remove 1000 Friends from their estate plans, I think this new information might be even more compelling."

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Let's activate

Did you and your neighbors get a yellow notice from the city, saying your neighborhood is going to be rezoned?
April 2018

This rezoning allows developers to demolish more houses and replace them with more expensive housing, up to four units per lot. 

It Is time to stand up and be heard:
Submit testimony to the planning commission

To submit testimony online no later than May 18:
1. Go to the city’s Map App.
2. Click testify button.
3. Fill in your name, address, etc.
4. Type or paste your testimony into the box.
5. Check the “Required” box.
6. Click SUBMIT.

In addition, please also copy and paste the comment and send to City Council, presumably the next stop; addresses at right, scroll down.

Tell the Planning Commission what you think in clear terms.
·      Tell them that you oppose RIP, and why.
·      Be specific.
·      Use your own words.

What are others saying about RIP?
·      Stop demolishing Portland: Don’t trash our smaller, more affordable homes to build expensive housing few can afford.
·      The size of new houses should be limited to less than what is being built today.
·      Smaller houses means less expensive houses.
·      Smaller houses means more green space and mature trees to support environmental and human health.
·      Do not allow profit-driven development to push people with less money out of the city. Maintain the widest range of equity opportunities for the largest range of income levels.
·      I support Truth in Zoning.
·      Encourage density where applied in the latest Comp Plan update, along corridors and centers. Try a RIP pilot on vacant land within the urban growth boundary.

·      There is no indication that RIP-style development will result in homes that first-time homebuyers can afford.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Questions—we got 'em

Is it more "refill" than "infill"? Planners take the RIP show to East Portland.  
Planners' one-on-one format didn't sit well with some attendees.
With just a few RIP events left before the proposal heads to the Planning Commission (see banner above), now's your chance to get some answers from the planners shepherding the proposal through the process. Show up early as these events draw many engaged Portlanders who seek more info on the far-reaching proposal, and planners have run out of handouts (please dig deeper and read other perspectives on it, however) and capacity to handle the crowds.
Many attendees were not able to wait their turn.

At the Midland Library on Southeast 122nd Avenue last week, many attendees left as the sign-up list reached 47 people. Some people clamored to be heard in a group setting; that way everyone can benefit from the questions of others, and the answers they receive.

How sad that a proposal with such heavy irreversible impacts is getting short shrift in its rollout to the public. It feels as if nothing is meant to get in the way of the developer-drafted and developer-driven program to dramatically change how our city looks and lives.

Take heart, though. A RIPpish bill in California died in committee, but not after stirring up many of the same arguments as here and some ugly behavior (salient quote from the president of the Chinatown-based Community Tenants Association in San Francisco: "I think the YIMBY have no heart."). Many Portlanders seem to be attuned to the nuances of the proposal, its effects, and motives lurking under the glossy presentation.

Portlanders bring patience to divine another kind of RIP city.
Before we further erase neighborhood diversity—and equity opportunities for a wide range of income levels—under RIP's teardown incentives, it's worth asking even more questions. If planners don't have enough time at the remaining events, tackle them with the Planning Commission, the next stop for this push for more luxe plexing, on May 8 and 15. For starters:

• How does throwing homes in the landfill satisfy our environmental goals?
• How does elimination of existing affordable housing satisfy our affordable-housing goals?
• Why not try the upzoning in a pilot project—or in neighborhoods clamoring for it—or only apply RIP to vacant land (planners report we have 2x what we need to meet density goals until 2035)?
• Hasn't the recent update of the Comprehensive Plan already accounted for projected additional population; why do we need RIP on top of that?
• Looking at the three areas exempted from the upzone overlay because of acknowledged displacement impacts, why is it that low-income renters must only live in these three areas to be protected from RIP? What is the equity of extending protections to a few small areas of the city while foisting undesirable displacement on the rest of the city? If displacement is not a goal, then why push RIP at all?

• Shouldn't something this dramatic and divisive be decided by public vote? After all, of the 130,000-some people who received a yellow notice, few or none were renters, who will be disproportionately impacted by RIP's upzoning. 

Bulldozed but not dozing: The same night as the RIP event
an exhibit opened at Cobalt Studios on Southeast Clinton
that looked at how and what we lose in these demo days.
Above all, the question on many people's minds seems to be: What problem is RIP trying to solve? Beyond that: Whose problem is RIP trying to solve? Planners and RIP supporters freely acknowledge, in writing and in public, that this proposal is not meant to produce affordable housing; RIP also was famously steered away from urgent issues such as demolitions, affordability, loss of tree cover, and so on—problems that many Portlanders do care about, and had hoped the city would address.

You can read on here about RIP and its sad history—nearly a third of the committee broke away to expose the false promises of the proposal (the "RIPSAC 7")—or you can watch a video showing RIP-style policy in action in the Pacific Northwest.

One needs only check Craigslist and its hundreds of daily posts for empty units to witness the current housing glut. There are 16,000 vacant units (some landlords now offer two months' free rent), and 25,000 more are under construction. Does RIP kill the golden goose? Hopefully we won't have to find out.

The imminent departure of Planning Bureau director Susan Anderson perhaps shows cracks in the juggernaut, although it appears she will stick around for RIP's end game. Whoever follows her in the post inherits the challenge of rebuilding trust and goodwill between planners and Portland's people.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Leaders step up

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly led the charge
for public health and safety last month.
Nowhere was there more evidence of change in the air than at a City Council session last month (demolition discussion starts at 1:16) where the mayor and commissioners clamored to have changes in demolition made effective as soon as possible.

Throwing his weight behind new rules effective at least by July 1, Mayor Ted Wheeler's opening salvo of "What would it take to expedite this?" seemed to show he's aware of the hits neighborhoods and Portland residents have been taking with unregulated demolition dust. As discussed here many times and shown by numerous studies, particulates of lead paint and other hazardous materials spread up to 400 feet from a demolition site, dusting people and properties and posing irreversible health and developmental effects.

Just a little hurts a lot. As the Centers for Disease Control has noted, avoidance is the best possible—and easiest—path to prevention.

Mayor Wheeler got in the spirit of public health and safety
at the February 1 session, noting that 25 mph—the allowable
limit for mechanical demolition—"is actually a pretty stiff
wind. That's not an inconsequential breeze." With such a low
barrier of protection and enforcement success unknown, it
may eventually be safer to require deconstruction for every
home or, better yet, keep homes standing in the first place.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly boldly brought on the proposal, especially notable because she oversees the Bureau of Development Services, where all the magic will happen to enforce the new rules. In addition, she asked and received support for expanding notification of affected neighbors twofold, from the previous 150 feet to 300 feet, to ensure people could try to protect against exposure, cover their food plots, and so on.

Other high points of the session included Tony Green of the Ombudsman's Office discussing how current demo rules created inequity because many neighbors would be more exposed to hazardous materials just because the homes in their neighborhoods were not as old as in other parts of the city and therefore not subject to the deconstruction requirement.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz chimed in to say that with this, and other issues relating to demolitions generally, it's shown that activists in a small number of neighborhoods are doing work that brings benefits to people citywide.

Tony Green of the Ombudsman's Office applauded
deconstruction but found that the city's mandate, which
 only covers houses built before 1917, has resulted in
"geographically disparate community benefits."
Watch here starting at 1:47.
As courts work through the liability of hazmat exposure elsewhere in the country, and the complicity of knowing about it, our leaders seem sincerely interested in making change for the better.

This steady evolution of City Council hopefully will continue with the forthcoming addition of a new commissioner. With a shift toward representation of people who live here rather than the mostly out-of-town business interests preying on viable affordable housing to tear it down for larger-margin projects, things can only get better.

This is especially heartening as the Residential Infill (Refill?) Project hurtles down the pike, which makes a demolition opportunity zone of much of the east side, exempting just a few areas because of the acknowledged displacement risk involved in upzoning.

If new zoning allows a multiunit payout on what had been a single-family property, the house currently there doesn't stand a chance. With few city protections for existing viable, affordable homes—even with many Portlanders embracing an environmental ethic of reuse and sustainability—the loss of old-growth housing will increase. But hopefully, thanks to City Council's efforts last month, we can all breathe a little easier.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"No place will stay special by accident"

This from Ed McMahon, the senior resident fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute, when he spoke late last year at the University of Oregon's White Stag building. McMahon's focus on repurpose and finding win-win solutions bolsters the institute's mission to provide leadership in responsible use of land.

Before we lose them, it's worth asking.
How wonderful to see the possibilities of longer-term visioning for our evolution that are more healthful, sustainable, and inclusive than demolishing-at-all-costs, which thus far only provides more expensive housing, with little to no benefit to the community where it rises. (In fact, the hazmat dispersal involved in mechanical demolition is toxic pollution with permanent consequences for human health and development.)

McMahon wasn't the only one bringing inspiring ideas to town, noting that not only do "places make us" (moreover: "placemaking must be rooted in authenticity") but "sameness is a minus, not a plus, in today's world" and that "older smaller buildings consistently punch above their weight class" while also making use of durable old-growth resources.

Alex Gilliam likes it local, creating
projects with and for residents (as below).
Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop came last fall, too, courtesy of Pacific Northwest College of Art/Oregon College of Art & Craft, with a message about how development efforts succeed best with heavy grassroots involvement. Neighbors know what works, and projects prove all the better for their input.

Courtesy Ed McMahon/
Urban Land Institute
Ironically, while these two influential thinkers detailed the success of community-driven and -minded projects, Portland city staff seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In subtle and other ways, a move to diminish neighborhood associations' influence in city governance shows the increasing hold that business interests want to take on resources such as old-growth affordable housing.

Courtesy Public Workshop
Lately, the effort to demonize neighborhood associations seems to have gathered steam (helped by paid lobbyists); disgruntled Portlanders should take courage and be the change. If your neighborhood association doesn't represent you, run for the board. Show up to meetings. Vote!

Nothing could be more egalitarian than a neighborhood association, where all you have to do is exist somewhere in Portland to be eligible to participate—no common background, choice of transportation, or shared special interest required. No place is more inclusive and transparent at the ground level than a neighborhood association, which is bound by public meetings law, election rules, and voting processes.

Neighbors plant trees in Northeast, especially important as teardown
development razes mature urban tree canopy throughout Portland.
Commercial interests at the federal level increasingly call the shots—Portland is not immune—but for all the national grumbling about democracy, no one has seriously called for dismantling it and abandoning elections altogether. Why similarly move to negate neighborhood associations' power in self-determination, and disregard residents' pride of place? (Is it because the parasitic profiteering of teardown development is threatened by environmental and socially just protectionist efforts?)

Neighborhood associations are accountable, a conduit for information both directions between city staff and the street level, and are necessarily engaged groups dedicated to improvement. After all, neighbors know how to make positive change, whether it's planting trees, staging cleanups, solving local transportation issues, organizing neighborhood watches, and otherwise helping make this city such a fine place to live.

Another hallmark activity of neighborhood associations aside from
engagement in local land use issues are boots-on-the-ground,
hugely popular events such as bulky-waste cleanups, here manned
by Roseway board members and other volunteers.
Other critics of neighborhood associations say they're a waste of time. Some long meetings aside—few activists enjoy them (we would love company or to be spelled once in a while)—the neighborhood meetings are where the people meet and together collaborate on and enact a future.

One could argue that the diminished power of neighborhoods has had the resultant effect on participation. Give the people something more important to decide than what movie should play in the park that summer, and they will show up, as evidenced by meetings focused on land use issues.

This year, how about resolving to show up for your neighborhood? Read on for more reasons why or be inspired to act by the cautionary tale of near-total displacement experienced in one of Portland's classic neighborhoods—with all the free screenings coming up, there's no excuse to miss it.