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.

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.