Portland’s Housing Future

The Antiplanner spent yesterday in the Portland, visiting the neighborhood where I grew up and seeing the new homes springing up in people’s backyards, sideyards, frontyards, and just about anywhere where there is a little open space. Portland planners say that 55 percent of new homes built in the next two decades will be multifamily or single-family attached homes (row houses). If the single-family homes being built in my old neighborhood are good examples of the kind of single-family planners want for the remaining 45 percent, they won’t be any more attractive than the 55 percent.

Economist Bill Reid argues that Metro planners are greatly overestimating the desire for multifamily housing. Based on a survey published by Metro itself, Reid predicts that Metro’s plans will result in a shortfall of more than 40,000 single-family detached homes. Unfortunately, Reid’s study doesn’t seem to be available on line, but it is described in this Portland Tribune article.

Predictably, one of the comments on the Portland Tribune article lauds Metro and urban-growth boundaries for protecting Oregon from becoming like “overcrowded California.” In fact, these policies are deliberately designed to turn Portland into another overcrowded California urban area.

Back in 1994, when Metro’s densification policies were still being debated, planners put together a booklet called Metro Measured that compared data from the nation’s fifty largest urban areas. The booklet revealed what planners called a “disparity between perception and measurement.” Specially, it found that Los Angeles had “high densities and low per capita road and freeway mileage” (in fact, the highest densities and the lowest per capita freeway miles of any urban area in the report). Yet “common perceptions of Los Angeles suggest low density, high per capita road mileage and intolerable congestion.

“In public discussions we gather the general impression that Los Angeles represents a future to be avoided,” the report continued. “By the same token, with respect to density and road per capita mileage it displays an investment pattern we desire to replicate” in Portland. It apparently never occurred to planners that this “disparity” suggested a flaw in their plans.

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14 thoughts on “Portland’s Housing Future

  1. metrosucks

    “In public discussions we gather the general impression that Los Angeles represents a future to be avoided,” the report continued. “By the same token, with respect to density and road per capita mileage it displays an investment pattern we desire to replicate” in Portland. It apparently never occurred to planners that this “disparity” suggested a flaw in their plans.”

    I’ve repeated this quote many times to those who uncritically praise the plans of Metro. Most retort that the quote is twenty years old, and therefore not relevant or applicable anymore. Portland is its own echo chamber and a bastion of the non-thinking. They deserve whatever is coming to them.

  2. Frank

    “The Antiplanner spent yesterday in the Portland, visiting the neighborhood where I grew up and seeing the new homes springing up in people’s backyards, sideyards, frontyards, and just about anywhere where there is a little open space.”

    You must not have grown up in Laurelhurst. No way infill will reach that historic and highly-coveted-by-rich-white-liberals neighborhood. No way they’re letting working class people into their back yards.

    “Economist Bill Reid argues that Metro planners are greatly overestimating the desire for multifamily housing.”

    Planners or developers? Because aren’t multifamily buildings far more profitable to build and own than SFHs? And isn’t it the Federal Reserve and their cheap money policy that’s causing this malinvestment and the overestimation for the desire for multifamily housing? Would infill be happening if interest rates were at, say, 10%? Or even 7%?

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Economist Bill Reid argues that Metro planners are greatly overestimating the desire for multifamily housing. Based on a survey published by Metro itself, Reid predicts that Metro’s plans will result in a shortfall of more than 40,000 single-family detached homes. Unfortunately, Reid’s study doesn’t seem to be available on line, but it is described in this Portland Tribune article.

    Could it be that Portland Metro’s staff is assuming that tens of thousands of young(er) people will be moving to Metro’s service area to “retire.”

  4. bennett

    Increases in density happen. Be it by market based forces, evil socialist plans or a combination there of, this phenomenon is relatively consistent. As long as the population of a city/region is growing the desire to increase density at all scales (urban, suburban, small urban, rural, open space) will be ever present.

    Understanding that Portland neighborhoods were likely to change and grow over the last several decades I’m a little surprised to hear Mr. O’Toole lament secondary dwelling units (or maybe he thought everything would just stay the same forever). I really like secondary dwelling units. They are a great way to accommodate the inevitable push for higher densities without completely compromising the character of a neighborhood. Essentially, we can double the density of a given neighborhood and still have single family detached housing.

    It sure beats the hoards of demon planners led by the ghost of Stalin and Satan himself, rounding up all the libertarians and forcing them to live in a high-rise at gun point.

  5. metrosucks

    Portland’s change is entirely the result (ok, 99%) of government intervention and planning. While it could absolutely be said that San Francisco, for example, has a buildable space problem and therefore a natural tendency to densify at rates greater than average, there is no lack of space in Portland. The space problem is entirely a result of government intervention so old hags like Elizabeth Furse can enjoy their pastoral views without interference from regular Joes. The “protecting farmland” argument is a non-starter; it’s a false narrative created to hoodwink the gullible. The “valuable farmland” supposedly being saved from the developer hordes is used to grow lawn seed, for the most part.

  6. Frank

    “there is no lack of space in Portland.”

    Portland has boundary lines. Land is limited to what is inside of those boundaries. They’re not making any more land in Portland. Unless other areas are annexed, Portland will stay at 133 square miles. Short of turning places like Forest Park, Mt. Tabor, or Laurelhurst Park over to developers, there is little land left to develop for housing, especially given that many people want to live “close in”; therefore, infill occurs to accommodate that demand.

    Multnomah County farmland is quite diverse in production. According to the USDA agriculture census, in Multnomah County, field and grass seed account for 1,270 acres, while other top crop items account for 10,575 acres.

    I’m opposed to the land use regulations on principle, but to convince others of land use reg’s onerous nature, one must step up one’s game and come with data rather than unsupported assertions that can easily be refuted with a quick Google search.

  7. metrosucks

    Hi Frank.

    I should have been more clear. When I say Portland, I really mean the entire Metro-governed area, since Portland’s wackadoodle ideas aren’t restricted to its city limits. With that in mind, there is plenty of land in Clackamas, Yamhill, and Washington County to build on. As for agriculture in Mult. County, again, I looked at your numbers (thanks for pulling those up), and over half of the money is from nursery products. Again, a crop/product that is not dependent on the fabled rich valley soils for growing.

    When I drive west on Sunset Highway after Cornelius Pass, I see mostly grass seed farms. Same with most areas south. The exceptions are largely nurseries, a few hazelnut farms, and occasionally berries. Again, nothing that is in desperate need of supposedly rich soils to prosper.

    I’m with you. Let the market decide. In regards to the fed pumping up homes, it’s an interesting debate. I agree it happened…because of the Fed. Many are confounded by the fact that some areas experienced only small price increases, and others, huge increases. I would say this is directly attributable to the Fed, as well. We know west coast areas tend to be desirable. People want to move there. So housing is already more expensive than say, the midwest. Investors take that free fed money and further pump up an already destabilized market, creating wild booms like those in Cali. That’s my theory for the hit & miss nature of the housing boom.

  8. Frank

    I’m also with you about letting the market decide. There are so many perverse incentives, it’s hard to know what the landscape would resemble without the heavy hand of coercion.

    “there is plenty of land in Clackamas, Yamhill, and Washington County to build on.”

    That may be, but is that where the demand is highest to live? I don’t know. Seems like some people ridicule those in the suburbs while those in the suburbs ridicule those in the urban core; that’s what I garnered from my experiences there.

    Having grown up on a farm, I love agrarian land and it bothers me when a field or pasture or forest is turned into development of massive SFHs that many cannot afford. However, if it’s private property, it must be respected as such. As with the case with national parks, if people want to preserve land, they can come together and buy it and do so.

  9. OregonGuy

    In April I visited the street I grew up on in Garden Home.

    The destruction of the neighborhood was appalling. Little houses shoved in next to what were nice homes. Sad to see.
    .

  10. metrosucks

    But hey, at least they’re saving 1000’s of acres of grass seed farms that dump toxic chemicals into groundwater, and more importantly, preserving the views of old bitches like Elizabeth Furse and the other members of 1000 Enemies of Oregon.

  11. sprawl

    Portland’s problem is, the rezoning of property use to be agreed on by the owner and neighbors and now it is done by the planners and politicians.

  12. Frank

    Ah, Grimm. The cheesiest thing to come out of Oregon except Tillamook.

    OT: Who was it who suggested I get a bike to ride to the grocery store? Well, bought a used bike today, and while the weather has been phenomenal, I know realize why so many drive cars. Guess I’m middle aged and all but was never good at taking hills on a bike, even in my 20s. Ride to the store was easy, except those massive craters in the road that must be avoided on the downhill if you don’t want to die. Riding back up 120 feet in elevation in two blocks…impossible. People drive cars in Seattle for a good reason. That reason is topography. Will keep biking as a hobby, but will probably stick mostly to flat trails.

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