Portland, Thy Name Is Density

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is following the White House’s advice by proposing to increase the densities of nearly two-thirds of the city’s single-family neighborhoods. Under the proposal, duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units would be allowed in single-family areas.

The plan also proposes to limit the size of a home to about half the square footage of the lot it is on, while at the same time allowing buildings to cover a larger area of the lot. That’s supposedly to prevent McMansions, but it also just happens to encourage people to build two separate homes on one lot (one of which would be called an “accessory” unit).

Portland’s current mayor, Charlie Hales, is a strong advocate of densification–so long as it isn’t in his backyard. When the city proposed to increase densities in Eastmoreland, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods on the city’s east side, residents strongly protested. Hales, who just happens to live there, backed them up. Judging from the map on page 14 of the proposal, neither Eastmoreland nor the wealthy Tualatin Hills neighborhoods are among those that would be rezoned.

Despite the sustainability claim, what’s really going on is a scheme for Portland to increase its tax collections. Under a law approved by voters in 1997, cities cannot increase the assessed value of properties by more than 3 percent per year. This means most homes in Portland are assessed at far less than their true market value.

If someone builds a 600-square-foot “tiny house” as an accessory unit on their property, however, it will be assessed at its current fair market value. Thus, construction of an accessory unit can double the taxes paid by the owners of a property. Naturally, Portland would rather see more new apartments, triplexes, duplexes, and accessory units built in the city than single-family homes in the suburbs.

Portland’s previous mayor, Sam Adams, had proposed that only areas within a quarter-mile of light-rail and streetcar stops be densified, thus leaving most existing single-family neighborhoods alone. This new plan overturns that idea. Portland’s current mayor elect, Ted Wheeler, said during his campaign that he supported legalizing duplexes and garden apartments in single-family neighborhoods, which is even more radical than the proposed plan. I wonder if he supports them in his own neighborhood.

Nothing about this plan is going to make housing more affordable. In fact, it will increase the scarcity of single-family detached homes, the kind most homebuyers prefer. The fact that it is being imposed mainly on working-class and moderate-income neighborhoods just makes it that much less equitable.

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8 thoughts on “Portland, Thy Name Is Density

  1. LazyReader

    I get no greater sense of glee watching politicians look stupid. To see them promise one thing and implement another can generate among people; the usual anger, but for me produces a profound amusement. At some point of course the humor gives way to melancholy as I have to remember when politicians actually agree on something….it costs you money. So every election cycle…..keep a close eye on your wallet.

  2. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Nothing about this plan is going to make housing more affordable. In fact, it will increase the scarcity of single-family detached homes, the kind most homebuyers prefer. The fact that it is being imposed mainly on working-class and moderate-income neighborhoods just makes it that much less equitable.

    Why do Portland voters go for this stuff?

    Is it because they expect that only “the guy over there” will be impacted by it?

  3. CapitalistRoader

    Why do Portland voters go for this stuff? Is it because they expect that only “the guy over there” will be impacted by it?

    Yes, and it will keep those low class dirt people out of their ritzy neighborhoods. Rich people need low class dirt people fairly close so they can hurry over and clean toilets and do laundry and wipe their kids’ noses. But not too close because…well, you know: “That’s just not who we are.”

    It’s the same thing when rich people vote for every mass transit boondoggle that comes around, in hopes that it will take more unattractive 20-year-old Corollas and Accords off the road, leaving those rich people to travel in their fancy new cars on less congested highways.

  4. OregonGuy

    “Many economists and other development experts are clearly best described as ‘planners’ in this sense. The dominant narrative in current development agencies is that enlightened experts can design reforms and other programmes to fix development problems. Just as Hayek and Mises warned, this planning has often resulted in failure. While experts may have a general idea of what conditions are necessary for economic development, they lack the knowledge of how to develop these conditions where they are not present.”

    http://cafehayek.com/2016/10/quotation-of-the-day-1872.html

  5. Frank

    Yes, and it will keep those low class dirt people out of their ritzy neighborhoods. Rich people need low class dirt people fairly close so they can hurry over and clean toilets and do laundry and wipe their kids’ noses. But not too close because…well, you know: “That’s just not who we are.”

    I’m hardly rich, nor was I when I lived in NE Portland and worked as a teacher. In a private property society, people can form enclaves based on voluntary association. In our real world, the state actively works to prevent this. That said, when I lived in NE Portland, I was surrounded by white trash who rode their ATVs through the streets and whose children played soccer in the street, often kicking the ball into my car, and they had absolutely no respect for private property and had no boundaries.

    Hopefully those trashholes have been pushed out by gentrification.

  6. Frank

    No middle class people who comment here want to challenge me? MSetty who lives on Atlas Road? The AP who lives in Camp Sherman? You don’t want to live around white trash meth heads who will drive you to move away?

    You don’t want to voluntarily associate with people who have similar values as you?

    Who wants to live around trailer trash?

    Why doesn’t the AP advocate for voluntary association?

  7. Scott

    Yep, NIMBYism as the residents think: build there; they are wrong; don’t care about them, “I want my space, which is not mine;” my view; etc.

    Typical leftist/Democrat/Marxist responses resulting from selfishness (& envy).

    Am I biased, having grown up (past 9) in a large (3,000’+) house on half an acre? I thought that was a small lot. Many neighbors had an acre+ (suburban Chicago).

    BTW, the typical density there & surrounding is 4,000 (you know the units), which is high for an overall UA, but low to support much mass transit, which needs to be 10,000+ (except for DC).

  8. Scott

    Your conclusion is close to accurate, but the way you got there is off. I realize that your comments contain sarcasm, but I detect bitterness too.

    Many in government are hypocrites.
    Many Problems: 1.No real reason to please the customer (taxpayer); 5.Little recourse on non-performance; 8. Unions (thugs) got your back; 13.The goal is not as stated; 18.Spend, get more money (much from the the feds); 29.Politicians…. ; 99.We’re more than broke & the UN has taken over.

    So, thank you urban planners for adding to our demise to push us further down into chaos.

    Density is the solution, really? Look at reality.
    BTW, AGW is greatly exaggerated, and any proposed solutions are way-off, resulting in much lower standard of living..

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