What Are We Going To Do With All That Parking?

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. As reported on Bike Portland, the City of Portland is trying to determine how much parking we need in corridors and centers.

At the same time Atlantic Cities is reporting on efforts by architects to figure out how to re-purpose unneeded parking into other uses, with the theme that we need to design our parking structures today so they have ‘good bones’ to assist future conversion.

I’m a little worried that the City is on the wrong track. Is government the right place to determine the ‘correct’ amount of parking, or is the market better positioned to do this (you can have as much parking as you’re prepared to pay for)?

The pivot point of course is on-street parking. I think many of the questions of sufficiency are really about protecting on-street parking resources. If that’s true, then let’s grab the bull by the horns and work out rational (and politically feasible) on-street parking management systems. Then I think we’d need to pay a lot less attention to (and build less) off-street parking.

86 responses to “What Are We Going To Do With All That Parking?”

  1. Chris,

    This is off topic, but I’m replying because this is your post and you’ll probably read the comments. Can you put the date and time in the list of recent posts at the upper right, perhaps in a smaller font? It’s sometimes confusing, at least to me, whether I’ve read them.

    Thanks for considering it.

  2. I think you’re right on the money, Chris. This begs the question of whether there is an intersection between rational and politically feasible. I hope so given the huge costs and impacts of building more parking than those parking are willing to pay for.

  3. I would LOVE it if they could get rid of some on-street parking downtown. Like, say, the parking spots next to the bike lane on broadway- those are an accident waiting to happen.

    As for “what to do with it” the obvious answer is to build more housing so that rents will go down.

  4. Good points. Part of my enthusiasm for the city’s effort (expressed in the BikePortland post) is that this seems like a careful, evidence-rich step toward the mandatory conversation about how to transition high-demand areas from free on-street parking to paid (or absent) on-street parking.

    My impression is that our density goals are so high that the equations just aren’t going to work unless on-street parking is either removed or priced. Maybe that’s what you’re talking about, Chris, with your “pivot point” idea above. Or do you have any reason to think that the “tool kit” that will result from the city study won’t include on-street parking pricing methods?

    • My concern is less that we won’t get to the conversation about on-street management, but rather that we’ll go through a time-consuming and unnecessary conversation about ‘adequate’ amounts of parking along the way. I think we’d be better off going straight to on-street management and leaving adequacy to the market.

      • Ah, ok. So is the risk the conversation itself, or the chance that it results in a bucket of new too-finely-tuned regulations of off-street parking?

        Though I have no real knowledge of how council makes decisions, I don’t see on-street parking being something they’re willing to price unless someone carefully connects more of the dots between on-street parking and our more broadly shared values about where development should go. My interpretation of this project is that it’s a chance to connect those dots.

  5. Pricing is only one possible form of management. I think the politics of the moment for condos/apartments is really not about ‘adequate parking’ but about ‘who is going to be competing for the space in front of my house’. What’s important is that we be clear about who has entitlements for on-street parking. Pricing would be one way, but a variety of time limits or permits could also accomplish it.

    If the developers of new multi-family buildings understand to what degree their buyers/tenants can or can’t access on-street parking, they’ll have a much better idea of how much off-street parking they need/want to build.

    • How would developers know how much on-street parking is available? That’s contingent on future development that they can’t control. My sense is they make parking decisions based on lot size and targeted market. Big projects and premium housing tend to include parking, work force housing or small lots less so.

      Example: Grant Park Village is a multi-acre site that will have close to 1 space per unit even though there is ample street parking within a few blocks. Down the road is a building by the Hollywood Theater that has no parking even though there is very little available street parking within a few blocks. Different lots with different markets.

    • Aha. Hence the “and politically feasible” above, I guess. Got it.

      In that case I’d love to talk about some specific examples of how to structure an entitlement!

      a) Every current residence gets a free zone parking permit (or two, etc). Enforcement is funded by taxpayers at large, I suppose, or by some newfangled per-household fee/tax in certain neighborhoods.
      b) Same as A, except the entitlement goes away at the time of property transfer.
      c) Same as A, except the entitlement only applies to landowners.
      d) Same as A, except newcomers get a free zone permit, too.
      e) Same as D, except the entitlement only applies to landowners.
      e) Same as C, except instead of everybody it’s given out by lottery and forfeited at the time of transfer.

      That’s all I’ve got so far but I’m sure I’m missing lots of possibilities. I guess my favorite of these is B, since it seems like folks who bought into a neighborhood under a different parking regime are the only group that even approach being victims here compared to the more obvious victims of the current policy of unlimited free on-street parking: the public at large, landowners with on-site parking space, and most of all Portlanders who don’t own cars.

      The fact that it’s politically feasible to unload costs onto those groups while portraying homeowners as victims is of course what gets my blood up.

  6. We’re thinking along the same lines. I think the way to get around the political objections is to entitle ALL incumbent stakeholders. To do that effectively, you have to do it BEFORE saturation. So perhaps we monitor our corridors/centers and when they hit 75-80% peak utilization we go ahead and give permits to all residential and business stakeholders (not visitors). We’d have to discuss whether the entitlement goes to the property owner or the occupant (renter). The City could hold all the ‘excess’ permit capacity and either release it on the market or distribute it for equity purposes.

    The City would never issue more permits than the capacity of the on-street environment, including some reserve. Although theoretically the city might issue permits for more than 100% of available spaces based on complimentary uses (e.g., overnight entitlements for residents versus day-time rights for businesses). Visitors would need to be time-restricted or priced (meters).

    Once entitled, folks could maintain their permit by paying an annual cost-of-service fee, or could sell their permit right on the open market.

    As new properties get developed, the developers will either need to build off-street parking or face the market pressure that their purchasers/tenants will need to purchase permits on the open market.

    Unfortunately we’ll need a different scheme for places that have already passed saturation…

    • Chris, how do you think permits should be priced? It seems reasonable to me to base it on the $50 per month Portlanders assessed on residents of multi-family housing via the new minimum parking rules. Converting that cost to a one time charge using an unreasonably generous 15% discount rate puts it a little over $4K.

      Given the cost of a perpetuity plus the potential problems created by granting arbitrary property rights to public property, this would make a lot more sense if the permits expired after a few years and then had to be renewed. That renewal would have to be without preference towards current license holders, otherwise it would still be a perpetuity.

      • Keep in mind that I’m trying to keep the incumbents from rallying against the on-street management, so I don’t want to charge an up-front capital cost for the permits. If you’ve been enjoying free parking at the 75-80% saturation level, you get a permit. I’m only suggesting that you have to pay the ‘cost of service’ (current $60 to pay for cost of issuing permit plus enforcement) to keep your permit annually.

        The market will quickly determine what they’re worth :-)

  7. I suggest that whenever the city forms such a district (parking entitlement zone, or “PEZ” :-) ), that they explicitly reserve the right to reallocate spaces for the parking of non-automobile forms of transportation (no limit) such as bike corrals and transit platforms, relocate spaces within the PEZ while maintaining capacity (perhaps with some stipulations to handle when an entire block face loses all parking), and reimburse the PEZ for any lost spaces, including switching the use of a space to non-transportation purposes (such as curbside dining, public art). Business owners seeking to have curbside dining rather than parking could reimburse the PEZ directly at the same rate the city calculates for itself. The PEZ managing authority could then disburse the proceeds to its stakeholders.

        • Many browsers don’t recognize the HTML character reference : but use of a numeric character references–ie :) and such, all you to enter ASCII emoticons without having them Emoji-ized.

          • Did it just swallow up my attempt to escape an &? Let’s try that again.


            Another trick that works is to embed a zero-width joiner (aka a Byte Order Mark, &xFEFF;) in between the “:” and the “)”.

  8. What about mixed-use neighborhoods like, say, NE Alberta? Everybody who drives to a restaurant (or to a big event like Last Thursday, or to a small event like a birthday picnic) would have to pick up a free parking pass from one of their destination businesses, then return it to their car, then fetch it again before they leave and return it to the appropriate business.

    Alternatively, visitors are only allowed to park in commercial areas, which would presumably have to get meters or time-limited zones to avoid people dodging the residential requirements by parking there.

    • The easier answer is allow 2-hour visitor parking without a permit. The slightly more complex (but perhaps better) solution is the one planned for NW Portland – extend meters a block or two off the commercial street and allow residential permit holders free parking at the meters (other than the ones on the commercial street itself).

    • Meters should extend several blocks into the Parking Entitlement Zone, so that people aren’t driving around looking for storefront parking. Meter and enforcement revenues should be shared between the City and the PEZ, and thereby distributed to the businesses and residents affected. Getting a cut of parking revenue will encourage buy-in from incumbent interests. (The technical term for this is Greasing the Wheels.)

  9. “If the developers of new multi-family buildings understand to what degree their buyers/tenants can or can’t access on-street parking, they’ll have a much better idea of how much off-street parking they need/want to build.”

    Chris, you give the developers way too much credit. Remember, the Nobel Prize in economics went to Case & Schiller for their studies showing that the US real estate market is irrational. We will be left with some unpleasant housing for years to come, IMHO, especially the new flop houses, I mean “micro apartments.” Seriously, developers would leave out fire sprinklers and toilets if we let them. Don’t trust them on parking.

    • If they can’t export their failure to build enough parking for their tenants to the on-street environment, don’t you think the market will teach them the lesson pretty quickly?

      • Chris,

        The market periodically crushes the investors who don’t ditch the unsuccessful projects in time. It may not be the developer who gets punished. But the neighborhood hardware store and the residents will be left with undesirable housing stock and a mess on the streets.

        After 2008, there were scores of personal bankruptcies among developers.
        But the fact that the developers/builders were punished (in a sense) is cold comfort to the neighbors of failed developments.

        Hales can’t walk back the parking minimums- he made a campaign promise to the Richmond Neighbors for Responsible Growth in WW, and, to his credit, he is keeping it somewhat.

        • Can you give a few examples of failed low-car developments in the city? I know of quite a few luxury condo projects that failed, but no low-car mid-range developments.

          • Chris I, the previous bubbles were sfh (2008) and condos (2010).
            The expensive apartment bubble is still forming. The signs are all there. It should burst around 2015.

    • Seriously, developers would leave out fire sprinklers and toilets if we let them. Don’t trust them on parking.

      Fire sprinklers: Important life-saving safety mechanism for tenants and neighbors alike.
      Toilets: Important public health and sanitation mechanism.
      Off-street-parking: ????
      Publicly-subsidized “free” on-street-parking: ????

      Those last two sound like conveniences, not life & death issues. Should the building code mandate that all bedrooms be large enough to contain a king-size bed, two dressers, and two walk-in closets? After all, you never know when someone is going to get married and settle down, and it would be darned convenient if all apartments had giant master suites.

      the new flop houses, I mean “micro apartments.”

      The standards and appointments for “micro-apartments” are far above what a “flop-house” would provide. And there are hundreds if not thousands of such living arrangements in buildings across the city. It used to be called “housemates” but now it’s being formalized through lease agreements and more-private spaces. (Most of these “micro-apartments” that I’ve seen proposed have private bathrooms for each tenant.)

    • Case and Schiller were expressly studying the single-family housing market, not multi-family. Broadly speaking, they parallel one another, but there are far fewer but better-educated actors in the multi-family sector, so it has fewer bubbles than does the SFH market.

      Losers in the multi-family game lose access to credit and get washed out.

  10. I was being sarcastic about the toilets (but not expensive sprinklers- see the club owners downtown). The micro apartments are expensive, and deprive tenants of veto power over room mates. If you hate a kitchen mate, do you think the landlord will let you out of your lease? What about overnight guests- the landlord will end up having a say over your romantic life ….

    I also resent the sneakiness of zoning them as dorms/communes and then marketing them as apartments open to all (well, who knows what rules apply here …)

    I visited McMenamin’s in Centraila- which is an old flop house/brothel. The micro-dorms have the same size, set up. Check out the Portland Pensione for a successful model for micro-apartments- not!

    • Don’t rent one, then.

      Nobody is forcing you to live in such a place. I lived in a similar housing arrangement back in college (down in Corvallis, off-campus, so it wasn’t legally “student housing”) and didn’t care for it much; mainly due to a resident of another dwelling unit who apparently considered washing his dishes to be sinful. (He’d just leave them piled in the sink, apparently hoping someone else would do it for him).

      (Individual bedrooms could be locked, so romantic lives and such could be kept private.)

      Now the apartment complex did have off-street parking; so that wasn’t an issue–it was close enough to campus that I walked anyway. But still, it was a micro-apartment, and one filled mainly with college students on a limited budget, like my younger self.

      Now that I’m married with kids, I wouldn’t want to live in a micro-apartment; even if I were single and without kids, I probably wouldn’t repeat the experience unless I had no other choice.

      But why should the zoning code prohibit such housing arrangements–assuming basic safety requirements are met? Should people be banned from renting out rooms in their homes? Is it the lack of parking that bothers you, or the size and nature of the dwelling itself?

      • I am concerned about the tiny size and giant price, along with new issues in landlord/tenant law. I also resent the loophole- these are zoned as communal living/dorms.

        I believe that shared housing is a blessing for many people, and a great way for people to connect to the community if they are single. The new capitalist communes (hey-that’s the zoning folks) have issues with the landlord selecting the folks with whom you will share a kitchen. Presumably, no discrimination against folks based on hygiene/personality- so I can’t wait for the inevitable legal issues and police calls.

        Such trust in landlords to run our lives. I guess the micro apartments- no overnight guests, no safe parking, will stunt some folks economic and romantic growth. But Mr. Landlord knows better

      • I agree that shared-kitchen microapartments aren’t going to appeal to a wide swath of people (including me). It’s almost enough to make one wonder if they would be going in at all if we hadn’t banned the construction of similar buildings in the face of the most serious and prolonged rental housing shortage in the country.

    • I also resent the sneakiness of zoning them as dorms/communes and then marketing them as apartments open to all (well, who knows what rules apply here …)

      Mamacita, do you think Portlanders would feel better about group living buildings if they openly discriminated against people? Who should they discriminate against?

      • BJ,a model that forces you to choose between two evils is a bad model.
        You are going to have some unsafe situations, imho. Note the tenant’s loss of control over their living environment.

        The “if you don’t like it don’t rent it” argument would justify all sorts of undesirable situations.

        • Mamacita, lots of unsafe, undesirable situations happen in single family homes. Should the city impose rules over who can buy or rent single family homes, or bar their construction?

          Life is full of consequential decisions that involve trade-offs. Schooling and occupation, family type and size all involve costs and benefits that could be characterized as a choice between two evils. In fact, I’d say what makes a choice consequential is precisely the fact that it might be wrong in a way that matters. Should the responsibility and privilege of making those choices be stripped from people and handed over to the City of Portland? Do you really think they would make better decisions about such things?

          But back to my main question. You suggest that there are some folks who would want to reside in group living quarters, and who would pass whatever checks the landlord imposes and who should not be allowed to do so. Who are these people that you’re so concerned about?

    • I was being sarcastic about the toilets

      Is that why you started off your sentence with “seriously”? Because you’ve made that claim before without hinting at a joke. Sorry for taking “seriously” seriously.

  11. BJ, your point about discrimination was thought provoking, so a few more points from moi.

    1. Please consider how these micro-spaces are zoned: dormitory/convent/commune.

    If a church or other non-profit organization buys the building, they can legally discriminate against folks. Think about the Mormon Church or the Church of Scientology buying the building. Do we want housing stock vulnerable to that type of use in the future?

    2. Group living involves either institutional control (college dorm, hotel) or discrimination,( i.e. choosing your room mates). Tellingly, BJ, if you were to rent a room in your home, you would be permitted to discriminate against anyone for any reason. The homeless shelters always separate people out- families, men, women.
    The dorms are usually affiliated by some common core- school, religion.

    3. With the micro-spaces, we have a capitalist enterprise choosing flat mates for their tenants according to rules that are best for the company. This is problematic, especially once you have to take all comers. People will be living on somewhat intimate terms with strangers. Do you think that a woman with a baby or a handicapped person is going to be welcome in the micro-spaces?

    How do you see the trade off between tenant control over their own living space and non-discrimination? The flip side of discrimination is self-determination- that’s why you get to pick your perfect room mate.

    In a place with separate dwelling units, there is no rationale for discrimination race/age/handicap/personality.

    Untested legal ground for this hybrid mess of a dorm mis-labelled as an apartment.

    • A church that opened up part of its facility for rental on the general real-estate market, would have to abide by non-discrimination laws in selection of tenants, regardless of the configuration of the units.

      Don’t confuse the issue of ZONING (which has ONLY to do with land-use) with other aspects of landlord-tenant law. Just because something is zoned as a “dormitory”–i.e. regarded as a permitted land-use under zoning designations typically used for institutional group housing–doesn’t mean it is a “dormitory” in other areas of the law. When it comes to fair housing law, for example, the law will look as to how and why residents come to live there and the purpose of the place: Is it special-purpose housing for those attending a school or seminary or other institution, or general-purpose housing for anyone able to pay rent? Only the former can be considered as “dorms” for purposes of fair housing and such.

      (There are many examples of “dormitories” which contain self-contained units with private bathrooms–I lived one of these, too, down at Oregon State: The units were essentially studio apartments. Despite the private bathrooms and showers, though, it was still a “dormitory”–it was restricted to OSU students, male-female cohabitation was banned, possession of alcohol by residents was restricted, and if you didn’t pay your rent on time you could be summarily locked out on short notice without the usual due process afforded to apartment dwellers who get behind).

      Certainly, shared-kitchen rooms do bring up issues that differ from either self-contained residences with a single family unit, or self-contained residents containing a bunch of roommates, or “rental rooms” where the landlord (by virtue of co-living) has much greater selection and control of his tenant. But this sort of living arrangement is nothing new or novel. The only novel thing is that it is becoming a permitted land use in areas where it wasn’t previously.

    • Scotty covers most of it. I’ll add that for point 3, what do you think is more in the interest of the mother or disabled person: Barring the construction of housing they’d prefer if it was available (meaning they will be stuck with something worse without it), or policing landlords so those people don’t suffer discrimination? The latter is a remedy for the problem, the former builds the problem into the fabric of the city.

  12. My 22-y.o. nephew in San Diego rented an “apartment” on Craig’s List, which was really one bedroom in a 3-bedroom apartment. He didn’t know the other people. He even shared a bathroom. Many such rentals appear in many cities, including Portland. You go and look at it, and perhaps meet the other inhabitants. If it doesn’t work out, you move. The micro-units are the same, except that you do have your own private bathroom, definitely a plus.

    I’m not sure if Oregon Mamacita’s concerns are about the quantity of people, or the “quality”. And her concerns for the welfare of the renters may be misplaced. I can see a handicapped person, for instance, liking such an arrangement, with lots of other people around if the need for help arises. I guess I have a more optomistic view of folks who rent small spaces.

    • It is the quantity of the people and also tenant’s rights issues. To replace a family of four with 45 people on one lot is just too sardine-ney. Portland isn’t Singapore.

      There is a tremendous amount of trust in landlords & developers on this blog, Why the great faith in the “free market”? As a kid, I mocked Reagan for his belief that corporations know better and shouldn’t be regulated. Now the same mindset comes back.. but with New Urbanists. Why Andakos trusts the developers to behave well is beyond me.

      Paris is regulating these micro-apartments on the grounds that they are unfair to tenants- that people need a certain amount of space. France often gets it right …..

      • I don’t necessarily trust landlords to behave well.

        But the place to regulate landlords is not the zoning code.

        • These for-profit dorms are being built due to a loophole in the zoning codes definition of “dorm.”. The citizens of Portland and their representatives did not intend for these structures to happen. Anti-democratic, and ill-considered.

          Landlords have always been regulated via zoning and landlord/tenant and hotel rules.

          Does anyone on this blog ever see a problem with how density is implemented in this town, and the use of loopholes?

          • I have a big problem with how density is implemented in this town, we’re too quick to reject it. I don’t think Portland can succeed in its efforts to improve livability at the same time it clamps off growth. Longer answer here.

      • It is the quantity of the people and also tenant’s rights issues. To replace a family of four with 45 people on one lot is just too sardine-ney. Portland isn’t Singapore.

        Hardly sardine-y. Housing units will be a bit on the small side, but this level of density (making assumptions as to the size of a “lot”) is hardly unusual, and doesn’t necessarily require micro-apartments; nor is it unique to places like Manhattan or Singapore.

      • I don’t trust developers, but most of this yammering about them is just deceptive Red Herrings to keep the privileges of people who happened to get to a place first intact.

        Using that logic, we’d all leave and turn the area around the Willamette/Columbia confluence back to the Cathlapotles.

        I don’t want to put big buildings willy-nilly in the middle of residential neighborhoods, but along arterials which are already noisy, especially if they have transit service, they are a good idea.

        We’re forbidden from using the second person pronouns, so I’ll just say “There are voices on this blog” who complain about the cost of housing — implying that valuations are shooting up because of the evil machinations of “developers” — when in fact the reason that valuations are shooting up is that is exactly what all the single-family homeowners want.

        We who were here before prices went to the moon and got to go along for the ride are not about to pop the bubble that represents a significant gain in wealth for ourselves. It’s entirely rational for homeowners to support limiting the supply of housing. Scarce things in demand are worth more.

        But to gussy what is essentially selfishness up in some sort of concern trolling about poor abused tenants is verging on laughable.

        • Other commenter’s motives are off-limits; I can think of many reasons that one might oppose changes to the “character” of one’s neighborhood besides maintaining a high resale value of one’s property.

          That said–regulations of landlord conduct are things that ought to be universal. If it is illegal to exploit tenants along inner SE Division, the same laws ought to apply in the Pearl, along 122nd, in Cully, in St. Johns, in Multnomah Village, and in Sellwood.

          And–given that much of landlord-tenant law is state law and not city law, in Beaverton, Eugene, Coos Bay, Bend, La Grande, Wagontire, and Grants Pass.

          The zoning code is there to ensure that land uses don’t negatively impact others in a gross way. They do so by regulating construction (including renovation), not by regulating conduct (other than gross categories like “residential”, which keeps someone from operating a retail storefront or a hog farm in their SE Portland bungalow).

          Now the question of whether the “dormitory loophole” (“communal housing” is defined under the zoning code as that with shared kitchen facilities, as opposed to being used for institutional purpose–though the latter inquiry might not be an appropriate subject for the zoning laws) ought to be changed to exclude units rented to the general public, is an interesting one. The zoning provision that is being waived in this case is a setback requirement that would otherwise apply to rental real estate–a good question could be asked why such a setback shouldn’t apply (or not) equally to both “apartments” or “dorms”.

          But shared-kitchen rentals are something which have long existed in the state of Oregon.

          (Aside: Rather than building a “dorm” and renting rooms therein out to the public–maybe in keeping with the character of older neighborhoods, developers ought to build rental frathouses instead? Would a giant mansion with a few dozen locked bedrooms cause offense? :) )

          • Actually, if you look at their Seattle website, the earlier iterations of Apodments seem to be big old houses, where they were split up into locked rooms with a shared kitchen. Perhaps they caused offense. They’re still owned and rented out on the same website with the new, purpose-built Apodment constructions.

      • “To replace a family of four with 45 people on one lot is just too sardine-ney.”

        A family of four in a 1200sf single-family home is 300sf per person. I sold my 960sf house over 10 years ago to a family of 4, or 240sf per person.

        On a 5,000sf lot, allowing for a 5ft buffer on 3 sides (with a curb-fronting facade), a multi-story building has 3,800sf per floor. 4 floors, well under the height limit, is 15,200sf. That’s 300sf per person in the building. Naturally, you subtract for common areas, laundry, stairwells, etc. But it’s no more “sardine-ney” than other typical living situations. Go to five floors, then you’ve got room for neighborhood-scale ground-floor retail, or large common-use areas, or all living space at a whopping 380sf per person, 25% more than the hypothetical family of four.

        There is a tremendous amount of trust in landlords & developers on this blog

        Not really. The city has many strict regulations regarding development. What I (and I suspect others) would like to see is the denser housing forms in select zones which have been planned for years to finally come to fruition.

        There’s plenty of regulations I wouldn’t mind adding, too, just not minimum parking requirements. For example, I think it’s fair to state that developments such as these cannot go in where the sidewalks are substandard or incomplete, even if the zoning is otherwise conforming. The proposal (dropped by city council) to define real “Frequent Service” transit is intriguing. (Although not without potential problems.)

        Regarding Paris, I’m not sure which story you were referencing, but I did find this one:


        That’s about half the size of what’s being proposed for Portland and even includes a private kitchen. Looks cozy, well-designed, and functional nonetheless. If Paris is regulating, they must have even smaller minimums than what’s being done here.

  13. A few more observations:

    I view the micro-apartment project in Hollywood as sort of a litmus test as to whether neighborhoods are serious about density or whether they’ll actually just oppose anything.

    The Hollywood site is zoned CX, and has been for decades as far as I can tell.

    Most of the remaining single family homes along that stretch of road have been converted to businesses, again years ago.

    The site is surrounded by commercial developments, nearly all of which have private, off-street parking (and are thus not majorly affected by street parking.)

    The site is within an easy walk of 3 MAX lines, 2 Frequent-Service bus lines, and 1 regular bus line, 3 grocery stores (representing discount, mid-range, and boutique market segments), lots of shopping, plenty of restaurants, some small employers and one major employer (Providence).

    If a car-free apartment project on a single small lot can’t go there, just where can it go?

    Lately I’ve seen neighborhoods oppose:

    1. Car-free apartment projects (of any scope).
    2. “Oversize” houses (replacing a 2-3 bedroom house with a 4-5 bedroom house), leaving large families to live further out.
    3. “Skinny lot” houses (apparently the opposite of “Oversize”).

    Doesn’t leave much room for change.

    Then there’s the equity argument:

    Should neighborhoods prevent the development of small apartments in order to preserve one home for a mythical “single family” smack dab in the middle of a CX Zone? Doing so favors the “single family” at the expense of 50 people who would very much like to rent a space close-in.

    • We aren’t fighting apartments- we are fighting for-profit dorms. No one meant to legalize flop houses- those rules: that CX zoning was for schools and churches.

      The use of loopholes to evade the people’s will is corrupt, so expect lawsuits and maybe (my dream) a lodging tax on for-profit dorms. Democracy now. We want smaller infill and regular size apartments and the excess growth can just go to where the jobs are: Hillsboro.

      Portland is a leader in the backlash- long live parking minimums. To bad that there is a civil war between the new urbanists/developer conglomerate and the reasonable growth folks- but it is reality.

  14. Is government the right place to determine the ‘correct’ amount of parking, or is the market better positioned to do this

    Let’s extend that theory a little further:

    Is government the right place to determine the ‘correct’ amount of transit? Shouldn’t the market be better positioned to do this? Let a private transit company provide it.

    Is government the right place to determine the ‘correct’ amount of bicycle facilities? Let those who use the bike trails, pay for it.

    Is government the right place to determine the ‘correct’ amount of intercity transportation? Why is ODOT engaged in a discussion of high-speed rail from Portland to Eugene when there are two airlines, three bus services (two owned by the same entity) and several “airporter” services providing the same exact service, why is ODOT now competing with the private sector?

    We can privatize any or all of the transportation system we want. It’s however disturbing that this forum seems to only argue to privatize those forms of transportation it personally feels undesirable (despite public opinion – 80% or more of Portlanders drive, but only single-digits either bike or use TriMet) but for those that are generally unused, public investment is demanded and called upon. What’s good for one mode should be good for the other…either privatize, or socialize.

    • Of course, when you add “roads” and “highways” to that argument, it kind of falls apart.

      A point can be taken that non-libertarians (and none of me, Bob, or Chris are libertarians) ought to be careful advancing libertarian or neo-liberal frames like “let the market decide”. (Though the specific issue of parking minimums isn’t entirely analogous to the other things you mention–we don’t require businesses or developers to install bus shelters, for instance).

      A better argument is that policies and goals should align. A stated and legally-in-force goal, per various planning decisions by various government agencies, is to encourage mixed-use and higher-density development along good transit corridors. Many people don’t like that goal, of course–many existing residents of these areas like their neighborhoods the way they are and don’t want to see lots of new residents moving in (particularly new residents that might be in a lower economic stratum).

      Challenging the fundamental high-level goals is nigh impossible–they have broad support of elected officials and the public, particularly if you are talking about the city of Portland. But challenging the specific policies that implement those goals–particularly small-scale things like zoning for a particular neighborhood, is often a more productive avenue of attack.

      Many people are in support of higher density development–somewhere else.

      • “Many people don’t like that goal, of course–many existing residents of these areas like their neighborhoods the way they are and don’t want to see lots of new residents moving in (particularly new residents that might be in a lower economic stratum). ”

        Scotty, the problem is McMansion infill and 2000k a month apartments for John McAffee on SE Hawthorne. There is no affordable density- it’s all about maxing out developer profits.

        I went to the Pearl on Thursday and was truly shocked by the amount of expensive housing for rich people without kids.

        To the extent that the old are annoyed by the young residents- it has everything to do with hte rampant alcohol abuse in some neighborhoods and the puke and piss that come with it.

  15. Scotty, the problem is McMansion infill and 2000k a month apartments for John McAffee on SE Hawthorne.

    Like I mentioned earlier, for some reason there is opposition to both smaller housing (“skinny lot” houses, apartments) AND larger housing (3-story houses with 4 or 5 bedrooms). Even though such housing types were common in the early 20th century, with classic foursquare homes and 25ft-lot bungalows and row-houses. All change is opposed, larger or smaller.

    It’s not NIMBY-ism, but something worse, BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything). Thus the opposition to the housing type mix in the Pearl District, even though few people actually lived there before the 1990’s.

    There is no affordable density- it’s all about maxing out developer profits.

    Rents are high right now because of historically low vacancy rates city wide. The vacancy rates are low because lots of people want to live here but cannot find housing. Building more housing, turning people away, or making the place less attractive are the alternatives.

    I went to the Pearl on Thursday and was truly shocked by the amount of expensive housing for rich people without kids.

    What makes you think that Pearl District residents don’t have children in similar proportion to others int he city (regardless of income)? Whenever I visit I see lots of families with kids and strollers, plenty of activity in the parks.

    Quiz: Which district in Portland has the most (formal) affordable-housing units per capita?

    Doesn’t opposition to larger infill homes (4-5 bedroom, 3 story, as was allowed a century ago) prevent large families from living close-in? Is it right to simultaneously bemoan the presence of childless residents and to oppose housing which can accommodate large families?

    it has everything to do with hte rampant alcohol abuse in some neighborhoods and the puke and piss that come with it.

    So it’s not about parking?

    Quiz: Was there puke and piss in the Pearl district before rich childless people and young people started moving in?

    • The puke and piss are in Richmond and Alberta (Last Thurs.)

      Look, I don’t pretend to have the answers, and if this town was not so poorly governed I would not have to get involved. There is something desperately wrong in Portland. Read the Bike Portland posts about businesses on NE 28th- the lack of parking has starting to scare local businesses.

      IMHO, we need smaller infill houses and accomodation for reality (cars). Inner SE/NE have reached capacity for this area’s tolerance for density.

      I can’t imagine what will happen to those tall lofts in the Pearl in a heat wave- the upper floors will become ovens if they don’t have abundant electricity. LEED my arse.

  16. “Skinny Houses” aren’t small houses. They’re actually still oversized for the lots they occupy in a lot of neighborhood settings. What I see in my neighborhood is 750 sq ft – 1000 sq ft homes on 5000 sq ft lots being replaced or hedged in by 1600 sq ft “skinny houses” on 2000-2500 sq ft lots and/or 2200-2500 sq ft houses on 3000-3200 sq ft lots.

    What you don’t see getting built in this “infill” mode (with the exception of a few folks building ADUs which in most cases are tiny houses) is small 500-1000 sq ft houses which are what is actually affordable for first time home buyers, retirees who want to downsize and small families with limited incomes.

    This is what’s happening in the traditional single-family detached housing neighborhoods. The central city and trendy corridor apartment market is a whole other can of worms and isn’t providing any options to meet the needs of the folks mentioned in the previous paragraph.

    • Perceptive post, Cora.

      I would advocate for houses 900-1500 sq. feet. Also- 2 bathrooms is enough.

      Have you noticed flag lots with big new foursquares? In my neighborhood there are several with long, long asphalt driveways and no yards. How is that green?

        • Looks nice. I see that they are using a permeable surface (stone pavers) rather than asphalt. This is a “green” feature that keeps rainfall runoff on the property, lessening the burden on our sewers.

          (One of the downsides of minimum parking mandates is that they do create more runoff unless more expensive treatments like this one are used, and reduce the available vegetation space on a lot.)

        • PS… According to Zillow, that’s a 1418sf 3BR/3BA house built in 2008, and the seller is asking $259K.

          Presumably the houses behind it are similar.

          • There’s five total and they’re all identical. They are some of the nicer infill in the area, but still larger, priced at a higher price point and inaccessible as retirement housing (a second story entrance limits who can live there). And, there’s no yards or commons to speak of.

      • If I understand correctly, the effective allowed foundation footprint on a 2500sf lot is 1125sf under current code (it used to be more historically). To get 1500sf you have to build up.

        The key here is not house size so much as it is land value.

        Once you’ve bought the land, done the groundwork and poured a foundation, and paid for a kitchen and a roof, the incremental cost of adding stairs and a bathroom in order to double the useable floor space is very enticing in terms of bang for buck.

        For example, if a small lot further out costs, hypothetically, $75,000, and you spend $80,000 on a small single-story structure, the extra $30,000 or so to go up increases the total cost by 20%. (We’re talking minimal trim levels here.)

        But if a close-in lot costs $150,000, all else being equal, to go from 1 story to 2 increases the total cost (and therefore the mortgage) by only 13%.

        A homebuyer is getting “twice” the house for a 13% bigger monthly payment. This is why people build up, in all housing forms, once land values reach a particular point.

        Since we can’t manufacture more close-in land, and that land is going to rise in value so long as the number of people who want to live here increases, people are going to build up.

        Bear in mind that the big costs of building a home are the foundation and plumbing groundwork, a kitchen and the first bathroom, and the roof system. Going up to add bedrooms and a 2nd bath (especially if placed over the 1st) requires only modest plumbing and electrical work, framing, windows and siding. If done at the time of construction the labor is modest compared to the 1st floor.

        • A third floor can also be added inexpensively.

          Go up to four, and building code requires an elevator.

          Go much beyond that, and wood-frame construction is no longer suitable–now you’re looking at a deeper foundation, and concrete structure at a minimum. Or possibly steel framing. And much more expensive construction techniques (involving cranes, safety harnesses, and all sort of other things needed to work at heights above a couple dozen feet).

      • Also- 2 bathrooms is enough.

        Earlier you were joking that developers wouldn’t provide toilets if the city didn’t require them. Now are you suggesting that in fact developers provide too many bathrooms? Should the code enforce bathroom maximums?

        (Anecdote: Older parts of St. Louis, and perhaps other cities, didn’t meter water. Your water bill was based on how many toilets you owned, leading eventually to the creation of cleverly-hidden unpermitted 2nd and 3rd bathrooms.)

        I actually agree that the proliferation of bathrooms in some newer houses is an odd and extravagant trend, but I’m not sure how it relates in any way to discussing what housing types should actually be allowed to be built.

        • Bob,

          The only way I see to preserve affordability is to limit the size of the houses. If density advocates are asking existing residents to make sacrifices in the name of green living, then we need new houses that are actually green. Nothing green about the 3 bathroom, no yard, 3500k sq. feet, two resident uggies around Alberta.

          You know, coming from CA to inner SE and putting up a huge house and
          drinking water-intensive micro-brews isn’t sustainable. Just sayin’.

          • The only way I see to preserve affordability is to limit the size of the houses.

            We already limit the size of houses fairly significantly. In addition to fire setbacks, on a 5000sf lot the foundation of the home can cover no more than 45% of the lot area. So the largest possible single-story home is 2,250sf. If someone wants to have a yard, they’re going to build up rather than out. And as I’ve already mentioned, building up is highly economical, especially in popular areas where land values are expensive.

            Today’s 2-story foursquare houses are tomorrow’s duplex conversions, and if built right, nicely accessible on the first floor. During our recent remodel, we stayed in an apartment in Sullivan’s Gulch which was a nice old home where the main floor had been converted to a 1BR apartment and the landlord lived upstairs. The house was built in 1904 and would be “oversize” today by the standards proposed in this thread. But for us it was just what we needed and affordable.

            For example, here’s a house that was built this year in my neighborhood:

            From the street it looks big, but the footprint is about 1100sf. If the owner (or future owner) wants to, it wouldn’t be too difficult to convert this to two nice 2br apartments in a duplex, with the main floor being so close to grade and the large bathrooms, wheelchair accessibility would be an easy retrofit. (To convert to a duplex you do need to separate plumbing and electrical, but that’s the case for any older home as well.)

            Right now, since the property is new and has nice finishes, conversion is not likely. But new houses get old and then get renovated or converted. The “over-size” houses of today are tomorrow’s duplexes and funky group homes (like in SF).

            You know, coming from CA to inner SE and putting up a huge house and drinking water-intensive micro-brews isn’t sustainable. Just sayin’.

            For clarity, please state the classes, lifestyles and origins of humans that you believe should be allowed live here.

            • It’s about who we cater to, Bob. Who should Portland focus on- John McAffee with a 2000k apartment oh Hawthorne, or a young professional from Pendleton who needs a car?

              I will try and get you some examples of giant lot-occupying houses. I wish you were right about the sizes.

  17. Also worth looking at is 8720, 30 and 40 SE Steel as well as 5305 and 5309 SE 88th. These 5 houses replaced on single family home. The Steele facing houses are ~1800 sq ft, and the 88th facing houses are ~2300 sq ft.

    I’m not advocating that we stop doing infill or redevelopment. I just think we need to be sure we’re preserving housing stock of like size and affordability as we do it. That big lot could have easily had a courtyard style complex of small single story cottages with a lot more green space and affordability.

      • Look at what is being supplied and what price point it is at – with or without parking. Look at the effect that the new supply is having on existing rents/stock (it’s not lowering rents – it’s slightly slowing rent increases at best). It’s not as simple as build more price stablizes – we have to ask who are we stabilizing prices for (mostly moderate to upper income singles or couples without kids) and how is it meeting the gap in available housing for low-income people in opportunity areas (it isn’t).

        What I see is small, high cost housing being added, both with and without parking. What is needed in inner neighborhoods from the supply side is family-sized apartments (2 bedrooms or larger) at a price point that is at least 1/3 lower if not 1/2 the price of current rents for 2 bedrooms. Those aren’t being built and aren’t likely to be built if the market for luxury small units continues to drive up land values.

        • Also – I answered this regarding no-parking apartments. In the case of the housing I’m pointing out, it’s a case where the land supply is being modified to serve folks that can afford to purchased larger homes, when the neighborhood has traditionally had small starter homes on single levels. These big houses are causing displacement – and folks are getting displaced further east.

        • Cora,

          It isn’t what is being built on the shrinking pool of available land, it’s that the pool of available land is shrinking while demand remains strong. If you mandate that the remaining land cannot be used for dense housing you would end up with higher prices, because fewer large units can be built on the same footprint than smaller units. (I realize this is obvious to you, too).

          The only way to achieve what you want — housing large enough to accommodate families with children of modest means — is to subsidize its construction, and in the current political climate that will not happen.

          • 2 – 2000 sq ft houses are not as “dense” as 4 500 sq foot cottages. They just take up more visual space.

            • Four 500sf cottages are not what I had in mind when I said “dense housing”. While there is a nascent fashion for really tiny houses which can fit a little yard into a 1000 square feet, to meet the demand for in-city living there are going to have to be more three and four story buildings with 1 for 3 parking along Max lines.

              I read a post on Yahoo (yes, large dose of skepticism duly swallowed) that in 2015 Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be wound down completely. There will be no Federally backed long term mortgages.

              That means that MANY people who can get 30 year mortgages will no longer be able to do so. There will be ten and fifteen year terms available but only with 30 to 40 percent down. The market for larger housing is going to collapse taking lots of peoples’ accumulated wealth with it.

        • Cora, all of the cities I’m showing have positive growth in prices. But the rate of growth makes a huge difference. In Portland prices increased more than 47% from 2000 to 2010 as measured by the index. How many households saw their income increase 47% in that time? For those families that didn’t what difference does it make how big or small houses are, if they can’t afford it they can’t afford it.

          We could solve that with a massive government intervention including subsidies and sale restrictions that to my knowledge has no precedent in American history. The odds of that happening are…?

          Or, we could solve that by allowing housing construction to meet demand. Other cities have seen prices inflate at less than half the rate in Portland. A Dallas resident needed only a 17% raise to keep pace with housing costs between 2000 and 2010 instead of a Portlander’s 47% hurdle. That’s affordable housing.

          Plus, focusing on the type of new housing is misleading. When people choose housing they have access to existing homes, not just new construction. More than 85% of housing units in the city were built prior to 2000 or about 7 old homes for every new one. New housing structures may or may not appeal to folks at risk of displacement, but it doesn’t radically alter their choices. Unlike city wide price inflation driven by restrictions on new housing.

          • My point is housing construction is only meeting demand for people who earn at or more than the median income – even in the apartment sector.

            Truly affordable housing, in areas of opportunity, is not being built. What’s happening is we’re consolidating wealth in geographic areas and pushing folks that can’t afford to access those areas to the edges of the city where they can be ignored.

  18. As “traditional” neighborhoods become more attractive, they attract folks with more resources. Improve things in Lents, Foster and Cully, and watch out!
    PDC is required to spend 30% of URA dollars on affordable housing; I trust that is happening in Lents and Gateway both. Without public resources affordable housing is difficult at best. Requiring parking just drives up costs which will show up in rents. Affordable housing has been, traditionally, whatever housing is less desirable by quality, size or location. Best to look for solutions “up stream,” i.e. fund education and connect low income people to better jobs…they are out there.

    • Affordable housing development and preservation is happening in Lents and Gateway – in fact that’s about all that is reliably happening. However, a balance housing plan includes providing housing choice in all areas. And, one of the best “upstream” ways to give low income people access to better education opportunities and better jobs is to help them find housing in “opportunity areas” – like Irvington, Alameda, Sellwood, Sunnyside…et al.

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