North Portland Rising
"THE HOUSE across the street from Judge Finklea's rental on N Vancouver is 115 years old, but it might not reach 116. Local developer Lane Lowry bought the property for $551,000 last August. He plans to raze the home and detached garage on the double lot and replace the buildings with 54 market-rate apartment units"
The Portland Mercury reports that developers plan to raze a unique historic home to create "market-rate" apartments. Put into plain, non-capitalist English, "market-rate" means this apartment complex will be yet another characterless, clap-board monolith with high rent.
The Portland Mercury interviewed a resident interested in preserving the historic home, Judge Finklea: "Finklea says Lowry doesn't care about preserving the Eliot neighborhood's integrity, and worries what the large apartment complex will do to the feel of the street he loves."
"People who move in and are living in apartments like that, they're not invested in the community," he says. "And the developer just wants to make more money, at the cost of those of us who've lived here and want to keep it the way it is.""
The developers behind this newly planned apartment complex care only about profit and not the NoPo community. The Mercury says these developers destroying our historic buildings to make apartments and condos are seeking to profit from all the newcomers moving into Portland.
"Developers and city planners say we need the increased density, while those seeing "old" Portland disappear are horrified by the skinny houses and apartments rising at a feverish pace as Portland scrambles to take advantage of a record-breaking stream of transplants. The Portland metro area's gained 600,000 people since 1995, and planners say hundreds of thousands more are on the way," says the Mercury.
Finklea wants to resist these developers and save the house. The Mercury reports how Finklea is working for this-
"...Finklea's set on saving that house. And he's among the first to take advantage of a new Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS) appeals process to block Lowry's plans—at least temporarily.
Under city code written decades ago, developers who wanted to demolish a single-family home and replace the structure with another home or apartment building weren't required to notify anyone. As long as the trade was straight across—one single-family home replacing another single-family home—or offered increased density, they just submitted an application, waited a mandatory 120 days, and received a permit once the city approved the project, according to Kareen Perkins, BDS' permitting services section manager.
In April, that changed. Now developers are required to notify neighbors living within a certain distance of a structure that's up for demolition, as well as staff at Restore Oregon—an organization committed to preserving historic buildings—and the Architectural Heritage Center.
"In the last few years, neighbors started becoming concerned about demolition, about the types of structures that were replacing the demolished houses, [and] what that did to neighborhood livability," Perkins says.
Now, after notifying the appropriate people, developers must wait 35 days before BDS will issue permits. If no one objects, the project begins. Finklea objected. In fact, he did more than that: He got the Eliot Neighborhood Association to object on his behalf—which saved him from having to pay the $1,318 appeal fee.
"If a neighborhood association files the appeal, city council picks up the tab," Perkins says. "When this code was enacted, Commissioner Amanda Fritz wanted to make sure there was a mechanism for people who couldn't afford the fee to be able to appeal."
Finklea's asking Lowry to let him buy or move the imperiled home. Lowry's not biting on either option—and he doesn't have to. City code doesn't require developers to accept either alternative, just wait it out for 60 more days.
"The house is rotten on the inside. Just because it was built 100 years ago doesn't mean it's worth saving," Lowry says. "This guy actually thinks he's helping, but it's irrational, because there's not a lot that can be done to block it."
Peggy Moretti, executive director of Restore Oregon, says developers who are eager to tear down and rebuild say that a lot.
"I can't tell you how many times we've heard a structure is too far gone, that it isn't worth saving," she says. "I've heard it hundreds of times and then seen those structures restored beautifully."
Moretti says the change BDS made to the demolition permitting process was needed and helpful, but in that stretch of N Vancouver, current zoning—and future zoning changes—encourage increased land prices, which, in turn, encourage developers to demolish and rebuild bigger and more expensive structures.
"But there's a way to do it without completely bulldozing what is there," she says.
Moretti says the city could implement design guidelines for infill projects to retain neighborhood character, or charge larger fees for dumping construction waste in landfills to make developers more mindful of what can be reused or repurposed. Right now, just 2 percent of a demolished home is usually salvaged, according to Restore Oregon.
Brandon Spencer-Hartle, Restore Oregon's senior field programs manager, says the city should take a "more nuanced" approach.
"As a community, we can't be so myopic in the way we value density at any cost," he says.
Lowry says he's tried to work with Finklea—offering to help build a community garden or make other neighborhood improvements—but that he's been met with resistance and hostility.
"He's not even a property owner; he's a renter with no money, no resources," Lowry says. "The area's just going to be up-zoned anyway, next year, and other property owners are waiting for that so they can redevelop. There will be eight-, 10-, 12-story apartments all around that area."
Lowry might not be so dismissive to NoPo residents like Finklea if the rest of the community supported what he's trying to do. It's disappointing to see Lowry discount Finklea because Finklea doesn't have money, so lets show Lowry the power of the people is greater than money.
Who has more claim on our community- residents or capitalists? Do you live in an apartment to make someone rich or because you need a place to live? Human beings need a place to live. This should be a right. It's a right you won't have if you don't fight for it and get involved.
It's worth fighting for. If you can't afford rent, you become homeless. Expensive housing displaces people and exposing them to the risk of homelessness. There are lots of people here who complain about all our homeless people, while they profit off of real-estate. It' hypocritical.
We should show Finklea that when we organize as a community, money-power and capitalism cannot win.
I'd now like to bring up the issue rent control. I think this is the most effective measure to fight the developers and landlords. We can still try to change the city ordinance about rent control. We don't have to live without it. I don't think it's a lost cause.
Capitalists profiting off people moving into our area should have limits to how much money they can earn. Population increase is driving up our rent because of developers like Lowry who see Portland as a cash cow and not the home and community of many people. We deserve affordable housing. We had that 15 years ago. We deserve to see our community remain as it have been- the beautiful, weird place we cherish.
The Whoregonian recently had an article about the rent control law imposed in 1985. Former City Council member, Nick Caleb, is quoted in the article, telling Portland residents to not give up on rent control and to get involved in the political system to change this law.
This is the entire article, from The Oregonian this past March-
"Thirty years on, activists say it's time to undo Oregon's prohibition of rent control."
"Portland is a city that seems to be building apartment complexes all over town, yet the vacancy rate remains one of the lowest in the country and rents are rising faster than most other cities.
It's a combination of factors that puts a squeeze on renters with modest incomes, including those who gathered Wednesday evening for what was billed as a Rent Control Town Hall in downtown's First Congregational Church.
The situation amounts to a crisis for the working class, who are "not part of the conversation in our own city," said Melissa Vollono of Socialist Alternative, one of the organizers.
A 1985 law passed by the Oregon Legislature prohibits cities and counties from enacting rent controls.
The law, introduced to the Oregon House at the request of the Oregon Multifamily Housing Council, the Oregon State Homebuilders Association, the Oregon Association of Realtors, the Oregon Mobilehome Park Association, the Affiliated Rental Housing Association and the Oregon League of Financial Institutions, "has a racist subtext a mile wide," said Gerry Mohr, another organizer of Wednesday night's gathering.
He said the absence of ways to keep the city affordable to people of all income levels has made Portland's close-in neighborhoods the exclusive domain of the "high-earning elite."
Earlier this month, Zillow published a survey of the cities with the fastest-rising rents. Portland ranked seventh, with a year-over-year gain of 7.0 percent, more than twice the national average. The city's median rent, the real estate analytics company reported, was $1,587.
Zillow noted that, while rental increases are not always worrisome, it's troubling now that, on average, the cost burden of renting has risen to be about the same as the burden of owning.
"What's worrisome is that income growth has not kept pace with growth in rents," the company noted. "Since 2000, rents have grown at roughly twice the pace of wages, and as a result, the share of income necessary to afford typical rents in an area is rising."
For those who spoke at the Rent Control Town Hall, this is old news.
"Rent control in the right way would work," said Mohr. "This is an emergency."
"Go to the political system," urged Nick Caleb, a lawyer and former City Council candidate. "Be audacious."
-- Mike Francis
The exact wording of the law from 1985, ORS 91.225 (1) says-
"The Legislative Assembly finds that there is a social and economic need to insure an adequate supply of affordable housing for Oregonians. The Legislative Assembly also finds that the imposition of general restrictions on housing rents will disrupt an orderly housing market, increase deferred maintenance of existing housing stock, lead to abandonment of existing rental units and create a property tax shift from rental-owned to owner-occupied housing. Therefore, the Legislative Assembly declares that the imposition of rent control on housing in the State of Oregon is a matter of statewide concern." -
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