What's happening now


Formerly the home of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Portland Land Matters blog explores citywide land-use concerns, such as home demolitions, with the belief that development should create an improvement.

Monday, October 31, 2016

This round of testimony, see if you can spot the engineering

This Halloween, let the RIP rest in peace.
Remember the demo tax? I know, painful memories all around. The Home Builders Association—always against anything that cuts into profits, especially if it means retaining the well-built affordable housing we have around here—now brags that it harpooned the whole thing by recruiting a parade of people to clamor against it.

Dunno if they were paid actors, but I remember at the time scratching my head and wondering where all these suddenly passionate advocates of teardown construction were coming from. Turns out at least some weren't from Portland at all. There was, for example, the Esco engineer Clinton Wood, who opined long and hard about how he simply could not find any housing in Portland that fit his needs—this in a roomful of Portlanders who had somehow managed it.

The application for the award of "best government affairs effort" is full of inaccuracies, namely that Portland has very little available land (in fact, according to city officials, we have twice as much as we need to meet growth projections until 2035) and that the tax would restrict building affordable housing (now that the demo tax is long dead, we should have seen some of that elusive affordable housing already), but the meat of it is the great pains the HBA took to sway City Council with seemingly authentic voices from the ground level. In the HBA's words:
"Since Portland prides itself on being progressive, the HBA engineered a testimonial lineup that featured a leading housing/economics professor from Portland State University – the training ground for most of the city planners, an expectant mother seeking to tear-down her existing home and rebuild but could not afford an additional $25,000, a gay gentlemen [sic] who had recently adopted a son with his husband hoping to move their new family back into Portland but realized that the tax would hinder the chances of finding an affordable home, and an African-American retiree living in a rapidly gentrifying area of the city who understood that any tax would hinder the value of his “nest egg” and was not fair to him and other long-time residents that had seen that neighborhood through from the 'tail to the top.'"
As we approach testimony time for the latest HBA dream in the guise of the Residential Infill Project (or RIP), prepare for more gaming of the system and keep an ear out for flash recruits to the pro-demolition cause. Even better, be the honest voice of the Portland resident, and tell City Council what you think about the RIP recommendations that would exponentially increase demolitions and the uncontrolled release of hazardous materials, loss of tree canopy, and more.

Nancy Thorington (center) leads a city subcommittee that's
meant to address hazmat fallout during demolition. During this
early September meeting, however, she said "we can't" 16 times.
Until Portlanders see leadership more responsive to their needs instead of those of short-term and (usually) out-of-town investors, neighbor activists would do well to focus less on policy and more on ground-level actions that are making a difference. Look for a guide to teardown-proofing your block (coming soon), and keep distributing the neighbor pledge (at right margin and bottom of page here), keep demanding hazmat control at city meetings (right) and demolition sites, and keep making your voice heard, whether it's expressing concern over the scale and value of new construction in the neighborhood, educating would-be buyers about not letting their kids play in the dirt there or growing food (if mechanical demolition took place), and so on.

These guerrilla efforts are slowing sales, and reducing motivation to send to the landfill well-built unique housing that's served generations of Portlanders.