Bus Tour Newsletter #22 – July 2022

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Did you know that the last week of June was Middle Housing Week? 

So, what is “middle housing,” anyway? The term “missing middle housing” was coined by the author, David Parolek, in 2010 and includes buildings such as duplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters, and courtyard buildings, which have typically been illegal to build since the mid-1940s.

Increasing housing choice, such as legalizing middle housing, is an important part of fair housing because it allows for people of all incomes to afford and have access to live in neighborhoods with more opportunity. Middle housing can help increase the housing supply, create more affordable housing options, promote livable density and accessible amenities, and create more diverse housing options for residents. 

Policies that Promote Housing Choice

To increase the housing supply and address housing affordability issues in Oregon, House Bill 2001 was passed in 2019. HB 2001 requires Oregon’s medium-sized cities to allow duplexes on each lot or parcel zoned for residential use that allows for the development of single-family homes as of June 30, 2021. It also requires Oregon’s largest cities (with populations over 25,000) and cities in the Portland Metro region to allow duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses in residential areas.

Passed in conjunction with HB 2001 in 2019, House Bill 2003 requires Oregon’s medium and large cities to study the future housing needs of their residents and to follow strategies to make sure the housing needed is produced. While HB 2001 reduces barriers to building affordable housing, HB 2003 promotes middle housing by requiring cities over 10,000 residents to create a housing production strategy within a year of assessing its residents’ needs.

On Aug. 1, 2021, the Residential Infill Project (RIP) went into effect in Portland, which includes the deeper affordability bonus and the historic resource demolition disincentive amendments. The second part of the Residential Infill Project (RIP2) addresses the expansion of housing types allowed in all residential zones that began with RIP Part 1, including Portland’s larger lots in outlying areas. It addresses outstanding mandates in HB 2001. It also provides density bonuses for affordable units, which allow for six and seven-plexes as well. In addition, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 458 in 2021, which allows lot divisions for middle housing that enable them to be sold or owned individually.

 

Diverse Housing Options for a Diversity of People 

People have different housing needs, so a diversity of housing types is required to meet those needs. There are various factors that affect someone’s housing needs, including income level, occupation, family size, and accessibility requirements. The lack of affordable housing in metropolitan areas has resulted in both racial and income-based segregation.

The first black and white photo shows small houses on the corner of NE 30th & Killingsworth in Portland in 1954. The one on the right is the same spot in the gentrification era. (Source: Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods)

Oftentimes, the communities with the least political power are the ones pushed out of major metropolitan areas. Until now, middle housing has been scattered throughout the Portland metro area, but with these new housing policies in place, there will be more housing options in higher opportunity areas for lower-income members of the community. 

One type of affordable dwelling that has disappeared over the years are single-room occupancy units (SROs). Also known as boarding or rooming houses, residents rent a furnished private bedroom with a shared kitchen and bathroom. It is estimated that one million SROs were lost between the 1970s to the 1990s. Many cities banned SROs with their zoning laws because they became associated with poverty and crime and were seen as a sign of urban decay and blight.

History of SROs in Portland

SROs began popping up in Portland around the early 1900s and in the post-WWII period when people from the South and Midwest – mainly young, able-bodied men – moved here for jobs. According to the nonprofit Northwest Pilot Project, between 1978 to 2015, downtown Portland lost almost 40% of its rentals – over 2,000 units – that were affordable to minimum wage workers, many of which were SROs. For the past 50 years, the landlords who owned SROs retired or sold them to developers who replaced them with homes, offices, or upscale hotels. 

SROs fill a gap in housing needs because they often house members of the community who face significant housing barriers and aren’t able to qualify for their own apartments. Having the option to live in an SRO unit can mean the difference between living on the street versus under a roof. This type of housing acts as a steppingstone for people until they find more substantial housing options available to them. SROs also provide a healthy living environment for people who need to take medication on a daily basis and improve public health by lowering the risk of unhoused individuals spreading viruses like COVID-19 on the street.

The Hotel Alder in downtown Portland is a five-story historic apartment building consisting of 99 single-room occupancy units operated by the nonprofit, Central City Concern. It is an alcohol- and drug-free community and all units are income and rent restricted, with some project-based Section 8 rent subsidized units available. (Source: Central City Concern)

Modern-Day SROs

In many cities, modern-day SROs are now being rebranded as micro-apartments and co-living spaces. SROs in the form of dormitories and other student housing are also still the main source of housing for students on a budget.

In Portland, SROs are making a comeback due to the city’s housing supply shortage:

 

 

Modern-Day SROs in Portland
  • In 2016 the city bureau bought the 69-unit Joyce Hotel for $4.2 million, making it a rare publicly owned SRO building. 
  • The city bought the Westwind Apartments, a 70-unit SRO building in Old Town Chinatown using $4 million from Multnomah County’s sale of Wapato Jail.
  • The city bureau contributed $4.5 million to the Findley Commons, a veterans housing project, run by the nonprofit Do Good Multnomah.
  • In addition, the city contributed to Cedar Commons, a $15 million Central City Concern 40-unit SRO development. 
  • Transition Projects is working on a development called LISAH, or Low-Income Single Adult Housing. Backed by the state and Metro, it includes 36 SRO units as well as 35 studio apartments in a separate building.

SROs are just one example of the various housing options needed to tackle the issue of density in Portland and other cities and towns throughout Oregon with limited growth boundaries. Single-family homes and luxury high-rise apartment buildings fall short when it comes to the needs of our residents, who are all at different stages of life and who have different lifestyles and varying income levels. Reviving the middle housing that has been missing from our communities is the first step to creating more housing affordability and equity for all. 

We want to hear from you

Is there a particular topic we discuss on the bus tour that you are interested in learning more about? Does your organization host events related to racial justice or other topics that come up on our bus tour? Email your events and ideas to information@fhco.org to have them included in our future newsletters. 

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