Monday, February 4, 2019

Even Portland, can't stop evictions of low income renters with "Smart Growth" Policies when they upzone.

Editor's Note: This is the type of "densification" that the Board of Supervisors and Plan Bay Area wants to do in Marin.  Do they expect we will experience different economic pressures and people will keep rents low? Do they think renters will not be evicted from developers seeking a quick profit?  The massive urbanization of Marin is a developer's dream. We will stop it. We will save Marin Again!

Affordable housing in Portland: No recourse for renters losing cheap apartments to infill development

joe clement.jpg
Joe Clement, 27, wants Portlanders to have an open, honest discussion about the city's role in protecting affordable housing and renters' rights. (Melissa Binder/The Oregonian)
Melissa Binder | By Melissa Binder | The Oregonian Email the author
on March 27, 2014 at 7:31 AM, updated March 27, 2014 at 8:12 PM

For 15 years Linnette Horrell watched Sellwood change.
Coffee shops cropped up, a library was built, New Seasons moved in, and housing prices increased. Developers purchased old homes, demolished them, and built new ones.
Until recently Horrell’s apartment building was an anomaly: Low month-to-month rent that rarely rose in a close-in, desirable neighborhood. Within the last year, however, the building has become representative of two major issues facing the broader Portland area: Infill development and the loss of affordable housing.
lambert apartment.jpg1208 S.E. Lambert St.
Horrell lived at 1208 S.E. Lambert St., a drab beige 1905 house divided into five rental units. She and other rentersmpaid less than $600 a month for one-bedroom apartments. The house has a large front porch, but no seating. The backyard is plotted with the tenants’ gardens.

Horrell suspects rent stayed low because the property managers, who did not respond to a request for comment, were familiar with their tenants.

“They were very hands-on managers,” she said. “They knew you, they knew your personality, they knew your living style.”

The property sold for $600,000 last June to Dilusso Homes, and in February the city approved the developer’s proposal to split it into four lots with four houses. The land beneath the house totals 10,000 square feet and is zoned as R2.5, which means it can be broken into separate lots as small as 2,500 square feet.
The new lots will be only 25 feet wide on a block with lots twice as large. Regardless of their design, the new homes are likely to be skinny compared to the surrounding neighborhood. Neighbors fought the lot split on the basis of potential tree loss and traffic hazards but failed to block the changes.
Dilusso Homes has not responded to questions, despite initially agreeing to do so.

Tenants received 60-day notices to move out Saturday. Horrell had already moved, figuring eviction was inevitable.
“It took me a long time to come to terms with leaving,” she said. “I had never lived anywhere but Southeast in Portland. In Sellwood you had this sense of living in a small community, and that was hard to give up.”

Another tenant, Joe Clement, has held out. The 27-year-old said he loves the apartment, but sees how others might view it as “kind of a dump.” There are no laundry facilities in the building, and the brown shag carpet likely dates to the 1970s.
Clement and neighbor Noah Jenkins, who also hasn’t left yet, said they’re frustrated by rising rents citywide and the ongoing displacement of poorer people and families to the city’s fringe.

“It's a positive thing to have people from all different strata living amongst each other,” said Jenkins, 41. 

The urban core is increasingly becoming a “playground” for the well educated and well off, while the fringes of Portland are almost indistinguishable from neglected areas of other cities, said Jonathan Ostar, executive director of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, a non-profit that advocates for low-income communities in Portland.
rent by neighborhood graphic.jpg
“We’ve seen not just growing income inequality, but a tale of two cities,” he said.
People with low income are ideal urban dwellers, Jenkins said, because many don’t have cars, which means they use public transportation and shop close to home. Pushing low-income people out of inner Portland pushes them away from the services they depend on.
Displacement isn’t a problem unique to Portland. What is more unique to the City of Roses, Ostar said, is a culture that claims to value equality and fairness.

“People are attracted to Portland by a feeling of openness and genuineness,” he said. “It's not the fair, equitable, livable place that we sometimes pretend it is.”

Clement, 27, sees his impending eviction as an opportunity to raise big questions about renters’ rights.

The eviction of low-income tenants is “invisible in a lot of ways,” he said, because it happens on a case-by-case basis. Landlords raise rent, developers level old properties, and nobody outside the immediate area talks about it.

"It happens under the cloak of 'business as usual,’” he said.

Justin Buri, interim director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, said some cities require buyouts when a property owner makes tenants move for redevelopment. A buyout policy might not stop redevelopment, he said, but the money would at least help the tenants cover their moving costs.

Jenkins and Clement said they wish there was legal recourse to fight the razing of their home. Commissioner Amanda Fritz confirmed the absence of options in an email to Clement.

“Unfortunately, the State of Oregon forbids rent control, and values land ownership rights over tenants’ rights,” Fritz told Clement in an email. “There is no way for me to block the demolition permit. I wish I could give you better news.”

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the housing bureau, is working on two ideas he hopes will curb displacement and the loss of affordable housing.

The first, he said, is to offer a floor area ratio bonus as an incentive to include affordable units in new rental development. Under such a bonus program, developers would be allowed to construct larger buildings than the zoning code allows if they include affordable units. He said he hopes to present the idea to the City Council within six months.

The second idea is trickier, he said, but might be more effective at preventing displacement. He’d like to see half of all units in any project in which the city has invested money be reserved for residents who already live in the neighborhood.
Other city efforts
Commissioner Dan Saltzman has requested $3 million in general funds to invest in affordable housing near good schools and transportation. The housing bureau would prioritize acquiring and rehabilitating existing housing rather than building new units, he said, because doing so is more cost effective.
The housing bureau also has $10.3 million in available funds for new construction and rehabilitation projects. The bureau will announce winning projects in June.
“I’ve also been having conversations with private developers, just to make sure… they’re familiar with the incentive programs we already offer,” he said.

The city is limited in its efforts to preserve and provide housing affordable for those living on 60 to 80 percent of the median income, much less those living on even more finite resources. According to the federal government, the 2014 median income in the Portland area is $48,580 for an individual. For a family of four it is $69,400.

Within most urban renewal areas, Portland designates an average minimum of 30 percent of government spending go to affordable housing. Urban renewal districts are areas in which the city can use tax increment financing to stimulate economic growth or pay for physical improvements.

But Sellwood doesn’t benefit from that policy, and neither does roughly 90 percent of Portland.

Oregon is reportedly one of only two states that bans mandatory inclusionary zoning, which further limits the city’s power to maintain a mix of housing options. The policy allows local governments to set rules requiring developers to build affordable units in larger projects.

That’s an issue Ostar, from OPAL, cares deeply about. Inclusionary zoning isn’t a “magic bullet,” he said, but it is the most effective anti-displacement tool.
(READ: Why the lobbyist behind the inclusionary zoning ban still thinks it’s a good idea)

Neither inclusionary zoning nor one of Saltzman’s ideas would likely help Clement, Jenkins and other renters at 1208 S.E. Lambert St. Their situation is a reminder that infill -- or in this case, what planners sometimes refer to as “refill” -- and affordable housing are intertwined. But proactive policies could help tenants in their position find other low-rent apartments in close-in neighborhoods.

Jenkins said he and his wife, Lora, might consider purchasing a house. If a decent apartment is going to cost roughly $1,200 a month, he said, he might as well pay a mortgage.

Horrell moved to Bethany, an unincorporated area of Washington County north of Beaverton. Even so far out, the 66-year-old pays twice as much for rent as she paid in Sellwood. She misses the urban feel of her old neighborhood, and sometimes spends an hour getting home from her job downtown via light rail and bus. But ultimately, she’s happy. She felt stuck in Sellwood, and impending eviction forced her to make changes. She’s closer to her daughter and lives in a much nicer unit.

She hopes the other tenants are as fortunate, she said. Change isn’t always welcome, but sometimes it’s for the best.
-- Melissa Binder

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