Rescued pianos on Portland streets

Cat

“Cat” — by designer: Blaine Fontana

Rescued pianos are coming back to life on the streets of Portand, put back in public cirulation by Piano! Push! Play!, an organization that is on on a mission to “make pianos available to anyone who wants to play them.”

At Portland’s Salmon Street Springs Fountain, one of the recovered instruments (boldly labeled “PIANO” on its backside) had a steady stream of players late Tuesday afternoon.

Dani McGraw, 13, of Oregon City,  sat down confidently and began playing, though not without a few stumbles, which she played right through. Her mom, Laura, said Dani had been taking music lessons for six years and added, “She loves it.”

Fanny

“Fanny” — by designer: Nemo Design (Brian Nally)

Kristen Timmons, of Milwaukie, said her daughters, Kinsley, 3, and Teegan, 7, had to wait for their turn because it was so busy. While neither is taking music lessons yet, exposure to the piano and a neighboring guitar player might have sparked some interest, Timmons said.

Yoshi Christner, of Portland, pedaled up to the piano with his dog, Blueberry, who listened to a short recital from a front basket and after, a little applause from onlookers, off they they went.

To find out more about the Piano! Push! Play! project, click here.

The original article can be found HERE on The Oregonian’s website.

 

Deconstructing Portland’s Old homes

demoPortland’s City Council has given the go-ahead on a measure requiring contractors who demolish homes built before 1916 to fully deconstruct them.

The idea is that the materials become available for reuse, as opposed to simply thrown in the landfill.

The Council approved the measure unanimously. Portland is the nation’s first to pass such a rule.

More than 300 single-family homes are demolished each year, according to Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

“By keeping valuable materials out of the landfill, we ensure the least amount of impact on the environment and neighbors,” said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, in a release. “Deconstruction reduces our carbon footprint, prevents harmful air pollution caused by demolition and creates good, family wage jobs.”

Contractors who demolish houses deconstruct them less than 10 percent of the time in Portland. About one-third of single-family demolitions would be subject to the requirement, which takes effect Oct. 31.

The city’s efforts would divert an estimated 8 million pounds from landfills.

Earth Advantage and the Building Material Reuse Association will offer training and certification in deconstruction beginning July 18.

The original article can be found HERE on Portland Business Journal’s website

Shipping Containers are coming to PDX

adu 1What once may have hauled everything from new sneakers to smartphones across the seas and across the country could now be part of the answer to Portland’s housing state of emergency.

At least that’s how Montana-based Montainer Inc. is in part positioning its entry into the Portland market next week. The company, which is headquartered in Missoula, revamps old shipping containers into Accessory Dwelling Units. Decked out with utilities, appliances, a range of finishes and design accents, the units are manufactured in Montana and then delivered and installed to homeowner sites across the U.S.

Montainer plans to officially launch in the Portland market with a demo installation event in Pioneer Square that runs from June 28 through July 2. The company sees its offerings as part of the solution to the Rose City’s increasingly tight and expensive housing market. According to “independent research” cited by the company, Portland has more than 100,000 backyards that are zoned to accept ADUs.adu 2

“We see each of these backyards as a vacant lot, with the potential to add much needed housing for the city,” said Montainer co-founder and CEO, Patrick Collins, in a release. “We are empowering individual homeowners with a streamlined way to add an ADU to their backyard, and in essence, become micro developers who can collectively make a real dent in rising housing costs.”

The company offers a range of different configurations and has a design team that works with individuals to customize their units. Prices vary, but sample configurations on the Montainer website range from a 160-square-foot unit that would cost between $60,000 and $105,000 to build and install to a 1,000-square-foot configuration that could top $325,000 to build and install.

The original article can be found HERE on the Portland Business Journal’s website.

Millennials love Portland!

2015-06-24-035557-750xx4457-2507-0-472When it comes to their perfect city, a majority of millennials want a thriving job market, affordable rent and home prices, lots of parks and hiking trails, non-chain restaurants and, of all things, quality pizza.

So say the folks at apartment rental company Abodo, which recently released t he results of a survey that shows which U.S. cities are most ideal to millennials. Coming in at No. 4 on the list: Portland.

Adobo surveyed 2,000 millennials in its survey and found that much of what those born between 1982 and 1998 find attractive in cities can be found right here in Portland. In addition to a hot job scene and (relatively) affordable rent, other most-desired features in a city included movie theaters, top-notch public schools, walkability, ethnic food and sustainability. The survey identified 20 attractive qualities in all, and while Portland has about 90 percent of the qualities most attractive to millennials, it does lack a few. Among those: highly-rated public schools and walkability.

The original article can be found HERE on the Portland Business Journal website.

Portland forecloses on the first of many “zombie houses”

The abandoned house at 8515-8517 N. Portsmouth Ave. has sparked complain00003549420637ts from neighbors for 24 years. Its owner has violated multiple city codes over the past five years and racked up more than $66,000 in liens. But its days as a nuisance are coming to an end.

Last week, the Portland City Council unanimously voted to start foreclosing on five abandoned homes and approved new codes to make it easier to force sales of homes with mounting unpaid liens. The five that made the cut were considered “the worst of the worst” of the city’s more than 400 abandoned homes, says Sarah Landis, the chief deputy city auditor.

Along with the Portsmouth house, the city plans to foreclose on homes at 4112-4118 S.E. 91st Ave., 15803 S.E. Powell Blvd., 7101 N.E. Prescott St. and 9120 N. Tioga St.

All five are part of the Bureau of Development Services’ Extremely Distressed Properties Enforcement Program. Together, these five properties carry a total of 37 liens worth $378,291, Landis says. Much of that owed money is the result of unpaid nuisance violations.

The code changes should help the city get a handle on a longstanding problem that has distressed neighbors and confounded city officials for years. Many owners are neglecting their homes, attracting squatters and other illegal activities, at a time when Portland faces a severe housing shortage. By using its powers of foreclosure, the city can sell the homes, earning funds to pay off unpaid liens and get the homes back into productive use.

“The foreclosure process will not be a quick fix nor will it be appropriate for every blighted property with delinquent liens,” Landis says.

However, it’s a start. The city has been reluctant to use the foreclosure process since the last foreclosure was bungled in 1965.

“It’s an outrage that houses are unoccupied and falling apart in a city where the housing prices went up faster than anywhere in the country last year — 11 percent — and where people are desperate to find housing,” says Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.

Until now, city code allowed the property to be sold for no more than the total of liens and collection costs. That means a property potentially would sell for a tiny fraction of its value, Landis says. The new code allows the city to sell the home for its true market value.

A second code change will allow the city treasurer to recoup city costs of conducting the sale.

In order for a property to have these new laws applied, it will have to be vacant, abandoned and have a long list of violations and unresponsive owners, Hales says.

The City Auditor’s Office will select the homes for foreclosure. The list is then approved by the City Council and given to the city treasurer to start conducting a foreclosure sale.

Even after the foreclosure process has begun, property owners will have a grace period in which they can pay off their liens and reclaim their properties.

“We want the property owners to get the message and fix them before we foreclose,” Hales says.

The entire article can be found HERE on the Portland Tribune’s website.

 

The history of the bungalow

lead_960 (1)All around the country, people in communities of many ages—from colonial Boston to postwar Minneapolis—tell similar, virtuous narratives about how their neighborhoods were built. These narratives, in turn, set powerful assumptions about what an affordable, friendly neighborhood can and should look like. Recently, a columnist in Seattle Magazine laid out his version of the story as he argued that housing just isn’t what it used to be. “In a rapidly growing city where the haves have more and the have-nots are being squeezed out, the bungalows offer a lesson we ought to relearn,” he wrote, adding that those early 20th century bungalows “reflect a lack of materialism, housing built not for profit, but for living in.” He wanted his city “to find a way to get back to those values.”

This represents what one might call the “immaculate-conception theory” of development. It holds that unlike the homes constructed today, older housing was built the right way—modestly and without an eye for profit. These older values, in turn, imply the faults of modern buildings: gaudy and wasteful, disruptive to existing communities, and motivated only by money.

The problem with the immaculate-conception theory is that, like parents swearing that they would never have behaved the way their kids do, it is conveniently forgetful about what actually happened in the past. Taking, just as an example, the kind of housing that this theory romanticizes—the early 20th century bungalow boom—a closer look reveals that it was defined not by mass affordability, efficiency, and respect for traditional communities, but something very nearly the opposite.

To begin with, many of the arbiters of taste of the bungalow era believed those new bungalow neighborhoods “ruined” the character of the places they were built, just as new apartment buildings are maligned today. They even had a snappy put-down for it: “bungalow disease.” “Tradition has broken down,” wrote the British planner Thomas Sharp, describing a proliferation of bungalows on both sides of the Atlantic, and “taste is utterly debased … The old trees and hedgerows … have given place to concrete posts and avenues of telegraph poles, to hoardings and enamel advertising signs.” Architectural Record reviewed Seattle’s building boom in 1912 and, in an otherwise positive article, pronounced the quality of its new homes “disappointing.”

Critics accused the new bungalow neighborhoods not just of being ugly, but of ripping apart the social fabric of the city. One writer argued that in new neighborhoods full of many separate houses, “each building is treated in isolation, nothing binds it to the next one,” and as a result they lacked an “essential” “togetherness.” Another pointed out that the rise of bungalow neighborhoods coincided with the rise of decentralized business districts, as these sprawling areas—bungalows took up much more space per person than either the more modest single-family homes or apartment buildings that had come before—encouraged outlying commercial development and car ownership.

Far from being based on an ethic of efficiency and conservation, early-1900s bungalows represented a dramatic leap to neighborhoods that required higher energy consumption than ever before. This was true, first of all, because bungalows tended to be much larger than existing homes. While Seattle Magazinemarvels that one 1910 bungalow was just 1,600 square feet, the average home size at the time was closer to 1,000 square feet—making the 60-percent-larger home look like a McMansion. In addition, many of these new single-family-home neighborhoods, which were built much further from job centers and at much lower densities than older communities, were enabled by the boom in energy-consuming automobiles, and encouraged their use. By the 1920s, one in every two American families had a car—a figure that was much higher in bungalow neighborhoods—and public transit began losing many of its customers to driving. In the same decade, suburban population growth outpaced that of cities for the first time ever.

Finally, the idea that bungalows represented a housing type that was affordable and open to all—and an ethic that valued community instead of money—simply doesn’t describe actual American cities in the 1910s or ‘20s. Home prices in the 1920s were rising rapidly, leading many people to talk about a housing crisis in terms not so terribly different from today’s. But as Gail Radford describes in her book Modern Housing for America, bungalows weren’t holding the line on cheap homes: In many cases, they represented the luxury housing of their day. Bungalows were so much more expensive than the more modest homes that had preceded them that while the overall cost of living increased by about a factor of two between the 1890s and 1920s, the cost of an entry-level home had increased by a factor of five and a half. Even before the economic crash of 1929, there was a growing foreclosure crisis, strongly suggesting that “housing costs were simply too high in relation to incomes for many families.”

Moreover, the bungalow era coincided with the development of zoning codes—codes that were essential, in fact, to preserving many bungalow neighborhoods’ all-single-family character. The people who advocated for these zoning codes did so by explicitly arguing that they were needed to protect the property values of homeowners and other landowners. In other words, the denizens of the early 20th century cared so much about their houses as a financial investments that they invented an entire new regulatory infrastructure to ensure that they wouldn’t lose their value.

And of course, “not losing their value” was very closely tied to excluding any kinds of people who might threaten the neighborhood’s desirability. It’s impossible to talk about the development of urban American neighborhoods in the early 20th century without acknowledging that this was the period in which modern residential racial segregation emerged—a system of exclusion enforced by covenants, zoning, and violence carried out by the residents of all kinds of neighborhoods. This isn’t some separate issue from how those who were excluding, rather than excluded, built their homes and communities: It’s an integral part of the story, without which those bungalow neighborhoods may have looked quite different.

Why have we forgotten all of this? Partly because all the people in these stories are gone. We can’t see the developers laying roads and streetcar tracks to open up huge new areas for subdivisions; we can’t see the disproportionately wealthy people who were able to buy homes when required down payments routinely hit 50 percent. We can’t talk to the people who remember, and miss, what existed in these places before bungalows. All that’s left are the buildings, which over the years have lost their sheen of newness, often becoming more affordable in the process, and allowing us to imagine our own stories about where they came from.

The point here is not that bungalows are bad. Given what has happened in the intervening century, a return to bungalow-scale living would be a huge win for sustainability and efficient living in the many postwar suburbs and neighborhoods where homes have ballooned to much larger sizes, and development has become much more sprawling. In many urban communities, bungalows today represent a prized architectural tradition, and a form of single-family home that fits neatly into the kind of mixed urban neighborhood—along with small apartment buildings and local shopping districts—that has long since been made illegal.

But there are important lessons to be learned by looking at what the bungalow era actually looked like, rather than our romantic imagination of it.

One is that everything old was once new, and new things often provoke a backlash. We ought to be humble in believing that our opinions represent some timeless, objective truth, looking backwards or forwards. The same bungalows that seem to us quaint and charming were tacky and soulless to many of the people watching them be built; it seems more than possible that the new apartment buildings we vilify today will be thought of sentimentally by future generations who know them only as an important part of their city since they were born.

A second lesson is that American cities have an impressive history of growing to accommodate new arrivals. What’s frequently left out of immaculate-conception stories is that the bungalow era was also the fastest period of urbanization in American history: Between 1900 and 1930, Seattle’s population grew more than fourfold, from 80,000 to over 360,000—a rate of growth approached or exceeded by many other American cities at the time. In the process, millions of rural Americans and immigrants were given the opportunity to live in newly industrializing cities where wages and quality of life were dramatically higher. Today, most of our cities have shut the door on that kind of growth. (Seattle’s growth rate today, while much higher than many other central cities, pales in comparison to the bungalow era many yearn to return to.) As a result, our doors are no longer open to as many people, from this country and others, who would like to make better lives by moving to places where job openings and quality of life are high.

Finally, the bungalow era suggests that building new market-rate housing that’s affordable to working-class and low-income people in urban areas is hard, especially if that housing takes the form of single-family homes. And it’s worse today: While the bungalow builders had the advantage of lots of open land relatively close to center cities, today, that “frontier” has closed. And we’re well aware of the costs—environmental, social, and financial—of continuing to push all of our growth out further and further onto the fringe.

Rather, the deeply affordable and decent homes of the bungalow era were largely in multifamily buildings. It’s curious that, though more than four in 10 of the homes built in the 1920s were in apartment buildings, that kind of construction—and those kinds of people—are entirely absent from romantic musings about the time. But they were a crucial source of urban accommodations for people of modest incomes. As the Sightline Institute has pointed out, rooming houses and other small, multifamily homes made up a huge proportion of the affordable housing stock in cities around the country in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, a combination of regulations and market conditions has virtually eliminated that stock in most places. In order to return to something the 1910s and 20s got right, bringing back modestly-sized homes in multifamily buildings is a good place to start.

The past does have lessons—but we have to look at it as it really was, and not through rose-colored glasses, if we want to get them right.

The original article can be found HERE on The Atlantic’s website

The city of Portland wants YOUR input on housing issues

28th-and-belmont-demophoto-christopher-wilson-750xx1406-791-0-205Portlanders down over demolition in the city’s neighborhoods will be able to share their laments and ideas with the city during a series of open houses throughout the summer.

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Residential Infill Project and a stakeholder advisory committee are currently exploring different ways to tweak the city’s zoning rules to help set the stage for future growth and development in the metro region. Areas under consideration and looked at in draft proposals include everything from demolition, which has become a contentious issue in the city’s neighborhoods, to accessory dwelling units, types of housing and the size of new homes.

Looking to capture community feedback on the issues, BPS is staging a series of open houses this summer, along with an online questionnaire that people can use to offer feedback between now and Aug. 15. The bureau maintains an ongoing online open house, as well.

The project kicked off last week with an open house at the Multnomah Art Center, which drew about 100 people. Five more open houses are scheduled for later this month and in July, with the next one set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, at Tabor Space, 5441 S.E. Belmont St.

According to BPS, staff will use the input it gathers over the summer to “refine proposals for City Council to consider in the fall.” After the council offers its direction, BPS staff will draft changes to the city’s Zoning Code rules, which could be adopted by the fall of 2017.

More information on the process can be found on the city’s Residential Infill Project page.

The original article can be found HERE on the Portland Business Journal’s website