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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bunkers for Buckman

The corner of SE 20th and Morrison in Portland has been targeted for high-rise apartments for many years now. On the southeast corner, they threw up a condo bunker several years ago that remains to this day sadly misplaced, and homely as all get-out. On the northeast corner, which was owned by Multnomah County, they were all set to start the condo-izing when somebody noticed there was a historic Chinese graveyard on the site; Plan B is to turn the lot into a memorial park, some day.

Now there's new action on the northwest corner, for many years the site of a recording studio. The guy who recently defiled Irvington with a ghastly monstrosity of an apartment building is going to erect two of his bunkers -- one four stories tall, the other three -- with 71 apartments and only 12 or 15 parking spaces, depending on which account one reads. He's agreed to put a fake brick facade on the bigger of the two buildings, and apparently that's all it takes to keep the neighbors from putting up too much fuss. Coming in with a project that's just slightly less hideous than the most recent, rejected proposal for a site seems to be a successful modus operandi for him.

The developers keep playing stack-a-shack in Buckman. Just around the corner on Belmont is Homer Williams's failed, utterly out-of-place condo bunker, which when last we looked had to be turned into rental apartments. With no place to park and no good jobs nearby, the area is the perfect place for more young people to go to retire.

Somebody's reportedly trying to get historic district designation for the neighborhood. They'd better hurry while there's still something historic to designate.

Comments (31)

Have the developers committed to adding park space in the nearby neighborhood?

If not, it's just another degradation of the neighborhood.

That looks better than most, as some thought has been given to architectually fitting into the existing neighborhood, unlike the appallingly crappy bunkers at 26th & Division and 38th & Division (both on the southeast corners. The latter was built on the promise that it would architectually 'fit' into the neighborhood. Plus, it added 26 new units and not one single parking space. In my humble opinion, the developer should be arrested, tried and imprisoned for fraud.

Someone should really do a piece on the vacant vandalized blocks of rat traps they're trying to patch up on Prescott and MLK.

I was amazed when they started tearing them apart to realize NO ONE has lived in that government housing for years.

Who will tell us a true vacancy rate in this town?

That looks better than most, as some thought has been given to architectually fitting into the existing neighborhood, unlike the appallingly crappy bunkers at 26th & Division and 38th & Division (both on the southeast corners.

And it's only looks - as Jack pointed out, the brick facades are often just that. Look closer in, or at the rear of the units, and the wood frame and particle board construction is evident.

And I'm wondering: This is just anecdotal on my part, but I've seen a lot of these 3-4-5 story units around Portland that around 5-10 years of age have to have the siding torn off and replaced. It's a long enough period to be out of warranty, but still early enough that no reasonable person would have expected refinishing to be necessary yet, or even to be looking for any problems developing. I suppose that condos have a higher turnover rate, and buyer's inspectors are catching the problems when a transaction occurs - so maybe it's just a trend in all construction that just hasn't been caught yet in single family houses because of the lower turnover rate. Anyone else notice this, or have any statistics to offer?

Isn't Buckman the center of Portland's liberal strength?

That area is the center of support for Metro's wall and think they are doing their duty to save farmland for growing potted plants instead of giving people living space.


Anything will "fit" into an existing neighborhood once it's made ugly. Portland is being cut over and over again with a penknife.

Isn't Buckman the center of Portland's liberal strength?

Well, it does have the most heroin addicts.

Amen to that. Junkies galore.

In defense of the Poor & Downtrodden:
Ya know, this area is not ritzy. Has never been ritzy. It's just a fact. The building they're talking about taking down is not pretty, not well maintained, and of dubious (no) historical distinction (discernable to me anyway).

SO What is this evil developer going to do? Put up affordable apartments (shudder).

They COULD be prettier. Just look at The Pearl. Lots of pretty buildings. Some have even one prizes. Studio apartment $1300+.

The point is, if you want to make affordable apartments, you build in an area where the land isn't that expensive, where there aren't a lot of restrictions, and where fairly plain but clean/well maintained units will be valued. This is a far better alternative than have the City attempt to develop low income housing (at absurd development cost).

SE Morrison and 20th is a great location at a reasonable price for a lot of people.

I'm not a developer and never have been, but as a landlord, I hear people who bemoan the high rents in Portland because of the tight supply. If honest developers are trying to build fairly ordinary apartments and are stifled by architectural and other Portland-ish snobbery, we'll be left in the mire we deserve.

Or maybe if you already have somewhere affordable to live, you'll be fine. People without a lot of money will have to commute from Gresham.

Four stories, no parking -- it doesn't have to be that way.

I agree no parking blows. BUT... they could not build apartments at all if they had to provide adequate parking given the current codes and zoning. Building underground parking (Where else would it go) would probably add a million bucks to the cost of development. It's just an expensive thing to do. The city doesn't like surface parking and likes above ground garages even less. It's really a choice between no new apartments at all or apartments with inadequate parking. That's the economics of it right now. If it were permissible to develop large above ground parking that could be shared by several buildings, that might make $ sense. But that ain't happening. "Not on my block."

Max is correct on all points. If COP and neighborhoods want good looking (taste is personal) residential construction, AND affordable housing, something has to give. In order to make new construction affordable, the city needs to allow builders some latitude to create efficient, well-built spaces.

Sufficient parking is a political issue as much as a space issue. As Max said, the COP does not like surface or above-ground parking which are both cheaper than underground. Pdx is run by people with champagne tastes who then bemoan that those with beer budgets can't afford to live there. Low income housing costs about 2-4x what normal multifamily construction costs and is not at all affordable without massive public subsidies. How illogical is this? Use the standard building codes and allow builders to create housing that real people can appreciate and afford.

To John Rettig -- some of the problems are because of bad design. Many architects these days opt for aesthetics over practicality and don't really understand how to properly waterproof a building. The contractors following an architect's specifications don't have too much of a choice if the owner and lead architect insist on following the plans. Water intrusion is the biggest problem with new construction - especially on the condos around town. I wonder how many architects actually have any construction background? It should be a requirement to be licensed. There is a lot of litigation these days around who is to blame for the construction defects. General Contractors have to warrant their construction for 10 years, so they work hard to make sure they do it right. Sometimes it is difficult to determine just why a building leaks.

For my part, I will never use OSB or particle board on an exterior or structural element of any building I own. The minute that stuff gets wet, it acts like a sponge and swells with moisture. When it dries it is deformed and subject to rot. My advice is to stick to plywood. That is one thing I would change about the building codes. It may work in drier climates, but not in Western Oregon.

Nolo, why does low income housing cost more than normal housing? (I know it costs more in practice; cf. the proposed replacement of the Hillsdale project for $400,000/unit, but not why it costs more.) It would seem to me that the government could build or buy ordinary housing and then rent it to low-income households.

Jack's final sentence calls to mind John Betjeman's displeasure with the urban renewal at Slough, a suburb of London:

"Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough,
It isn't fit for humans now."

Rental supply wasn't quite so tight until the "condo craze" of just a few years ago convinced landlords they could convert any apartment building, vintage or 1970's crappy, off as condos. Seeing the before and after and knowing a bit about construction, I felt sorry for whoever bought some of them. The saying "lipstick on a pig" was hard to ignore.

It may not have a lot of parking, but it's smack (no drug pun intended) dab in the middle of a neighborhood where you're going to have the greatest number of people choosing to go without cars. It's an easy walk to amenities on Hawthorne, Belmont, Stark and Burnside, and pleasantly bikeable to points beyond. And it's right on the 15 Belmont line that is a pretty decent way to get to jobs downtown; I took that bus to my job downtown myself every day for a while there.

As for the look of it, well, it looks like an unremarkable new urban apartment building, one that is displacing an old version of the very same.

At least it has a vaguely classic look and isn't taking a stab at arbitrary geometric modernism, like some of the ones that have popped up nearby. Myself, I'd prefer for it to display even more of a classic look - they knew how to build apartments in the beaux arts period for instance - but then it would be pricier.

And if there's one thing that's needed in this town, it's decent, affordable rental housing.

Now of course if the plumbing sucks, the wiring is faulty, and the walls are thin, that's actual cause for serious complaint.

Otherwise, I don't see what the fuss is about. It looks like a building you'd find in a city. This is a city.

Affordable Housing as practiced by CoP/PDC is running about $400 per sq/ft. without land costs, as exhibited by Block 49 in SoWhat. That is more than double what builders can build 4/5 story buildings for without all the government involvement.

Affordable Housing has been taken over by non-profits in partnership with government. The administrative costs are exorbitant. Think of all the personnel shuffling papers, making speeches, attending meetings and not pounding one nail.

Then there is the policy that Affordable Housing should be placed in the most exclusive neighborhoods for "Equity"-like the Pearl and SoWhat. Smart developers like Homer buys the land early on foreseeing the coming of PDC and Non-Profits, then selling it back to government for two to five times their purchase price. Again as exhibited for Block 49 where in six months the Block went from $1.6 Million to $5 Million.

There is also the "Percentage Factor". The more entities involved in a project the more each like to take their 20% to 25% "profit" for shuffling papers. The layers are endless so Affordable Housing really becomes a paper shuffling endeavor and not an end product with a market based cost.

It is an embarrassment that the end users, the needy and taxpayers, are being used to create a culture of government/non-profits feeding off the Affordable Housing issue.

Even the old Soviet style apartment blocks were stylish compared to what gets built in PDX nowadays...

New band name?

Condo Bunker and the High Density Living

Ah, yes, the Soviet Panelak slab-apartment. All who love retro will love that.... maybe a huge Lenin statue out front? Or would Che not approve?

And "condo bunker and the high density living" is as sustainable and green as a Facebook high density computing data center, with a load of virtualization thrown in to boot!

Greenies of Portlandia, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your occupants!

But the big question is...will the building be easily defensible when the Zombies come?

The lack of parking is what bothers me. Note to the "livable" city. There are few quicker ways to make neighborhoods miserable than creating a horrible parking situations for blocks on end.

Make no mistake: the people in these apartments WILL own cars. They will park them wherever they fit around the neighborhood. Now if a PRIVATE developer is adding these cars, for their own PRIVATE profit, then why shouldn't they be required to address their own d*** parking needs on their own private property? Why does the community have to indirectly assume these costs for a private business person?

Max: "BUT... they could not build apartments at all if they had to provide adequate parking given the current codes and zoning."

I'm glad you acknowledge that it is inadequate. But actually, it does conform with current zoning, otherwise you couldn't build it. The city is not requiring parking for large new buildings in much of the city. Think about what the impact of that will be over the next 15 or 20 years.

Thank you, snards.

That impact will make you want to take mass transit anywhere that situation prevails. If the mass transit system still exists, that is.

I thought that was an acknowledged part of the ongoing conspiracy against the public.

Agree with Snards.

The city doesn't care about neighborhood impacts, the livability of those who live in the neighborhood or the livability of those who live in these apartments. What is it like to live in a place where after an evening out or coming home from work and tired and cannot find a parking spot? Difficult to invite friends over?

What about the surrounding neighborhood? Will the value of those homes change if this type of density is allowed?

In my opinion, this is about the city accommodating those who develop these, less cost and more profits and is done under the plans of the "behavior change motif" going on around here.

I heard that the city gets so much per each unit built? Is there anyone here who has information about that, or can verify?

I do know that infill housing gets the city more money. This is why the city promoted flag lots in some areas, an extra house or two to collect property taxes. Just another way for the city to rake in more money.

Snards makes a good point -- that this building with inadequate parking IS following Portland building standards and codes. Here's how it actually works: When you - the developer - goes to a builder or architect and starts working on the plans for a new building, parking requirements are a key focus. Parking (depending on the size of the building and the site) can be nearly half the cost.

The creators of The Code & Zoning requirements know this very well. So they will let you reduce those costs - reduce the number of spaces required - IF you do some things they think makes for good City planning. If you add bicycle storage you can reduce your parking spots. Ditto if you're close to bus/max lines. You do all you can to chisel away at the number of spaces required. Add a spot for shared cars. It's tough for a developer to say no to a plan that reduces cost at only a small decrease in return (and who - after all - is motivated to build these much needed apartments by profit and not altruism)

Pretty quickly you end up with a structure like this one. The City in its hopes/dreams/Politically motivated posturings imagines the alternative transport enhancements will attract people without cars or encourage them to forsake them. Or, at the very least, make car owners miserable enough to contemplate using public transport.

That's how it's supposed to work. The reality is just what everyone is saying here: Not enough parking!

Issac: Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you. Family dinner and all that.

"Affordable" housing has been divorced from market forces. The customer is conceivably the general public who foot the bill for housing units. Or it could be the tenants who eventually live in the housing. A classic point of view would have the taxpayers as the customers of public housing since they pay the bills through income and property taxes. Where the system goes awry is that the taxpayers are not in a position to choose which options they want to pay for and establish a value for [low income] housing units as they would in private markets.

Those who take the money, mostly government entities like HUD and the COP, have no incentive to hold down costs for housing.

Housing becomes secondary to other social goals like making sure projects have sustainable, eco-friendly features and other add-ons like Head Start classrooms, community policing offices, neighborhood network offices, health & wellness programs, child education programs, community kitchens, job training and free child care to name a few. Whatever one might think of these social programs, creating space for them on site takes money away from the goal of providing housing. Can all of these programs be housed elsewhere in the communities that serve low income people who do not live in public housing? Of course. Think of the number of people who could live in the square footage devoted to ancillary uses.

Architects have no incentive to create projects that are truly cost effective and will be easy to maintain in the future. I have spoken to many architects who have worked on these types of projects, and the attitude is, design comes first, cost second. Poor people should have the best of everything as it will elevate their standard of living and hence their future aspirations and motivation to do well. Really. As a group, they are taught that good design can cure all social ills. There is also a counter incentive to keeping the costs low as they get paid a percentage of the cost of the final project. And the attitude trickles through the process to include consultants, contractors, subcontractors, bureaucrats, NGO employees, everyone who makes their living off of serving the poor. It's just another industry that uses public dollars to survive and for some, to do quite well.

But who inside this system really cares? Like streetcars and light rail, cost doesn't matter if there is "free money" to pay for it all. Unlimited budgets. First create the plans/budget, then ask for the money whether or not the dollar amount makes any sense. Federal and local dollars are spent at every level to justify a bureaucracy that feels no responsibility to the taxpayer.

As an owner of multifamily housing, I can tell you that it is a crime that Hillsdale Terrace is being torn down. It was a fiasco that HAP built the project in a ravine in the first place, and a crime that neglect and mismanagement allowed it to deteriorate. However, it still has some value in the private housing sector. By tearing it down, HAP is throwing away several million dollars that an investor would pay to purchase it and rehab the buildings to rent out at market rate. And it would be profitable. Given Section 8 vouchers, those who live there now could live there until the next millennium under private ownership at less cost than HUD/HAP can provide. The $40M that HUD will spend on rebuilding Hillsdale Terrace could provide 400 Section 8 families with $500 monthly rental assistance for 20 years. Given that the private owner has an incentive to maintain their asset, operations and management will most likely be better than publicly-owned entities. Tragedy of the Commons.

The average price for existing apartments in the metro area is about $80K per unit. Many fine places can be purchased for less. Why don't public entities buy existing housing? There is no incentive to do so, and every reason not to. It just isn't their money.

I did a little research this evening and noticed that generally speaking, non-profits like NW Housing Alternatives have a much better track record keeping a lid on building costs. Perhaps this is because their mission is housing people and if they are more efficient, they can house more people. They probably have to work to get their money from different sources so they value it more.

This post is too long, but you struck a nerve and this is something I have thought a lot about. We landlords who own class B & C apartments know that our tenants struggle to make ends meet, and we do our best to make our places as nice as we can. That is in our best interest. But when you separate sacrifice and risk from reward, the world seems to turn upside down, and that is the world we live in these days.

One solution: fund the tenant, not the agency. Get the government out of the housing business - they aren't very good at it.

Agree with your solution to fund the tenant, not the agency.
Those that have a need for housing help, have a choice of where to put those dollars.
A level playing field in housing. The difference in the costs is enormous, much more costly to build "government affordable" housing.

Best yet, is not having to live "under government" housing. My concern is with the economic picture, the rate things are going, the agenda looks to be more and more of subsidized housing, then to the point of tearing down housing that really is affordable and/or neighborhoods to tip the scales to more public subsidized housing.(called affordable housing)

Relax, the future is here--micro homes!

Drove by these the other day and was literally stunned.

The promotional blurb on the Web site says it all in that special, Portlandia way.

You can't satirize crap like this--you can only hope to contain it...

Clinamen -

You share my bleak vision of the future of government housing if things don't change. If you want to be worried, take a look at the HUD website's list of separate housing programs and tell me which one's the federal bureaucrats will be willing to cut (that won't lose them their jobs). I am cynical enough to think that altruistic people who get into the helping professions lose objectivity over time and then come to need their clients to stay helpless so they can continue in their jobs.

Q: Where does the criteria of who qualifies for government supported housing end? If we are now paying for housing for those earning 80% of average median income, is the government responsible for providing housing for everyone at and below that level? What about the middle income earners at the Headwaters? Why is government building housing for them at all? But why is government building and owning housing at all? Why is it a good idea for low income people to be concentrated in one development? Why can't they have a choice about where THEY want to live? At some tipping point, government will own more housing units than are in private ownership. I don't think I am paranoid - it's q natural progression - but perhaps that won't happen if our country will stop spending money it doesn't have.

Last comment - there is a case to be made for limited government-supported housing (not owned or operated by government) for individuals who cannot meet the background criteria to get into private housing due to criminal history or those who need some sort of supported living.

Parking is the least of the major issues on this project.

How about the destruction of good buildings (two single family homes in the back will get axed) in addition to the one in front?

There's a vacant property across the street. I'm sure the owners are wanting to sell.

Nolo, taxpayers are paying for housing beyond even the 80% of average median income. We have examples right here in our metro of affordable, subsidized housing called Work Force and Student Housing that allows 120% of average median income.

PSU, OHSU, UofO, OSU are actively networking, lobbying to expand Student and Work Force Housing even more. Attend some of the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee meetings of all of regions URAs and you'll see them in action.

We shouldnfollow Clackamas County's lead and require votes to create URDs at every jurisdictional level. If the state legislature won't stop this abuse, then we have to. But how do we stop the federal funding that seems to be the Trojan Horse in all the over-top-spending? Some states are actually just saying "No". But it's a hard habit or addiction to quit.

...At some tipping point, government will own more housing units than are in private ownership...

This simply does not seem right.

I mentioned here before that years ago I had a conversation with Rex Burkholder (former Metro Council) about my not liking the density housing complexes, his response was that those are not just for low income, but will be for your children and grandchildren.

At the time, I said that I did not think that that was what people had in mind for the American Dream!

Did he know then,that the plan was just that, more and more subsidized housing?
How many years have these "plans" been in the works?


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Kent Haruf - Our Souls at Night
Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang
Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games
Amy Stewart - Girl Waits With Gun
Philip Roth - The Plot Against America
Norm Macdonald - Based on a True Story
Christopher Buckley - Boomsday
Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle is the Way
Ruth Sepetys - Between Shades of Gray
Richard Adams - Watership Down
Claire Vaye Watkins - Gold Fame Citrus
Markus Zusak - I am the Messenger
Anthony Doerr - All the Light We Cannot See
James Joyce - Dubliners
Cheryl Strayed - Torch
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Saul Bellow - Mister Sammler's Planet
Phil Stanford - White House Call Girl
John Kaplan & Jon R. Waltz - The Trial of Jack Ruby
Kent Haruf - Eventide
David Halberstam - Summer of '49
Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead
Maria Dermoȗt - The Ten Thousand Things
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking
William Shakespeare - Othello
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things
Sara Varon - Bake Sale
Stephen King - 11/22/63
Paul Goldstein - Errors and Omissions
Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Beverly Cleary - A Girl from Yamhill, a Memoir
Kent Haruf - Plainsong
Hope Larson - A Wrinkle in Time, the Graphic Novel
Rudyard Kipling - Kim
Peter Ames Carlin - Bruce
Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 5
At this date last year: 3
Total run in 2017: 113
In 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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