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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why are apartment bunkers being built in Portland?

There are number of factors, including massive city subsidies. But a lot of it is because so many college-educated young people with no real job prospects have decided they want to to live in "cool" Portlandia. They'll stay until they grow up. In the meantime, they'll park in front of your house.

Comments (29)

"Rodriguez said he and other developers are targeting young professionals who earn between $60,000 and $75,000 a year. He said they represent roughly 15 percent of the population; Holland thinks that number is likely to grow."

Pure comedy gold right there. I'd like to know where all these mysterious well paying jobs are hiding. Certainly not at Vodoo Doughnuts or the local bike shop. Must be the going rate for a fresh out of college city planner?

There’s a bit of misconception that what is going on in the job market drives demand for the apartment market. That’s not true—household formation drives apartment demand. What is going on in the job market impacts our ability to raise rents. This is purely demographics with the Gen Y generation entering prime apartment renting age range (19-35). This coupled with 20% down to purchase a home or condo will force more people to rent longer.

There are not "massive city subsidies". The City has actually raised System Development Charges by 100% over the past two years. in 2009, SDC per apartment unit were $7,500. In 2012, they are now $17,500! This cost is passed on to the rent via higher rental rates.

Q: Why are they built?
A: People want to live in them.

Thank you. Didn't know the City Hall propagandists worked Saturday mornings.

There are not "massive city subsidies".

Bull. There are TOD and tax abatements galore. And sweet backroom loans and land deals at the PDC. The real estate people with puppets in city government run Portland -- always have. Williams, Edlen, Russell, Winkler, Saltzman, the list goes on and on.

Why does the PDC and City of Portland promote these developments? Taxes. The greater the value of the property the more property taxes can be collected. That's the real reason for smaller lots, apartments, infill, and the like. It's all about the tax dollars generated per acre, IMHO.

But does it "pencil out" that way? After TOD tax breaks, PDC handouts, and infrastructure costs, the taxpayers don't usually make out. The only people who profit are the developer weasels.

A: People want to live in them.

Really? How do you explain this?

I rented the entire time I lived in Portland; I never quite trusted the housing market; it seemed overpriced for the median family income, even back in the early 2000s (I've owned 8 houses over my lifetime in various non-Portland markets, so I paid attention to these things).

There's no way I'd live in an apartment bunker and I was in the income range noted; it's not the small size of the apartments, I actually would prefer a studio loft because it makes me live with less crap.

But even in Portland, I needed storage for my car, my bike and my Christmas decorations as well as out of season clothes, memorabilia, etc.

I lived in a really cool 800-square-foot house in Willamette Heights for less than than what these apartment bunker places are charging now. My landlords were my neighbors and my friends; my house had started as their garage. And I had a deck bigger than my living room that overlooked Mount Hood. So did my office, on a lower floor.

I did park on the street, the part that was right in front of my house, so I was putting nobody else out. In fact, even most homeowners parked on the street in that area.

The only way you would have talked me into a loft would have been something with a great view, some storage and some sort of included parking. And not much more in rent.

Fast forward 30 years and ask what happens to the infill apartments?

The in-style development 30 years back was rehabbed, upgraded condomimiumized garden apartments, in campus-like settings, with trees, walkways, picnic areas, a community pool or two and some tennis courts. The Yuppies flocked. As the Yups who married and had families moved out to bigger homes in the burbs, their condos sold into a secondary market that was maybe a bit lower in socio-economic status, but well-heeled enough to maintain properties and support property values.

The infill apartments (built with shoddy materials for the most part) are unlikely to fare as well. The next generation of urban professionals will not be attracted to aging apartments. They'll want their own new toys. There will be a hue and cry for another round of subsidies and increased densities to redevelop the bunkers. This is what is called urban planning.

Because the "creative class" is running out of welcome everywhere else?

Perhaps Portlandia ought to have a statue out at PDX, sort of a Statue of Liberty thing, whose pedestal reads, "Give me your young, your unemployed, your entitled..."

Several factors are driving the bunker bonanza:

1) Profits - much more money per sq. ft.

2) Wages not keeping up with inflation (now going on something like 40 years) - if you can't afford to buy, you have to rent.

3) The divorce rate - a deteriorating social structure combined with point 2 is forcing many to rent.

4) Social Engineering - the relentless pursuit of staying young and cool is driving many people to pursue the lemming lifestyle of "hang'n".

5) The Rats in the Box affect - put a bunch of rats in a confined space and eventually the biggest baddest rats take over 50-60% of the area while the large majority are forced to huddle into what's left. So our political class has no problem providing less and less personal space because they represent the privileged few- who mostly live in spacious mansions.

In the meantime, they'll park in front of your house.

(Giggling) There are days I'm convinced this blog is one giant parody.

The City of Portland is one giant parody.

Welcome to 21st century colonialism. These brave missionaries have come from far and wide to disabuse us backwards natives of our unsustainable beliefs and lifestyles. They've come to show us all the right way to live and, fortunately, our local government has been there to help them save us from ourselves.

We native Oregonians used to perform bizarre rituals like using privately owned pollution machines we called "cars" to go to strange temples where we would perform rites of self-flagellation we called "work" for upwards of 40+ hours every week. We ate strange non-organic foods produced by all-powerful, evil organizations we called "corporations". We had strange beliefs like meritocracy, democracy, personal responsibility, self determination, and, worst of all, capitalism.

Thankfully the planners have arrived to deliver us from our primitive ways. Soon we'll all be living more enlightened, sustainable, equitable, green lives.

And remember: keep Portland weird, but only in ways that are acceptable to the new green intelligentsia.

We are a block from a condo bunker built with no parking, on a major bus route, so theoretically no one will have a car. However if you walk the neighborhood block in the early am, that is lucky enough to be adjacent to this eyesore, they are blessed with about 20 out of state cars, street parking, sometimes the streets are impassable if there is a service truck parked on one side. I have had to back up into a driveway trying to go past to come home, turning off the main drag.

"There are not massive city subsidies"-more bull.

Consider Block 49 in SoWhat, now called Grays Landing.

All funding "is from city bonds, tax equity, and TIF". Taxpayer monies of $5 million in land and $2 Million in design/permits were given to the project. Reach, a non-profit are the builders. They are taking 12,500 sq/ft of the ground floor, with TriMet taking some space for a "break space" for streetcar personnel. The remaining 4500 sq/ft will be leased.

Almost the entire project will not be paying any property taxes to help pay off the $290 Million SoWhat TIF (taxpayer) debt. As best as can be determined is that this "affordable housing" is costing us over $280 per sq/ft. Not quite affordable-for the taxpayers who have to pay for it.

But we do need affordable housing. Maybe the many $500 to $800 dollar free enterprise one and two bedroom apartments with parking that are costing $70,000 to $80,000 per unit is more affordable.

I'm not sure if posts like this are just supposed to be inflammatory or if they're sincere.

Here is why apartment bunkers are actually being built in Portland:

1. There are a lot of empty houses and a lot of people who cannot afford them (cannot get a loan).

2. Those people have to live somewhere.

3. Either they have to move out of Portland, move in with their parents, or rent an apartment.

4. In the previous few years there has not been a lot of building outside of the S. Waterfront and a couple other locations. Far fewer new units than average. The units in overbuilt condos in the Pearl (flipped into apartments) have long been "absorbed".

SO: More demand, less supply. Higher rents. There you have it. No need for unemployed slacker/hipster/irresponsible youth plinking. It's supply and demand.

Higher rents means it's more profitable to build apartments. Apartments get built. It doesn't matter what developers say or who they say they're building for. The apartments will be occupied by people who need a place to live. Young professionals? Well, the majority of people renting apartments are younger. (Older than previously - because of foreclosures and hard times - but still young). Who will live in new buildings (which will always have higher rents than average). People can afford them. Professionals.


But you knew that.

I have no doubt that they will be filled up eventually with young people. At the pace they are coming it may take only a couple years to overbuild, but we'll see.

What I don't believe is the "empty nester" flocking crud. You'll note there is no evidence or data on that in the article, just an anecdotal narrative from the developer.

These new apartments are being built very small on average compared to the last generation of apartments. You'll have a hard time convincing anyone older than maybe 27 to live in 400 s.f. with no parking. (Young people do grow up eventually too. Get married, have kids, need cars to conduct their lives.)

Anyway, I think these units will be rented. The greater issue to me is the very selfish and anti-neighborhood parking situation that the city encourages, and also the eternal question of what will these people be doing for work. Also, how quickly we're going to overbuild. There are A LOT of apartments under development right now.

Mary Ludgin, managing director and director of investment at Heitman, said those young professionals also provide a greater level of “stickiness” for Portland’s rental market – meaning they’re likely to stay put once they get here.

I wonder how much “stickiness” for Portland will prevail when matters won’t improve.
I don’t see these young professionals sticking with looming taxes and increases in living here without accompanying jobs. I believe they are thinking that the scene will improve. What happens if it doesn’t and if it gets worse? I don’t see this group wanting to get stuck with the debt created. I hope there will be improvement and that I am wrong on my assessment. I don’t have much faith with career politicians making unwise decisions for our community.

Recently there was a report that not much land needed for companies to come into our city was available. That being the case, companies will be locating outside our area and then what? The 20 minute neighborhood of work and walk may not be doable for enough people and thus even longer commutes for people to go to outlying areas for jobs?
Great results here on the plans of smart growth!! More and more housing and less jobs, certainly less jobs once the housing is built.
I question this term work housing?
What does it really mean?

Strip Jack's statment of its 'color' and you get this: Many people have decided they want to live in Portland.

{So} many {college-educated young} people {with no real job prospects have decided they} want to live in {"cool"} Portland{ia}.

Indeed, people want to move to Portland - a Portland that is increasingly composed of new construction mid-rise condo/apartments.

In other words: "People want to live in them."

Subsidized or not, ugly or not, trendy or not... many people actually WANT to live in these 'bunkers'. They wouldn't keep getting built at this scale if people did not. That is - as long as they're not under construction...

Maybe they really wanted to live in New York, but simply too expensive, so they see this as a New York kind of life.
Vera Katz must have missed living in New York, so I guess she cast the die.

They wouldn't keep getting built at this scale if people did not.

They wouldn't keep getting built here if the developers didn't essentially get it their way
at city hall! City has made it possible to be built without setbacks, without parking, and then with tax abatements and who knows what else has been favored to allow these bunkers plunked down that change the character of surrounding neighborhoods.
There used to be a code that what was built had to fit in with the character of a neighborhood, guess that code was thrown out the window too.
As I recall in a report, the gymnastics around that code went something like this, that it didn't mean it had to fit with the character of a neighborhood as it existed but as the city envisioned it to be.

Hey Jack I was starting a bit of a giggle at some of the comments above, then you got on and responded. I fell into a full blown laugh attack.

Thanks man. Keep up the good work.

Justin and Tom -- EXACTLY! :-)

First of all, Portland population grows at almost exactly 1% a year. There's no big rush to move here.

Second, there's "want" and then there's what you have to settle for. Many, if not most, young renters would prefer to rent a close-in detached house, which used to be plentiful. But those will never be built in Portland again, because the city insists on particle-board crap apartments.

there's "want" and then there's what you have to settle for

Yep. Used to be able to rent quality, solidly-built places around here, but it all shifted to slapped-up crapola. The desirable apartments were converted to condos. If I'm going to buy, it's going to be detached, with a bit of space.

Heck, back in the 70's you could rent that way too, but that's history.

there's "want" and then there's what you have to settle for

Take for example the skinny houses plunked into tight lots, no yards. People in the neighborhood have commented that there is a greater turnover in those houses. However, they do seem to fill up and sell, while in the same area, single family homes do not sell as easily. I have wondered, is anyone here well versed as to why that might be, are loans more easily available for the skinny houses and the flag lot infill houses?Is it because they are new and that is what people prefer?

How did the zoning for this c**p come about in the first place?
I don't remember anyone asking me if it was ok to turn my quiet Mississippi neighborhood (yes, quiet after some much needed pro-active community level action) into the s**t-magnet it's becoming.
I don't want to hear about how the "businesses on Mississippi are good for the neighborhood". BS- they are only good for the people profiting from the increased density. Those of us who have had the livability of our home area sacrificed are on the short end of the stick.
Yeah, I went to the Boise NA meetings back pre-bunker and found out early that the BS developer had already courted the fledgling business aspect and stacked the deck in favor of writing the letter of recommendation by the BNA to the city for the building of the bunkers for the good of the neighborhood - in spite of the very vocal opposition, especially to the parking.
Yeah, I realize the power of marketing non-existent lifestyle - however - . . . I digress.
Can any professional out there explain to this humble homeowner the zoning procedure and is it (legally) reversible?
Could one make a case for livability as intrinsic and having a monetary value and sue any and all for the losses?

Can any professional out there explain to this humble homeowner the zoning procedure and is it (legally) reversible?


I am not a professional, but have read for example where New York City Council approved 13 major downzonings, apparently rezoning for density only in certain areas. In my opinion with the density in the Pearl, our neighborhoods would benefit from pursuing downzoning to retain their character and livability.

In a backlash to the city’s building boom, zoning restrictions on building heights, size, and density – referred to by planners as downzoning – will shape the future look of neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and even Manhattan. The key phrase invoked with these rules is “preservation of the existing character of the neighborhood.”

Google downzoning for more information.

Jack, I'm going to write you later with a rather personal story of why I know how this is going to turn out. I say this because I saw it happen exactly the same way 25 years ago (only with the developers going after yuppies instead of hipsters), and we're still cleaning up the mess. To make it very short, the developers know the money is disappearing, so the big push and the subsequent sockpuppet commentary is because they're trying to get the money and get out of town before it's too late.


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