The Oregonian, guest opinion: More than parking, Portland needs affordable housing
Author: Ethan Seltzer and Lisa Bates
Posted: April 10, 2013

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

To outsiders, it must seem like Portland has lost its marbles. Here, in this city of all things green and sustainable, the kerfuffle over apartments without parking seems to be a grass-roots call for a return to the car-crazy days of yore, those legendary times when cars were king and bikes were mostly in garages.

To some, renters parking their cars in and among the cars already lining neighborhood streets has been portrayed as a sign of the apocalypse. Portland's close-in neighborhoods -- with their bungalows, parks and sidewalks, with neighborhood-serving retail and restaurants -- are, in fact, wonderful places to live. These are places in demand, and that demand makes the sustainable, livable, walkable Portland lifestyle increasingly unaffordable to buy and just plain unavailable to rent.

Neighborhood livability in Portland didn't happen by accident. The policies of the city of Portland, dating back for generations and particularly since the adoption of its most current comprehensive plan in 1980 and zoning code in 1991, have gone out of their way to protect areas characterized by single-family houses. Take a look at the comprehensive plan map for Portland: The vast majority of the land area in the city, for all uses, is dedicated to the bungalows and ranch houses most of us inhabit or covet.

However, the demand for rental housing is real and unmet. Portland is in dire need of more housing. Demand forecasts being prepared for the comprehensive plan update paint a convincing picture of an even greater gap between the housing we have and the housing we'll need. The gap between demand and affordability in close-in neighborhoods around transit streets is perhaps most daunting of all.

Making rental housing more affordable, simply put, means making new housing less expensive. Though this may seem like a simple idea, it has needlessly gotten lost in the current debate. Requiring every resident to pay for parking, car owner or not, needed or not, just makes housing more expensive and less affordable, particularly when transportation alternatives exist. New research shows that without on-site parking requirements, developers provide more housing, more different kinds of housing and lower-cost housing.

The city already bends over backward to respond to the demands of current residents of single-family homes to keep change out of neighborhoods. Compelling renters to pay more to satisfy nearby owners is a mechanism for keeping renters out of neighborhoods, intended or not.

Managing the city as a place for cars is simply out of touch, wrongheaded and, in this case, unjust. Do solutions to real problems connected with an overabundance of automobiles in neighborhoods need to be solved? Of course. But not on the backs of those most in need of an affordable apartment. Responsible planners and citizens certainly can do better. Surely, at this time in our history, we can figure out, first, how to house all of us and, second, what to do with our cars, rather than the other way around.

This is Portland, after all.

Ethan Seltzer and Lisa Bates are on the faculty of the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. Both live in Portland.