By Midge Pierce

No Easy Answers for Renters

Briefcases borne by the well-dressed, on one side of an eastside gym last month sat in Fellini-like contrast to those burdened with financial and in some cases, physical challenges b as they waited to contest rental policies they claim make it difficult to find housing.

Portland is considering new regulations on rental screening and security deposit criteria. In public testimony before the Rental Services Commission, both sides made heartfelt and compelling appeals and no easy answers emerged.

Participants in wheelchairs, several of who had experienced lengthy periods of institutional living, spoke of the obstacles they face in securing housing.

Without a rental history or a savings account to cover the steep deposit requirements, or references to counter restrictive screening policies, it’s virtually impossible.

Housing advocates spoke of the fine line between the rent-challenged and the homeless. They decried practices in which landlords turn away potential tenants or failed to return security deposits.

Landlords spoke of the necessity of security deposits to offset damage and the importance of walk-throughs to ensure tenants understood their responsibilities to leave property they way they found it.

Several landlords spoke of “nightmare” tenants who caused damage that far exceeded the security deposits. They maintained deposits and reasonable screening measures were necessary for them to stay in business.

Citing how close to the margins their units function, several single-property landlords said more stringent policies would force them to sell their rentals. They warned that out-of-town buyers and international “investors” could make the housing crisis worsen.

An us vs. them approach to policy making helps no one, observers noted.

PBOT Charged with Pitting Neighbor Against Neighbor

Red X’s defacing sidewalks of residences with “We Support Safe Lincoln Street” signs escalated polarization over a controversial diverter at 50th last month.

During a Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association meeting, residents and bicyclists who favor the diverter blamed the neighborhood association for the vandalism, while rumors rumbled through the room that outside agitators had committed the vandalism to make diverter objectors look bad.

Amid claims of cars attempting to drive bikes off the roadway and intimidation and fear on both sides, the MTNA passed a resolution condemning the vandalism and calling for respect and listening by all parties to the growing controversy.

The MTNA board, accused of taking sides, unanimously denounced the attacks and responded that no one is opposed to bike safety.

Instead, they have questioned whether the diverter is the best solution for a 10-block long stretch of Lincoln lacking workable alternative routes.

The result, they have said, could actually make upper Lincoln less safe for bicyclists, in addition to causing unintended consequences for two schools, a failing intersection at 50th and Division, a narrow residential stretch of Hawthorne and even Madison above 55th after installation of speedbumps on upper Hawthorne.

Board member John Laursen placed blame squarely on the shoulders of the Bureau of Transportation. “I do not believe for a minute that anyone on this board was responsible for defacing sidewalks.

“It is PBOT policies that are responsible for rancor that has pit neighbor against neighbor by its absolute refusal to look at this in a holistic way.”

MTNA volunteers expressed frustration that requests had been denied for a sitdown between the bureau and MTNA board members to address concerns on this multi-sided issue.

PBOT has met frequently with members of the bike community but has refused to meet with the neighborhood association board despite repeated requests.

Afterwards an observer cited bad planning and failed transportation bureau leadership for ignoring the unique complexities of streets in the area.

“If Harrison (one street north of Lincoln) continued from 50th-60th as it does in other neighborhoods, we would not be having angry shouting matches. There would absolutely be no problem with the diverter at 50th.”

Added another resident, “This is irresponsible. Decisions were made with input only from the biking community, not neighbors impacted by change. Hazards are being imposed on residents, especially those in their 60s and 70s. This is ageism. This is elitist. This is not how government should work.”

PBOT has now agreed to come to MTNA in July.  Laursen believes the diverter decision is already made. “A whole host of legitimate concerns were never considered,” he concludes.

While controversy swirls east of 50th, a reader to the West feels his viewpoint has been short-changed in The Southeast Examiner’s coverage:

“Many of us who live on the greenway and use the greenway have been working with the city for almost two years to address the failure of the greenway to meet city standards. Most sections of the greenway exceed the standards for both volumes and speed.

“Your article does not even touch on these issues that all the residents on the greenway and users of the greenway have been struggling with for years. You seem to focus only on the complaints of a group of vocal residents that live east of 50th.

“The city’s strategy is a good one and all components are necessary to prevent commuters from using this neighborhood greenway to get to destinations east of our neighborhood,” writes Kelly Bradway Parrett.

Historic Review Aims to Rescue Portland Identity

Look next door, down the street, around the corner or on the final episodes of Portlandia, and you know it: Portland is losing its identity. The City knows it too.

A recent consultant’s report commissioned by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability as part of its Historic Resource Code Project concurs that Portland’s unique sense of place is vanishing. It recommends stronger protections and updated inventories of properties of historic, architectural and cultural significance.

While Portland has long boasted of its smart planning, the BPS report is akin to a  mea culpa that economic pressures for demolition are acute.  Inner and mid eastside, neighborhoods especially, like Richmond and Sunnyside are notable for ongoing loss.

“Record numbers of single-family houses, dating to the 1920s and before, are being demolished for replacement by high-end dwellings,” the report reads.

“Classic commercial buildings on transit corridors are being adapted or razed for multifamily housing and creative retail establishments. Vacant land has become almost non-existent in the central city, leading to the demolition of landmark-worthy buildings to make room for new development.

“Gentrification continues to displace communities of color and underrepresented Portlanders of various backgrounds…”

The vast majority of qualifying buildings are not even on decades old historic resource listings. Inventories from 1984 have been incomplete, inconsistent and inaccessible from the get-go.

The report emphasizes the need to add underrepresented communities such as areas east of 205 that were not captured in the 34-year-old listings.

Expanding preservation equity, the report indicates, can slow gentrification and honor the City’s legacy – for better and worse. Recent discoveries of racist covenants and deeds by a PSU grad student underscore the importance of historic research.

Digitization of what does exist has already been undertaken. Now, The Historic Resources Code Project is focusing on planning inventory updates and developing frameworks to assess the physical integrity of significant architectural and cultural resources.

Seed money will be needed to launch the inventory and hire an HRI administrator. BPS has applied for a State Historic Preservation Office grant and is requesting that City Council pass a one-time budget item for a “pilot”  inventory.   The City Budget office has recommended against the $80,000 package, due to concerns it may limit housing development. Those who feel strongly about the inventory can speak out at this month’s budget forums and next month’s Council hearings.

During public input at several winter roundtables, participants considered ways to strengthen protections beyond the existing local resource listings or National Register designation.

Recommendations included exacting hefty tear-down deterrents and allowing potential City Council hearings for Local Historic Districts. For those Districts, more flexibility and staff review could be offered.

Preparations for natural disasters like earthquakes are also recommended. The HRI project has indicated financial aid to owners of historic properties will not be included in early proposals.

Currently, inclusion on the historic resource list does not offer much protection from demolition. Rather it allows delays that enable residents to find alternatives, often at exorbitant expense, to razing structures.

At present, designation to the National Registry of Historic Places offers the highest level of protection.

Whether the Historic Resource Code Project comes in time to save Portland’s character and heritage will be determined as the process moves forward. Next steps will be a late spring public review of code options followed by City Council hearings at some point.

Shenanigans in Eastmoreland

With demolition activity at an all-time high, interest has increased in designations on the National Register of Historic Places, the highest level of preservation protection.

Peacock Lane, Portland’s storied Christmas Street, is the City’s most recent addition to the National Registry. Applying for designation is under consideration in Laurelhurst.

An Eastmoreland group is nudging its controversial application forward despite significant pushback that caused the state to delay its application to the National Park Service, which administers the program.

National Designation is generally considered an honor, and because the Registry requires property owners who object to the status to submit notarized “opt outs,” sometimes the process gets ugly. Questions have arisen about whether some Eastmoreland objections were legitimate.

Historic District proponent Derek Blum, who co-founded Historic Eastmoreland Achieving Results Together (HEART), says opponents’ tactics of forming multiple trusts and fractional ownerships of single properties, corrupt the process.

“After failing to garner enough objections to prevent this [nomination], opponents are now engaged in an owner-stacking scheme with the most egregious example being a single owner who has added 1,000 trusts to their property deeds, with objections to follow.”

Blum says a few wealthy residents sought to inflate objections by using each of the multiple trusts to opt out individually. The goal,  he claims, is to “drown out” majority support for the Eastmoreland Historic District.

“This is a dangerous affront to the democratic process, and if allowed by state and federal agencies, these underhanded acts will give any single objector that forms enough trusts the ability to sink any historic district nomination.”

Blum added that concerns about restrictions in designated districts should be allayed by a state 2017 ruling that demolition review is the only restriction for property owners in new districts.

The State Historic Preservation Office confirms that it is readying the nomination for resubmittal  according to federal guidance on what qualifies as an owner.

Infill Appeal Denied

As the chorus of complaints grows over unmanageable impacts of densification on Portland’s quality of life, a failed appeal to a state landuse commission filed by a westside neighborhood will have profound reverberations on increased growth, traffic and congestion on the eastside.

Attempts by the Multnomah Neighborhood Association to block implementation of the Residential Infill Project (RIP) that is rezoning 85,000 residential properties in Portland, (most on the eastside to multi-family development) has been blocked by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC).

The NA says RIP promotes density over livability, disregards state requirements for land use planning and undermines the importance of citizen involvement.

RIP’s so-called opportunity overlay zone maps indicate inner and middle SE will be hardest hit by demolition and development.

A fundraising drive is underway to offset costs of taking the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals. MNA’s John Peterson urges eastside participation. “If everyone donates a small amount, we’ll be successful in our fund-raising drive.”

Donation information at swni.org/MNAlandusefund