Building Small Sustainable Structures

By Nancy Tannler

The Build Small Live Large Summit was held at PSU in November in response to a national demand for greater diversity in housing options. This was the fourth biannual summit and the first to focus primarily on alternative living options. 

Presentations included ways to develop smaller homes, co-living situations, zoning, finance, design showcases, middle housing and ADU legislation; a full spectrum of housing options to help alleviate America’s increasingly unaffordable cities.  

Eli Spevak, of Orange Splot was the day’s moderator. The opening speakers began by explaining the changing rules for residential neighborhoods and the need for more choices and smaller homes.  

Portland is lacking approximately 48,000 affordable rental units. In response to this, Metro promoted the first affordable housing bond measure that passed last November for $652.8 million. The bond will create affordable housing for approximately 12,000 people in the greater Portland region. Properties have been identified and building will begin soon.  

Lynn Peterson, Metro President, spoke about their involvement with the housing crisis. Metro’s primary budget is for waste management, but they also oversee transportation, public housing, the zoo and green spaces, not only for the City, but for twenty seven other cities in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.  

Peterson went on to explain, that like her own family, many newcomers to Portland are forced to look outside of the city for affordable housing.

While this made it possible for them to afford to build an ADU on their property and house their parents, an unfortunate downside was that it added one more commuter to an already beleaguered highway system.  

From 2015 to 2017 commuter traffic increased by 35 percent. Metro has begun meeting with residents to discuss the 2020 Transportation Investment Measure to try and find a way to move people around the city and decrease pollution. This is why Metro, as sponsor of the Summit, is focusing on ways to create more inner city housing.  

Taylor Smiley Wolfe, Policy Director for Home Forward (formerly The Housing Authority of Portland), spoke of their responsibility to those who encounter barriers to housing because of income, disability or special needs. The stats presented were overwhelming.  

Smiley Wolfe was Policy Director for House Speaker Tina Kotek who has championed House Bill 2001; a bill that would assist local governments to allow duplexes and/or middle housing and assist local government to improve water, sewer, storm drainage and transportation – necessary upgrades to manage increased population.  

The conclusion of the opening speakers for the Build Small Live Large Summit was that, as a society, we can no longer wait to fix the housing crisis. The time to act is now and the presenters offered solutions in three blocks of concurrent sessions. The Southeast Examiner attended these two. 

What’s New with ADUs? Legislation, Development Costs Valuation. 

Abdur Abdul-Malik, of Quality Appraisal Inc., addressed the cost of building different types of ADUs and the value each add to a property. 

He covered four basic types of ADUs: basement, attached, detached and garage. There are subsets to each of these. Basement and attached ADUs increase the value of the house by 24 percent where detached and garage conversion ADUs increase value by 20 percent. A variable in this equation is the size of the space and what it costs to build. People are finding that building an ADU doesn’t always pencil out.  

Kol Peterson, author of Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development and the owner of Caravan, the Tiny House Hotel, has become an expert on accessory dwelling unit development here in Portland. 

He is an advocate for HB 2001 and the Residential Infill Project which in some instances will allow one house and two ADUs. Peterson spoke about new legislation that is making building easier. Off-street parking is no longer required and now the setback is only four feet. The average cost of a detached ADU is $193,000.  

The next big thing is manufactured ADUs. Wolf Industries, from Battle Ground, Washington, offers different floor plans ranging from 300 to 600 square feet and from $50,000-$80,000. There are four of these already in Portland.  

SROs and More – A Reemergence of Co-Living  

Between 1978 and 2015 Portland lost 40 percent of their affordable rental units. The need for affordable housing has caused people to become more creative in the ways they choose to make a home. Speakers at this session spoke of alternatives.  

Sean Hubbert, of Central City Concern, spoke of what this non-profit is doing about the housing crisis as housing is known to be the first step towards good health, employment and helping people integrate back into the mainstream.  

They are currently partnering with Do Good Multnomah on the Findley Commons project – eighteen Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units that rent for $350 per month. 

Findley Commons will redevelop the parking lot at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, SE 55th and Powell and this facility is for under-served Veterans. 

The Blackburn Center just opened at 121st and E. Burnside offering affordable housing and a medical clinic. Hubbert said that the problem won’t be resolved until the Federal Government gets their head back in the game. 

In 1982 during the recession, President Reagan withdrew funding from HUD, assigning churches to take on the responsibility of housing the poor. Subsequent US presidents have continued to defund HUD.  

Transition Projects Inc. is building 72 SROs for low-income and formerly homeless individuals. LISAH is an affordable, low-cost housing prototype built from modular units in the Kenton neighborhood.  

Another housing model is Bungalow Living Inc. General Manager Caitlin Condon discussed the success they’re having here and in ten other cities with move-in ready co-living houses. 

Bungalow purchases a large home in a neighborhood with enough property to build an ADU, and converts the house into SROs with a common room, kitchen and bathrooms. The same is done with the ADU building. Residents have a built-in community, and a place to live and entertain at a more affordable rate. Plus, they are involved in the process of who other renters will be.  

The Build Small Live Large Summit presented different ways people are solving the housing crisis. If the metro regions growth continues at the current rate, there will be three million people living here by 2035. Making room for everyone while maintaining livability is a challenge that has just begun.

Building Small Sustainable Structures

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