Equity in Emergency Management

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and many other surrounding cities, killing over 1,800 people, displacing more than one million, and causing immeasurable property damage. (1) The magnitude of destruction and the disproportionate effects on people of color, people with low incomes, and those with physical or mental disabilities attracted global attention to the disaster. These groups were systemically unprepared to withstand the disaster, and their communities suffered the most loss and received the least emergency support. (2) The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local emergency management entities received sharp national criticism for their failure to plan for the needs of people with systemic barriers and for their slow response to resource requests. (3)

In the decade following Hurricane Katrina, advocates fighting for the rights of people with disabilities changed the field of emergency management. Their pressure on FEMA led to the establishment of legal and planning precedents to include the needs of the whole community in emergency management.(4) There is now a national, legal requirement to plan for people with disabilities and access and functional needs. Despite this important victory for people with disabilities, there have been no direct legal or policy actions that address the disproportionate response along racial and socio-economic lines. (5)

The theory of social equity has its roots in social justice, health care, and education. (6) The fields of urban and regional planning and community development have begun to integrate these theories into their work, but progress has been confined to pockets of change in grassroots organizations and within departments in regional and local governments. The Portland metropolitan region is an exception—in the last eight years, equity has become an institutionalized planning principle within much of the City of Portland and Multnomah County. (7)

There is still limited understanding of equity among people who work in emergency management at the local, regional, and national levels. There is particular confusion about how planning for equity differs from FEMA’s requirement for planning for people who have disabilities or access and function – al needs. Hesitancy by emergency manage – ment professionals to address equity in their work may be linked to the lack of a clear definition of equity, an uneasy understanding of how to incorporate equity into on-theground programs, and the militaristic ethos of the field of emergency management.

Failing to address equity has serious consequences; the needs of the most vulnerable people may be unmet if those people do not fit into FEMA’s definition of people with disabilities and access and functional needs. The projected increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters means this situation is becoming dire. Fully integrating equity planning principles into all phases of emergency management will help emergency managers better understand the needs of the whole community and how to create pro – grams, policies, and procedures that fulfill those needs.

In this article, we synthesize current discussions of equity to create a working definition. We go on to discuss why equity is difficult to incorporate into emergency management, and how it is different from FEMA’s definition of access and functional needs. We discuss why equity principles should be incorporated in all aspects of emergency management planning. Lastly, we use the example of the Community Emergency Response Team effort in Portland, locally named Neighborhood Emergency Teams, to demonstrate successes and gaps in integrating equity into local emergency management.

Defining Equity

The vision of social equity as the best way to incorporate a community’s needs into decision making has gained broader acceptance across the nation in the last eight years, including in the Portland Metro region. Despite growing attention on the topic, there is no single, clear definition of equity to work from. We believe this is partly because of the community-specific and subject specific nature of equity, and partly because the theory evolved from grassroots efforts, instead of from top-down, coordinated national policy.

In our attempt to give a working definition of equity, we synthesized concepts from literature in the social justice, health, education, and planning fields; equity frameworks and policy documents from the city of Portland and Multnomah County; presentations from the 2018 PolicyLink Equity Summit in Chicago; and interviews with academics and regional professionals working in the field of emergency management. Our key understandings are that equity is:

1) Both a process and an outcome. Equity is a way for people to be involved in deciding what they need to achieve, as well as the determined outcomes, whether those out – comes are support, resources, or decision making control.

2) Enriched by people. The slogan “nothing about us without us,” championed by American disability advocates in the 1990s, encapsulates how those with pertinent experience need to be valued as experts.

3) Different than equality. Equality focuses on equal access to resources. Equity focuses on creating a process that ensures everyone gets what they need to achieve the stated outcome.

4) Community and place specific. An equity approach considers the demographic make – up of the community as well as the physical attributes of an area.

5) Composed of structural and physical elements. An equity approach strives to address all barriers that a person or community might face, from structural and institutional racism to physical infrastructure.

6) Confusing by nature. There is no universal way to “achieve equity,” because its success is based on the outcomes of specific communities, the involvement of people within those communities, and the specific barriers they face.

Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and former director of PolicyLink, a national think tank for equity policy, describes how their organization defined equity at their start.

“We saw equity as the antidote to structural racism and social and economic disparities across the nation….Equity is different from the formal legal equality conferred by landmark laws such as the Civil Rights Act. Equality gives everyone the right to ride on the bus, in any seat they choose. Equity ensures there are bus lines where people need them so they can get to school or the doctor or work…. It means policies that dismantle destructive barriers to economic inclusion and civic participation, and build healthy communities of opportunity for all.” (8)

Blackwell highlights a significant piece of equity: that an equity approach is key to addressing structural racism and economic disparities. This concept is important in emergency management, because the field is inextricably intertwined with systemic issues faced by communities across the country. In the example of Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane exposed the racial and economic inequities already present in the city, from the racialized opportunity structure that favored white people’s access to education and high paying jobs to prioritizing maintenance and upgrades of roads in upper class, white neighborhoods, to the racial disparity between homeowners and renters, which affected people’s ability to rebuild their lives in their own communities. (9)

Just as understanding of the definition of equity varies, concepts of what equity looks like when operationalized vary. The City of Portland and Multnomah County, whose jurisdictions and operations often over – lap, each have a department that monitors equity and develops equity policy. Because the departments are separate, their work may not sync. This problem is amplified within emergency management when FEMA requirements that tie emergency management entities to disability-specific language do not match language used by county and city jurisdictions that are also held to local equity standards. In the next section we look more in depth at some of the barriers to incorporating equity into emergency management.

Barriers to Incorporating Equity in Emergency Management

Incorporating equity into emergency management is difficult for several reasons. One of the most impactful is that the grassroots development of social equity theory, and its requirement of a collaborative, community-based structure to implement solutions does not integrate well with the militaristic background, ethos, and structure of FEMA. FEMA was created in 1970 to centralize emergency response efforts and improve coordination of responders. (10) In the wake of 9/11, the newly created Department of Homeland Security absorbed FEMA, where it is currently housed along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service. Because of its beginnings as a relief agency, FEMA traditionally concentrated on post-disaster aid and resource dispersal.

The primary goal in emergency management plans, policies, and procedures is to ensure life safety, and FEMA relies upon hierarchy and standardized coordination through systems like the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to ensure that all emergencies are handled in the same way. Because of this hierarchy, emergency management does not appear to immediately mesh well with a community and collaboration-based equity approach.

Disability-Focused Definition of Equity

Another challenge is that FEMA has not yet broadly embraced the term equity, and uses, instead, disability-centric language, such as the term “people with disabilities and access and functional needs.” FEMA describes addressing access and functional needs as “including individuals who need assistance due to any condition (temporary or permanent) that limits their ability to take action.” (11) The term was developed to address the whole community by shifting from a “list-based” understanding of people’s needs, where emergency managers made a list of disabilities based on their own knowledge, to a “function-based” approach to planning for disability, which looks at what people need to accomplish functions like walking, eating, and getting from one place to another.

While the focus on people with disabilities and access and functional needs does place people’s needs at the center of disaster planning, it does not address race as a systemic barrier that impacts every aspect of a person’s life. A comprehensive equity approach accounts for barriers on all levels, individual, institutional, and systemic. Planning for equity means also addressing structural racism and intergenerational poverty.

Broadening Equity Considerations

The realities of more frequent and more intense natural disasters, along with high profile emergency management shortcomings, such as in the case of Hurricane Katrina, have now brought urgency and diversity into the field. Professions not previously involved in emergency management, such as urban planning, community development, and education have started to consider the need for an emergency management plan. Schools and office buildings now have active-shooter protocols, and senior care facilities and hospitals are legally required to have emergency response plans.

The broadening of emergency management elevates the question: when recovering from disasters, what are we recovering to? The traditional model of emergency management is complicated by the consideration of diverse needs and the realization that re-establishing pre-disaster norms often perpetuates inequities. Examination of what we are recovering to suggests that emergency managers need to do more to build resiliency within communities. A national focus on cultivating equity in emergency management programs could help communities recover to something better than they were before.

Sabina Roan is a student in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University. Her hometown is Los Angeles, where she spent four years working in transportation and land use planning. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography from Magill University in Montreal, Canada.

Originally from the US Midwest, Jaye Cromwell holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Community Development from the University of Oregon and is a current student in the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University.

1. CNN Library, “Hurricane Katrina Statistics Fast Facts” (August 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2013/08/23/ us/hurricane-katrina-statistics-fast-facts/index.html.

2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, “Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin, Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status” (July 2017); Kristen Lavelle, “Hurricane Katrina: The Race and Class Debate,” Monthly Review (July 2006); National Council on Disability, “The Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on People with Disabilities: A Look Back and Remaining Challenges” (Washington, DC: 2006), https://ncd.gov/publications/2006/Aug072006.

3. PBS NewsHour, “FEMA Faces Intense Scrutiny” (September 2005), https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/government_programs-july-dec05-fema_09-09.

4. Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Planning for the Whole Community” (Presentation, April 2001), https://www.fema.gov/pdf/about/odic/all_hands_0411.pdf.

5. Harry Jones, “Equity in Development: Why It Is Important and How to Achieve It” (London, UK: Overseas Development Institute, November 2009), https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publicationsopinion-files/4577.pdf.

6. Website of the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, “Mission,” http://www.disasterstrategies.org/ index.php/about-pids.

7. Website of the Multnomah County Office of Diversity and Equity, “Workforce Equity Strategic Plan,” https://multco.us/diversity-equity; Website of the City of Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights, “Our Mission Statement,” https://www.portlandoregon.gov/oeh.

8. Angela Glover Blackwell, “Equity is…” PolicyLink (blog), October 5, 2016, http://www.policylink.org/equityin-action/equity-is.

9. John Powell, “New Orleans Opportunity Mapping: An Analytical Tool to Aid in Redevelopment” (The Kir – win Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, 2015), www.kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/reports/2006/02_2006_ NOLAOppMapping.pdf; Lisa K. Bates, “Post-Katrina Housing: Problems, Policies, and Prospects for African Americans in New Orleans,” The Black Scholar 36, no. 4 (2006), 13–31.

10. The website of Technical Response Planning, “The Evolution of Emergency Management and Disaster Response” (December 2, 2013), https://www.emergency-response-planning.com/blog/bid/72134/the-evolution-ofemergency-management-and-disaster-response.

11. The website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Lesson 1: Introduction and Course Overview,” IS-0368—Including People with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs in Disaster Operations, https://emilms. fema.gov/IS0368/DIS01summary.htm

12. Ready.gov, “Community Emergency Response Team,” Community Emergency Teams, https://www.ready. gov/community-emergency-response-team.

13. Website of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, “Portland NET Program Dashboard” (November 2018), https://www.portlandoregon.gov/pbem/article/702611.

14. US Census Bureau, 2012–2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Retrieved from American FactFinder, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview. xhtml?pid=ACS_16_5YR_B03002&prodType=table; US Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Retrieved from Census Reporter, https://censusreporter.org/profiles/16000US4159000- portland-or/




A Room of One’s Own: Why We Store

That’s all you need in life, ya know? . . . a little place for your stuff.
—George Carlin, 1980

Since the 1980s, many people have needed bigger and bigger places for their stuff, and the self-storage industry is eager to accommodate. There were about 8,000 facilities in the mid-1980s, and experts now put the total between 41,000 and 50,000. Most of those consist of hundreds of units with an average of 100 square feet each or an estimated seven square feet per person in the United States. People across all social strata are storing things in record numbers, and the self-storage industry is booming nationwide.

Why? Because people tend to accumulate things. We collect and hoard. Material objects become representatives of milestones, moments, and emotions in our lives. People often cling to things because they hold meaning rather than value—a deceased grandmother’s bed that doesn’t match the furniture but can’t be thrown away, the leather living room set a downsized, busted dot-comer can’t get rid of because it has become the symbol of her now-gone fortune, skateboarding gear that will never be used again but reminds the owner of his younger, more virile self. Although the Self Storage Association may not intend to conjure emotional attachment when it refers to a self-storage unit as the rental of “air space” rather than “physical boundaries,” the idea comes to mind. “Air space,” like nostalgia or feeling, can’t be grasped, but it can be marketed and sold. Yet while most people tend to view the stuff in storage facilities as detritus of the past, storage units are actually often holders of the present or the containers of hope for the future. According to many storage facility workers, increasingly people store all they own while transitioning between homes or jobs, and the storers hold onto all of their stuff with the belief that they will need and use these things again. The items represent the potential for a brighter future.

And then again, many Americans just own a lot of junk they can’t bear to part with. Although the average single-family home has more than doubled since 1950 and family size has declined, a 2007 Howard Real Estate survey of 54 Portland Metro area storage facilities indicates that 36% of storage renters are homeowners, closing in on the 53% that rent their homes or apartments. This is consistent with the National Self-Storage Association estimates that individual stuff-keepers make up the majority of storage renters.

Once viewed as “the stepchild of real estate, self-storage is now a Cinderella story of success” according to California real estate consultant R. Christian Sonne. Many investors and lenders who wouldn’t touch the storage industry 10 years are now touting storage as a sure investment, even in the pricey California and Northwest real estate markets. Self-storage facilities have gone from mom and pop fly-by-nights to a sought-after asset class with five publicly-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts—Public Storage, Shurgard, Sovran, Extra Space, and U-Stor-It. Yet even with the recognizable names of these facilities populating vistas throughout the country, around 90% of storage facilities are privately owned and operated.

According to local self-storage mogul Kevin Howard (Inside Self-Storage, the National Self-Storage Association online magazine, ranked Kevin Howard Real Estate 24th of the top 100 storage companies based on total square footage) the first storage facility in the Portland metropolitan area was built 36 years ago on Allen Boulevard, and Howard has been in the business almost as long. Howard says the business is now in its third wave. The first was when self-storage began in the 1960s and 70s, and those facilities were what self-storage conjures in most people’s minds—cement boxes with tin roofs. The second generation came in the 1980s as demand grew. Facilities were designed with features like garage lift doors, electrical outlets, and varying square footages for multiple storage uses. The third generation of the late 1990s has introduced specialty storage—temperature controlled units for wine, antiques, and pharmaceutical samples stored by industry salespeople, units for RVs, automobile, and boat storage, and carpeted/windowed units to serve as small business fronts. The third generation has also introduced portable storage—a service that brings the storage unit straight to your house and parks it out front like a well-secured dumpster. Fill up the unit with stuff and a facility truck will forklift it away to be stacked like a pallet in a warehouse.

But as with many businesses, a lot of the money made in the industry comes doesn’t from customers with disposable incomes. Longtime storage facility manager Joe Christopher thinks economic experts can gauge the economy by looking at the trends of who rents storage units. “I mean, I see people at the heights and depths of their lives,” he says. “It seems like I hardly ever see your average person.” The height is typically someone moving his belongings into a storage unit because he’s bought a bigger home, is moving to a better job, or has gotten married. The depths include divorce, loss of a home or job or both, and, increasingly, Christopher believes, drug addiction. “Seems like the last five years, I see people at their depths. There will always be the weirdos coming to store their porn collections and all, but I see desperate people now, and a lot more young folks in their 20s and 30s who have lost jobs. It seems like more and more the people that come in here are living in vans by the side of the road or they’re tweakers and thieves or all of the above,” he says. While Christopher tries to have sympathy for people, he says his job can wear your sympathy down. Like a bartender or a bus driver, he is often captive to sad, lonely stories because he works at a front desk where people come to rent a storage unit, to pay their monthly bill, or try to get out of their monthly bill.

The storage facility where Christopher works is on McLoughlin Boulevard in Milwaukie. Christopher says the socioeconomic class of the clientele has definitely dropped since the technology bust and the outsourcing of computer and engineering positions. In the 1990s, people were storing for only a month or two while they moved into their new houses. Now, everyone seems to be storing on the way out of town.

Despite protests from many concerned with neighborhood property values when “unsightly” businesses such as storage facilities move in, storage is a neighborhood business. Industry estimates that most storage customers live within a three-mile radius of the facility where they store. Kevin Howard’s surveys indicate that 70% of his customers live within one mile of the storage facility they patronize. This accounts for a lot of difference in clientele from facility to facility. Whereas storage facilities in Cascade Park in Clark County are doing an increased business in RV storage, facilities such as Portland Storage on Southeast Morrison are seeing an increased business in homeless clientele. With some storage facilities providing units as small as foot lockers, self-storage is often the only choice other than a shopping cart for someone who is homeless. And it is safer for property and well-being. Portland police can ticket the homeless for using shopping carts to transport their possessions, or someone could have all he owns stolen from an unattended shopping cart. While many facilities around the country are excluding the homeless by requiring increasingly rigid ID and address verification methods, many facilities such as Portland Storage remain amenable. “The transients and homeless are some of our best paying customers because what’s in the unit is all they have,” says Mary Briggs, a local self-storage marketer and manager for Kevin Howard’s storage facilities. “We do have set rules. People can’t come and sit in the units all day,” says Briggs.

The increase in the use of storage by transients accounts for some of the change in the storage business—from the 24-hour access of past facilities to the no-night-access model. Modern facilities, like more and more American communities, are gated, guarded by managers living on-site, and monitored by 24-hour video surveillance.

Yet crime still occurs. Individual storage units are protected by the same search and seizure privacy laws as homes are—without a warrant, they are private spaces. Therefore, they can be used for refuge—a place to get away from the daily grind and play with a toy train collection. Or they can be used for privacy—a place to cross-dress or read passionate letters from a past affair. Or they can be places for secrets—secrets such as theft, drug addiction, drug production, and sometimes murder, as in the infamous local case of Lloyd Stephen Solomon. Solomon confessed to sawing his friend Eric Chamber’s body into pieces small enough to fit into an ice chest and a garbage can. He left the disassembled body in a storage unit on Southwest McEwan Road in Tualatin from 1993 until 1996, when authorities discovered the murder because Solomon miscalculated his prepaid payments and lost the unit in a public auction.

Definitely not adherents of the adage “the only bad press is no press,” Inside Self-Storage includes a section in its online format called “Media Monitor.” In its own description, “’Media Monitor’ is a monthly section devoted to policing and summarizing industry coverage throughout the nation’s newspapers and other publications.” With billions at stake, the storage unit industry is generally nervous about its bad media image. Storage facilities are often portrayed in popular culture as ideal locations for crime and murder —think Silence of the Lambs, Monster, CSI, and CourtTV’s ‘Til Death do us Part—while news media report storage unit drug rings and profile people living out of storage units as housing costs increase. The editor of Inside Self-Storage wrote in 2006, “It’s no secret that storage frequently falls prey to the scrutiny of vigilant if not relentless press. Most mornings, it’s a victory to find mind-numbing dividend reports and acquisitions at the top of the slush pile. If it’s not drug- or crime-related, it’s good news where this industry is concerned.”

In over a year of research on storage units, only six storage facility managers or employees would agree to an interview with me, and one of those only if I wouldn’t use his name or the facility where he worked. Responses ranged from unreturned phone calls (including calls to the Self Storage Association), “I am not allowed to talk to the media,” and “My boss said I would be fired if I talked to any press folks.” The rise of specialty storage and extra construction expenditures to produce attractive buildings whose landscaped lawns and white picket fences blend in with neighborhoods represents a response to market needs and zoning requirements, but also signals the industry’s desire to reframe its seedy media image. Storage facilities are sprawling yet quiet—simultaneously seeking exponential growth and little public attention.

Perhaps the proliferation of storage units reflects a pervasive U.S. tendency. Popular American culture tends to scapegoat inevitable and increasing realities—personal tragedy, money shortages, rampant consumerism, and other human unmentionables. Whether for survival, hoarding, secreting, over-spending, base materialism, criminal activity, upgrading, downsizing, retiring, tax evasion or death, metroscapers here and across the country are increasing their dependence on self-storage facilities a dizzying speed.


Kelle Lawrence is a Portland area writer who received her Writing Master’s from Portland State and whose recent work has appeared in Oregon Quarterly and Oregon Humanities.




Hiding in Plain Sight: The Baldock Restoration Project

On a winter night in 2010, 109 men, women and children slept at the Baldock Rest Area on I-5 south of Wilsonville, Oregon. Approximately one third of them had set up camp in back parking lots, away from the stream of visitors who stopped at the expansive rest area to take a break from driving. They were the chronically homeless, the self-named Baldockeans, the people whose lives revolved around the community at the Baldock. Some experienced physical or mental disabilities or addictions. The Baldock was their home, their refuge, their community.

The long-term resident population had formed a complex, self-regulating community. . . 

The other two-thirds slept near parking area lights, where they felt safest. They were the “shadow people,” the transitionally homeless. Their lives had hit a bad patch—the loss of a job, major debt from medical costs, divorce, domestic violence—and they had found themselves without sufficient income to stay in their homes. They did not identify as being part of the alternative world of the homeless; instead, their goal was to remain part of traditional society and regain their former status. During the day, they hid their homeless state, leaving the Baldock to work or spend time in libraries and other public places.

The long-term resident population had formed a complex, self-regulating community, with shared meals, organized shopping expeditions and delineated roles and responsibilities. One man had called the Baldock home for 17 years, and St. Vincent de Paul, a social services agency, had provided weekly hot meals there for several years.

The Baldock north and south bound rest stops off I-5 near Wilsonville, Oregon.

Some of the features that made the Baldock an attractive area for visitors also made it attractive to people without a permanent place to live. Hot and cold running water, toilets, picnic tables, water fountains, shady groves of trees and plenty of space were important amenities to people with only a vehicle, tent or camper as a home. It also provided privacy, with three parking areas on each side of the highway. For some, the steady stream of visitors provided a remunerative panhandling opportunity, and a few may have engaged in a grey market in prostitution or drugs. Others travelled to work from the Baldock. The rest area is just 14 miles south of Portland, with its urban services, and even closer to Canby. A truck stop a few miles to the south had showers, laundry facilities, a small market, a gas station and a restaurant. In short, the combination of amenities, relative privacy and location made it an attractive place to live for those with vehicles but no traditional homes. 

That winter, the lives of the people sleeping at the Baldock were about to change. On January 1, Oregon Travel Experience (called Oregon Travel Information Council at the time) had assumed management responsibilities for five rest areas in the state, including Baldock. In anticipation of this new role, in the fall OTE had organized a local business and public sector advisory committee to develop a vision for the Baldock Rest Area, and the group had expressed concerns about panhandling and other problems associated with the homeless community. On January 1, OTE was faced with the delicate decision of how to proceed.

OTE Executive Director Cheryl Gribskov chose hot chocolate.

Homelessness and Transportation Agencies

Although the homeless community at the Baldock Rest Area was unusual in its duration and sophistication, homeless encampments or urban campgrounds commonly occur on public land. In a national survey of state transportation agencies conducted by Bassett, Tremoulet and Moe in 2011, 70% of respondents (representing 25 U.S. states and British Columbia) said that they encountered homeless encampments as part of their routine work. Any major public land owner with conveniently-located sites with some measure of privacy and shelter is a likely candidate for experiencing challenges with homeless individuals.

Upon learning of these research results, Emily Badger, a writer for The Atlantic Cities, commented, “This means that public agencies better equipped to run trains or pave highways must often act as the first responders to homelessness. It’s a sad commentary on how we handle these populations—in a society that doesn’t treat access to shelter as a right—that the task falls to the front-line employees of transportation agencies untrained to do anything like this.”

Hot Chocolate

OTE was not the first agency that had attempted to deal with the homeless encampment at the Baldock Rest Area. Round-the-clock stays were against rest area rules, and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) had, upon several occasions, called Oregon State Police to clear the area. However, neither the state police nor ODOT had sufficient resources to remain at the rest area on an ongoing basis, and thus the Baldockeans gradually returned. This cycle was repeated several times, creating a culture of distrust between the residents and state police.

Instead of leading with an enforcement-only approach, OTE decided that the agency needed to have a better understanding of the situation before proceeding. On New Year’s Day 2010, Executive Director Gribskov and a community volunteer showed up at the rest area with hot chocolate to greet the residents, introduce themselves and listen to their concerns. Gribskov quickly realized that her agency alone could not solve the complex social, economic and political challenges underlying the presence of the Baldock community, so she sought help. She enlisted not just ODOT and Oregon State Police, but also state, county and local social service agencies, homeless advocates, local law enforcement, community leaders, and the county district attorney’s office. 

Executive Director Gribskov and a community volunteer showed up at the rest area with hot chocolate . . . 

At fortuitously-timed Problem-Oriented Policing workshop sponsored by the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office, the basic strategy took shape in a committee comprised of social service and community justice representatives. The strategy involved intensive outreach and one-on-one assistance to provide opportunities to make changes that would enable them to move on from the Baldock to better living conditions. This was the “pull.” It also involved changing the conditions that enabled Baldockeans to stay where they were. This “push” included changing the rest area rules and developing new methods of enforcement.

The period of transition would have to be a carefully orchestrated ballet. 

The period of transition would have to be a carefully orchestrated ballet of pushing and pulling, with the professional partners presenting a humane but united front. The strategy came together in February 2010; the partners set a goal of clearing the rest area and beginning a higher level of enforcement on May 1, before the seasonal influx of new residents. It was a tall order, and initially there were no extra resources available to make it happen.

What made it happen was the personal commitment of the key partners involved: Ronell Warner of the Canby Center; Bill Stewart of the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office; Fred Testa and Dan Swift of Oregon State Police; Liz Bartell and Linda Fisher of Clackamas County Social Services; Karla Keller of Oregon Department of Transportation; Mary Carroll of Oregon Housing and Community Services; Amy Cleary and Cyndy Heisler of Clackamas County Domestic Resources Center and Cheryl Gribskov of Oregon Travel Experience. Eventually, a small amount of one-time-only funding —funds not available today— was found from state and county sources for enhanced case management, and local non-profits and donors chipped in with donations of cash and supplies. 

Implementing a Push-Pull Approach

On the pull side, social service agencies met with residents willing to accept assistance. They helped each person imagine and build a path to what they wanted for themselves. This could involve addressing old debts, obtaining a new social security card and identity papers to replace lost ones, taking responsibility for one’s behavior to reunite with family, finding and accepting steady employment (no matter how hard), reinstating a commercial driver’s license, enrolling in an in-patient substance abuse program, or any number of things. While the additional funds covered the costs of one-on-one case management, the pull partners creatively managed existing resources—classes, assessments—to bring services to the residents and tailor them to their needs.

The push-side partners developed new rules and enforcement procedures to dislodge the long-term community and ensure that a new one did not take its place. They tightened up Oregon Administrative Rules that governed behavior in rest areas and made failure to comply a Class B violation. The Clackamas County Community Court was poised to take on criminal cases if they arose and divert offenders to rehabilitative services as an alternative to serving jail time, if warranted. OTE made plans to refurbish the rest area and staff it with both a site team and volunteers to promote its use as a visitor resource. They also allocated funds to pay for enhanced police patrols after the enforcement date of May 1 and through the rest of the summer to discourage visitors from staying more than the allowed 12 hours during a 24-hour period. 

The professional partners soon discovered that implementing a push-pull approach also required forging new levels of trust among themselves—social service agencies and law enforcement do not always see eye-to-eye on matters involving both their professions—and with the Baldockeans, who, until this point, had had little reason to believe that anyone cared. The professionals learned to trust each other’s judgment and be flexible about enforcing the rules. They came to have each other’s back, to be attentive to each other’s safety and to show up if needed. For the Baldockeans, trust meant believing that these people were sincere about both the opportunities and permanent change at the Baldock. They began to believe that this time was different.

Moving Day and Beyond

Moving day, April 30th, 2010, was quite an event. The preceding 48 hours had involved a flurry of activity, with volunteer and paid mechanics working to get old vehicles road-worthy and the remaining Baldockeans packing their possessions. For those who had no other place to go immediately, the county had arranged temporary camping at a nearby state campground. Beyond that, they would do “in-and-out” at the Baldock, staying no more than 12 hours at a time, until a more permanent solution was found.

Moving day was not picture-perfect, but it was successful. A state trooper who had not been involved with the project showed up unexpectedly and began ticketing the Baldockeans. Chaos ensued, and trust built over months of hard work was nearly destroyed, until the situation was sorted out by other state police who had been involved.

In the short term, half of the 20 people who had accepted county help found other places to camp, 30% did in-and-out at the Baldock, 10% found permanent housing, 5% went into detox and treatment, and 5% found other solutions. Approximately sixteen months later, half of them were in permanent housing and 15% were in transitional housing, waiting for a permanent spot to open up. Only 35% were in unstable living conditions. Given the circumstances, a long-term housing retention rate of 65% for this population is considered to be very good.

The Baldock is now a lovely, wellmaintained visitor resource. The restored Grove of the States provides a walking path for those needing to stretch their legs. The back area sports a new solar array. While most who stop are there for just a short while, parking is also available for up to 12 hours a day to truck drivers and others (including former Baldockeans) who need a place to stop and sleep. There is no evidence of the long-standing community that once lived there.

Learning from the Baldock

Thus, homelessness is a messy, complicated societal problem with many spillover effects. 

The economic, social and political choices made as a nation over the last decades haves ensured that our country will have an ongoing population of homeless individuals. Local housing and social services networks are, in most cases, struggling to keep up with the demand for services. Thus, homelessness is a messy, complicated societal problem with many spillover effects, some of which are likely to continue to affect the maintenance and operations of our shared public land.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for those with the land and those with the services to sit down together with representatives or advocates of people without permanent housing to develop new approaches that accommodate the ongoing and permanent reality of homelessness in our communities today. The Baldock Restoration Project is one such example of that occurring. The solution reached was humane displacement.

The solution reached was humane displacement. 

In some cases, more long-term arrangements have been reached. Dignity Village, a self-managed homeless community, has a lease with the City of Portland for Sunderland Yard near the Portland airport. Over the last ten years, tents have been slowly replaced with small structures which must meet basic building codes for camping structures. Dignity Village is guided by a set of democratically-created rules, including no drugs, alcohol, disruptive behavior or children (for the children’s safety). Residents must participate in weekly village meetings and contribute time and labor to maintaining the community.

In Eugene and nearby communities, St. Vincent de Paul manages an overnight parking program for homeless people with vehicles. They work with faith communities, non-profits, local governments and businesses that volunteer sites. St. Vincent de Paul provides garbage disposal and portable rest rooms. In 2011, the program assisted 81 individual adults and 27 families with 41 children.

In King County, Washington, the selfmanaged Tent City 4 rotates from one location to the next every ninety days, so that no one community absorbs the impact permanently. It is associated with the non-profit SHARE/WHEEL. Currently, Tent City 4 is located in a church parking lot across from the police station in the prosperous town of Kirkland. Their self-imposed rules require that they be respectful neighbors, as they are often located in residential neighborhoods. Loitering outside the camp, parking nearby and loud noise are prohibited, as well as drugs and alcohol. They work with law enforcement to screen new community members.

Perhaps the ultimate challenge for collaboration was issued by a Federal Highway Administration official from the Midwest. At a January 2012 national transportation conference, where a case study of the Baldock Restoration Project was presented, he posed this question: What if transportation engineers started designing facilities such as overpasses or bridges to accommodate the needs of homeless people instead of chasing them away? Perhaps the sites could be maintained by social service agencies or self-managed communities. That solution would certainly represent a new kind of thinking about how to respond to the issue and require a new level of collaboration and trust among public agencies and the people whom they serve.

There is little question that living in a car, camper or tent in make-shift accommodations is far from the perfect longterm solution to the nation’s intransigent problem of homelessness. But it may be a practical and humane one that is hiding in plain sight.

Andrée Tremoulet is a research associate for the Center for Urban Studies at Portland State and owner of Commonworks Consulting. Ellen M. Bassett is an Associate Professor at the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia. Allison Moe is an Associate Planner with McCool Development Solutions in Denver, Colorado.

 




Metroscape Rocks

 

With all the rivers and mountains surrounding us, the Portland metro area offers many interesting opportunities for rockhounding. Shiny agates and jaspers hide in most of the waterways, but only a few places contain sizable gravel bars that are continually productive. Similarly, many of the basalt flows that blanket the area contain interesting crystals, but only a few spots provide enough material to keep a family expedition interesting.

This article contains five different “rock walks” you can take advantage of for family fun. The information is gathered from my 2007 book, Gem Trails of Washington, and my upcoming rewrite of Gem Trails of Oregon, due out in late 2008.

If you have a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS), you can enter the coordinates and make sure you are exactly on the spot, but in most cases, such accuracy isn’t really necessary. As the year stretches on and the rivers and creeks get lower, they will expose even more locales worth checking, but each of these spots offers good access and predictable results.

These are just a few of the spots around the Portland metro area where you can do some easy rockhounding. If you want a harder workout, complete with heavy sledgehammer and gads and chisels, Central Oregon has dozens of free, public locales for heavy-duty work. Both of the Gem Trails guides offer more locales to choose from, and all have been recently field-checked to make sure you have legal access to the locales.

The sites listed here are for easier collecting, and perfect for anyone who wants to go for a walk and come home with a few pretty rocks in their pockets. If you are new to rockhounding, consider joining a local rock club for help identifying your finds, for assistance with cutting and polishing, or for ideas for further adventures.

Rock Walks:
Clackamette Park
Memaloose
Nehalem River
Five Islands
Washougal River

Garret Romaine, MBA, is a leader in the local and national technical writing industry and Associate Fellow with Society for Technical Communication. He writes for the Gold Prospectors Association of America and has authored two rockhounding guides covering Washington and Oregon.



CLACKAMETTE PARK
Clackamette ParkLook for agate and jasper at this easy, urban setting. Gravels accumulate under the bridge and on most exposed riverbanks in this area. Although the best gravels are along the Clackamas River, many of these rocks are simply reworked from the Willamette drainage. If you get all the way to Memaloose further up the Clackamas, you can make your own comparison.

There is an interesting collection of material here. Most of the gravels are smooth, round and clean. Look for red and yellow jasper, sometimes in chunks as large as a child’s fist. The best way to tell if the jasper is hard enough to slice or polish is to look for small, half-moon shaped craters where it shows fresh chips. These fractures are a sure sign the rock is very hard. If you see a porous surface, with lots of little holes, the rock probably won’t polish up and shine. We call these samples “leaverite” – leave ‘er right where you found ‘er.

The agate here ranges from small, rare pieces of red-orange carnelian to more plentiful, and larger, clear pieces. Other forms of quartz, such as a milky-white chalcedony, will also tumble well. Mostly this is gray-to-black river rock, somewhere between andesite and basalt. The rare petrified wood is from multiple species, and these are the hardest pieces that have survived a long river run from valley deposits in Scio, Sweet Home, or the Calapooia drainage. The polish can be striking. Identifying petrified wood takes a little experience, but you are basically looking for lines and angles. You may have to toss aside several small pieces of actual driftwood before you find one that is turned to stone.
Nearby gravel deposits emerge during low water at various places. Look for a good spot on the south bank of the Clackamas between here and the Carver Bridge. Topo maps show many gravel pits in the area, but most are still active.

Clackamette Park map
(click to enlarge)

By late summer the Clackamas River is low, calm, and easy to navigate near the mouth, so a boat, canoe, or kayak expedition might be interesting. You might be able to reach some areas that have seen fewer rockhounds.

Directions:
At Oregon City, follow the signs off I-205 to SE 82nd Ave/McLoughlin. Look for signs to Clackamette Park as you angle to the river. Park in the far lot and work your way up the south bank of the Clackamas.

Material: Tumbler rock

Roads: Easy, any vehicle

Season: Any

GPS: 45.3722, -122.6027; 22 ft

Camping: No but nearby RV park

Tools: Geology pick at most

Nearby: End of Oregon Trail



MEMALOOSE

xMemaloose BridgeLook for agates and jasper in the river gravels near the Memaloose Bridge, above Estacada. The agate is not plentiful, but it is hard and ranges to a nice powder blue. Site A is just below the road on a steep trail that leads to the river edge. Stop and park in the pull-out near the bridge. If the water is low enough, look for clear agate and cloudy calcite pieces, plus pale white zeolites in matrix piled up in the river gravels.

There is an old zeolite locale up the road about 0.65 miles from the turnoff leading over bridge, labeled as Site B. Jon Gladwell published this site years ago, and it is just about all mined out. Check the big boulders beneath the cut and you might get lucky. Look for sprays of white stilbite and fine needles. If you really like zeolites, head back to the highway and continue on up towards Ripplebrook to the big bluff where Fish Creek Road heads south and hammer around in the cliffs there.

memaloose map
(click to enlarge)

At first glance, the surrounding geology is mostly barren basalt, but there are seams and veins throughout. Check any fresh road cut or slumped material. For tumbler material, look for more big gravel deposits nearby. There are some excellent spots to check, but only a kayaker or rafter could reach them, because they are on the other side of the river.

Directions:
From Portland, drive east on OR 224 to Estacada and proceed about 8 more miles to the Memaloose Bridge. Cross over the bridge and immediately look for a place to park. Work your way to the river and start searching the gravels for agate. The jasper runs tan, yellow, and red, with many pieces hard enough to polish. The zeolite locale is further up this road, about 0.65 miles from the turnoff at OR 224.

Material: Agate, quartz, zeolite, calcite

Roads: Easy, any vehicle

Season: Avoid winter

GPS: A: 45.1925, -122.2102; 700 ft
B: 45.1954, -122.2198; 989 ft

Camping: Yes (open USFS)

Maps: Mt. Hood National Forest

Tools: Geology pick

Nearby: Bagby Hot Springs



NEHALEM RIVER

Nehalem River Clear CreekFossil concretions and jasper are common in the Nehalem, but the prized material here is reddish-orange carnelian agate, found scattered in the gravels of the riverbed. This locale is actually a “back-door” opportunity to collect carnelian from Clear Creek, long known as the primary source for the Nehalem’s best agate. The problem is that most of Clear Creek is off-limits to collecting, being private timberland. The best alternative now is to check near the mouth of Clear Creek where it enters the Nehalem.

This is a spot to save for later in the season when the water is lower. There are only limited dry gravel accumulations here, so be prepared to put on your rubber boots and slowly walk the shallow river. If it’s warm enough, you can wade in sturdy sandals and short pants. Try to keep the sun in front of you if it happens to be out that day, and the agate should light up like pieces of glass in the murky water.

Some of the private timberland above here opens up during hunting season, but even then the good quarry is not open for collecting. The Mt. Hood Rock Club has organized trips up Clear Creek in the past, so when their schedule comes out each spring, be sure to check. Tim Fisher usually publishes the master schedule on his OreRockOn.com website by the end of March. Barring this, your best bet is to walk the Nehalem below where Clear Creek enters, and wherever else you can get access. I have found carnelian from Clear Creek all the way to Vinemaple, but I haven’t had good luck past Elsie. There are a lot of fences and private land to steer clear of up here. On the plus side, the severe flood of 2007 may have formed some productive new gravel bars all the way to the river’s mouth. There are some excellent campsites on the lower Nehalem, so if you just want to explore the river for access points, that could make for a great car trip.

Nehalem River map
(click to enlarge)

Also search for concretions wherever you go. These are the round sandstone balls that look like cannonballs. They are formed when some piece of organic material washes around long enough in lime-rich mud to get a coating started. That muddy blob gets continually sloshed in the muck until it forms into a round ball so it can roll better. Concretions sometimes hold an entire crab inside, but most are barren. Cracking them is an art to itself, and you might want to search the Internet for a few tips. When the water is low, you can sometimes spot concretions just waiting to be popped out of the bedrock. Also, keep an eye out for sharp-edged agates and jaspers, which may be the remnants of Indian artifacts and are legal to add to your collection if you are collecting rocks and minerals to start with.

Directions:
From Portland, drive out US 26 to Timber Junction. Turn north onto Vernonia Road, and start watching for the river alongside. There is a long bridge over Clear Creek, which comes in from the left and is marked by Clear Creek Road. Just past the road there is a bridge across the Nehalem, with a good parking spot and decent river access.

Nehalem River RocksMaterial: Tumbler

Roads: Easy; any vehicle

Season: Any

GPS: A: 45.8151, -123.2815; 680 ft

Camping: Stub Stewart State Park

Tools: Geology pick; waders

Nearby: Jewell elk herd



FIVE ISLANDS

Five IslandsYou can find excellent pieces of agate, jasper, and petrified wood throughout the gravels of the lower Willamette River. By late summer, the water usually recedes enough to expose extensive gravel bars. However, anything you can reach by car will get picked over fairly fast. One answer is to mount a two-day, 15-mile boating expedition and float your way to the more remote areas.

Four of us launched a pair of two-man canoes at Wheatland Ferry and paddled for nine miles to reach Five Islands. It took about five hours to get there, because we stopped at every promising gravel bar along the way and did well. Not only were the pieces large, they were plentiful. We found impressive chunks of agate, including a fantastic red-orange carnelian, littering the gravels. Petrified wood of all varieties was easy to pick up, sometimes quite large, and most of it was hard enough to take an excellent polish. There is primitive camping all along the river here.

Five Islands map
(click to enlarge)

We pulled out the next day at San Salvador, after first stopping at Candiana Bar just above the take-out point. There, too, we found plentiful, excellent material. In 2007 two kids in McMinnville were featured with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, after finding a nine-inch mastodon tooth in the Yamhill River drainage. We looked for bones, tusks and teeth on our trip, but didn’t find anything. It’s probably just as well – you need a paleontological permit to legally collect vertebrate fossils, and you should expect to turn over just about anything you find. Contact the Rice Museum in Hillsboro if you find something you need to report. A journey all the way to where the Yamhill River empties in might make a lot more sense for better fossils.

Directions:
This is a boat trip only, although there are several gravel deposits accessible by car, and both landings feature some agate picking if you can’t make a river run. If you’re a power boater, take I-5 to San Salvador and put your craft in, zip upriver about six miles, and look for immense gravels on your left. Get out, explore, zip back to the landing and go home. Or, make a weekend of it: drop a car, drive to Wheatland Ferry and put in, and head for Five Islands. If you don’t make it this far on Day 1 it’s no big deal; there is extensive camping on numerous gravel bars and islands. On Day 2, paddle to San Salvador. If you just have a car, take a day trip to Wheatland, search the gravels there, and then drive up to San Salvador. I saw several excellent gravel bars on the canoe trip, and one had tire tracks, while another had a full parking lot, so I know there are more opportunities to search the lower Willamette by car.

Petrified WoodMaterial: Vast agate, jasper; some wood

Roads: Via river only

Season: Late summer

GPS: 45.1762, -123.0144; 75 ft

Camping: Yes: islands are open

Tools: Geology pick; canoe

Nearby: St Paul Rodeo



WASHOUGAL RIVER

Washougal RiverThis area is technically along the Washougal River, but I suspect the material comes from older Columbia River gravel deposits left over from when the river changed channels. There is a small mining district above Washougal with some interesting mineralization, but it is closed to the public and you can’t collect up there. So stick to the river.

The Columbia River contains gravels from British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and you would expect that only the hardest and best material would make it this far. Look for gem quality jasper and agate, plus rounded, polished petrified wood that originates far up river. Most of the good agate is smaller in size, but there are zones of larger cobbles and boulders where larger material lurks.

Washougal River map
(click to enlarge)

There are two spots that provide access to the gravels in Washougal. The first is a skateboard park called Sportsman Park, and the second is Oak Park. Each locale has well-marked paths, limited facilities, and parking. Oak Park is a little closer to the Columbia, and it looked like the gravels were more extensive. Southeast Washougal River Road parallels the river going north for a ways, reaching miles into the hills. If you like river drives, go further east and try the back road along the Klickitat River – it curls around and empties into Goldendale, making a nice loop.

This doesn’t have to be a “summer-only” spot, as long as the Washougal isn’t at flood stage. However, the nicer the weather, the more enjoyable wading around looking for pretty rocks can be. Use your own discretion; fall brings salmon carcasses rotting in the shallows. Fascinating as that sight can be on television, it loses some luster up close and personal.

Directions:
Take WA 14 from Vancouver to Washougal. Go into town from the 5th St exit, and wind around town until you are on 3rd and you see a bridge coming up across the Washougal. Take the immediate right, west of the bridge, into Sportsman Park. Oak Park is also along the Washougal, but is accessed via WA 14.

Material: Agate, jasper, petrified wood

Roads: Easy, any vehicle

Season: Avoid winter; fall brings salmon carcasses

GPS: 45.61712, -122.42792; 52ft

Camping: No, try USFS land up the Washougal River

Tools: Geology pick

Nearby: Lacamas Lake




“Do-Good Dottie” Cleans Up

Across the metroscape, people are talking about Hillary. Willamette Week reports breathlessly on the latest VIP Democrat to endorse her presidential candidacy. The prolific bloggers and would-be insiders at Blue Oregon and Daily Kos opine about her voting record, her merits versus detractors, her appeal (or lack of appeal) to Oregonians, and her chances of actually winning.

Among the questions they’re asking: Is Hillary Clinton too controversial? Is she too conservative? Is America ready for its first woman president? And, if elected, could she effectively stamp out corruption in Washington, thus restoring our country to its former integrity, if not glory?

As 2008 promises all kinds of election excitement, an instructive piece of local history may provide parallels, if not answers, to the Hillary questions. Indeed, not too long ago Portlanders were raising similar concerns about another pioneering female politician, one who also promised great change should she be elected to the city’s top office.

Portland in 1947 was a dirty town. A port city crawling with gambling halls, strip joints, seedy bars and brothels, the City of Roses offered every addiction known to man. Bookies set up shop on 4th and Morrison. Dealers sold opiates in Chinatown. On SW 3rd, the legendary Tart’s Row, a romp with a prostitute cost $10. A sweet-faced, redheaded madame called Little Rusty entertained local cops and Supreme Court justices. Mafia-controlled abortion racket brought women streaming in from Seattle and California. Violence and venereal disease ran so high that sea captains refused sailors liberty time to carouse in Portland. Crime rings, both local and out-of-state, paid police and politicians to stay off their scent. Rumor had it Portland’s mayor, Earl Riley, skimmed off the protection money collected by police, estimated at $60,000 a month, and hid it in a vault next to his City Hall office. 

A port city crawling with gambling halls, strip joints, seedy bars and brothels, the City of Roses offered every addiction known to man.

On the night of January 14, 1947 Captain Frank Tatum anchored the Navy ship USS Edwin Abbey in Portland, walked up the gangplank and headed for Cecil’s Rooms, a bar on 6th Avenue. Huddled in his coat as temperatures dropped to the teens, he checked his platinum, diamond-studded watch and puffed with pride. The piece was worth $1800. In his pocket he had $700, enough for a thorough perusal of Portland’s nightlife. As Tatum imbibed and flashed his watch, Cecil’s owner, Patrick O’Day, saw an opportunity. An argument ensued but 52-year-old Tatum was no match for ex-prizefighter O’Day, who beat him brutally and told his boys to “get rid of him.” Two of Cecil’s employees lugged the semi-conscious Tatum to a car, drove into the hills above Northwest Portland, and tossed him off a 50-foot cliff.

The body was found five days later. The watch and $700 were gone. Tatum’s murder shocked residents out of complacency. Portland’s City Club began researching the Rose City’s depravity. Ultimately, the 1,000-member civic organization pointed its long, elegant finger at Riley and police.
While Portland’s public officials were small fish in a sea of nationwide syndicates, rotting city government, in cahoots with local law enforcement, had enabled organized crime to flourish. Portland residents were fuming.

Into this maelstrom strode Dorothy McCullough Lee. Disgusted by the vice industry, Portland’s Commissioner of Public Utilities began doing some research of her own. Testing the waters for a 1948 mayoral bid against Riley, she swore that, if elected, she would enforce the law. Influential ears perked up.

mayor lee
“Let’s really be brothers” — Mayor Dorothy McCullough Lee signs a proclamation setting February 19th to 26th as Brotherhood week as Dr. Morgan S. Odell (left) and Adolph L. Block, committee members, look on.
OrHi [no negative number].
No stranger to law or politics, Lee, an attorney, had served 14 years in the Oregon House of Representatives and Senate. In 1943 she left Salem to join the Portland City Commission. She was about to become Portland’s first woman mayor, and only the second woman in the United States to hold a city’s top office.

Could the thin, gray-haired wife of a Standard Oil executive battle Portland’s underworld and win?

Lee seemed an unlikely heroine. Gray-blue eyes peered out like half moons under strange, ornate hats as she stood erect at 5’4.” She weighed in at 110 pounds. Straight posture, a sharp nose and prim mouth suggested a 47-year old schoolmarm, stalwart, efficient, but ultimately harmless. The question arose: could the thin, gray-haired wife of a Standard Oil executive battle Portland’s underworld and win?

Dorothy had decided long before that she would not be hamstrung by gender, and that sex had no place in politics. At age 13, she leaned over the rail of the U.S. Senate Gallery, where her father, Navy Rear Admiral Frank McCullough, had been summoned to Washington. Listening to the women’s suffrage debate, a horrified Dorothy realized she might not get the right to vote. She kept her eye on the issue, which passed into national law in 1920. She became a lawyer in 1924 and, arriving in Portland the same year, she opened the first all-female law practice in Oregon, with a fellow attorney Gladys Everett.
As the lone woman in both the Oregon Legislature and on Portland’s City Commission, she refused to see “woman” and “political leader” as mutually exclusive.

As City Commissioner, Lee had dealt mostly with infrastructure. She’d convinced the local traction company into updating the streetcar and bus system, to the tune of $1,500,000, and she implemented a successful mosquito-control program. Citizens knew her as an effective administrator.
Still, she debated whether she was the person for the mayor’s office. Sensing her passion and her indecision, City Club and other organizations turned up the heat on Lee. A phone call from a female civic leader upset her. “The mothers of Portland are looking to you, Dorothy,” the woman said, knowing Dorothy had two adopted children.

Days before the March 12, 1948 filing deadline, Dorothy sat in her parked car at Union Station. High clouds moved across the sky and W. Scott Lee, her burly, big-faced husband of 24 years shifted in the seat beside her, ready to leave on a business trip. She was still torn, she said, and Scottie gave her his final thoughts. He told her, personally, he wouldn’t want the job, “under any circumstances,” and he did not envy her the campaign. But, given the issues and people urging her on, he did not think she had much choice. He kissed her goodbye, got out of the car and entered the station to catch his train.

At 8:36 p.m. March 12, while dining at a friend’s house in San Francisco, Scott received a telegram: “Prepare to hang onto your hat when you come home. I filed for Mayor Thursday and Riley filed today along with seven little known candidates. Have written an announcement story for Sunday papers. I need publicity agent badly also ghost writer. Will you apply for job.? Love Dorothy.”

He replied immediately: “Have wired my hat fast. I apply for both jobs. Will expect no additional compensation for occasional overtime. Home Sunday 11:30. Love Scottie.”

Dorothy had little need for campaign management. Fed up with Riley, Portland’s citizenry ousted him in the May 21, primary giving Lee 85,045 to Riley’s 22,510 votes, and an eight-month transition before assuming the position.

Mayor Dorothy McCullough Lee with Portland city commissioners.
Mayor Dorothy McCullough Lee with Portland city commissioners.
OrHi #CN008915-0317P082.

In January 1949 she took office and rolled up her sleeves. Within two weeks she hired Charles Pray, former head of the Oregon State Police, a man known for his honesty, as her new police chief. Lee declared that “slot machines and other corrupting devices would be repressed.” She used police to pull the offending machines. Within three days, a Press Club member paid her a visit. The Press Club slot machine provided $50,000 in annual revenues, the man said. Its removal would cause the club significant hardship. Lee turned to a red book of Oregon codes; the man reminded her of his large contribution to her campaign. She sat behind the large desk in the mayor’s office, her alabaster face impassive, and thumbed through the book. Finally she looked up and said, “The law merely says slot machines are illegal. It doesn’t make a distinction between gentlemen’s clubs and the corner beer tavern. Slot machines are illegal in Oregon.”

The man sat, dumbstruck.

Within months she had raided Chinese gambling joints, earning her the nickname, “No Sin Lee.” She and Pray closed downtown card rooms. They removed pinball machines. In 1949 and 1950 they shut down burlesque houses, brothels and The Music Hall, a homosexual club boasting female impersonators.

Mobsters moved away and the vice industry suffered. Downtown businesses also languished, their property values declining, and in September 1949, a coalition of 10 disgruntled businessmen sought to recall Mayor Lee from office. The reason, as reported by The Oregonian: “An onerous and inequitable financial burden upon the workers and business people of Portland.”

Dorothy responded, citing sore losers, but wrote in a statement, “To file a recall petition against any public official is, of course, the privilege of any group of citizens under the Democratic Form of Government.” She added that she “would not want to serve as Mayor of Portland any longer than the majority of our people wish me to be their chief executive.”

As residents and civic organizations supported their mayor, the recall attempt faltered. October 1949 showed her approval rating at 66% and, by November, recall ringleader attorney Maxwell Donnelly sent her a peace offering, a dozen roses, with the note, “I was only foolin’.” Dorothy refused the bouquet.
Her troubles did not end there. Former Mayor Riley continued running a payoff racket from his Packard dealership and, since Lee was unable to shut out national crime rings organized by the Seattle Teamsters Union, debauchery did not pull up stakes and leave town altogether.

Meanwhile, downtown businesses closed and city revenues plummeted (partly as a result of Mayor Lee’s vice-fighting tactics). Additionally, Lee’s introduction of business taxes and school levies failed, as did Housing Authority of Portland’s bid to build 2,000 low-rent apartments. Her introduction of a civil rights bill alienated her from an inherently segregated town.

During her years as mayor, Lee cleared downtown congestion, implementing the current grid of one-way streets. She was a friend to women, minorities and the poor, but she was largely ineffectual in Portland’s top office.

Obsessed with morality, she neglected the business community and refused to play politics. Lee interpreted the law in minutiae, overlooking legal race tracks and dog parks, causing many to question her consistency, and even the law itself. Thus she became a laughingstock, dubbed “Dottie-Do-Good,” chided for her funny hats and otherwise marginalized.

In 1952 she sought reelection but, backed by the business community, Fred Peterson ran against her and won. Dorothy McCullough Lee left City Hall and Portland was back in business.

Among the signs of the relapse was California stripper Tempest Storm’s purchase of the Capital Theater in 1953 where she headlined shows. Also by 1955 Portland had succumbed to a mob war, Seattle Teamsters fighting local kingpins to control the city. In 1957 a national vice probe called three Portland witnesses to testify before the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor and Management Field in Washington, DC. Among those subpoenaed was new Portland Mayor Terry Schrunk, accused of taking bribes from bootleggers in his previous job as sheriff. Though Schrunk remained popular after his questioning, Portland was embarrassed by the national attention and organized crime lost its hold on the City of Roses.

But Dorothy McCullough Lee had long since moved on to Washington, DC where she served on the National Parole Board and the controversial red-hunting Special Committee on Subversive Activities. She returned to Portland in 1962 to teach at PSU and resume practicing law.

By all accounts, Dorothy Lee was an honest politician. In 1943, as a state senator and candidate for senate president, she faced a tied vote, 15 to 15. Lee conceded, explaining that she “could not, in the interests of the state, allow the deadlock to continue any longer.” The only argument against her had been her gender. In wartime, senate president is next in succession to the governor and opponents believed a woman could not be governor in wartime. Ex-Governor Charles Sprague later clucked at the premise. He had no doubt Lee could have governed the state and commanded the state guard through World War II.

Additionally, she eschewed partisan politics and, as a Republican in the Oregon Senate, she often supported traditionally Democratic causes, including free textbooks for schoolchildren and funding for low-income housing. As she told an interviewer on women’s radio show in 1948, recapping her years in Salem, “You couldn’t really tell who was a Democrat and who was a Republican unless you already knew.”

History tends to reward honorable public servants, even when they fail to deliver expected miracles. Though by all accounts Lee was a better legislator than a mayor, few newspaper articles criticize her. Ex-Governor Tom McCall called her “a real lady, with an iron will,” and ex-Senator Richard L. Neuberger said Portland would have been spared humiliation by the Senate Committee had Dorothy remained mayor. 

History tends to reward honorable public servants, even when they fail to deliver expected miracles.

While Lee, who died in 1981, may have been conservative, she was also ahead of her time. The Mafia left Portland in the early 1960s, 10 years after her failed reelection bid; civil rights took root in the same era. Women’s equality movements blossomed in the late 60s as well.

While it remains to be seen whether America is ready for its first woman president, or whether Hillary is the appropriate woman for the job, Dorothy McCullough Lee earned a legacy of admiration for planting the seeds of Portland’s transformation, and also because she showed more interest in fulfilling her platform than in acquiring or retaining power. And, though her staunch devotion to her original promise cost her a second chance at City Hall, she bore no grudges. Quoting Abraham Lincoln to her husband during the 1949 recall campaign, she said, “As long as you are of any use or value to the community, you cannot expect to be free of abuse and criticism.”


Meryl Lipman is a Portland area freelance writer.

 




Finding the Middle: Overcoming Challenges to Building Missing Middle Housing

Introduction

In the Portland metro area and across the state, the demographics of cities are changing. Urban populations and housing prices are rising, while household sizes are declining with an aging baby boomer generation and younger households both delaying marriage and children and having fewer children [i]. With these changing dynamics, many Portland metro communities are looking to missing middle housing types to “provide for the housing needs of citizens of the state” as called for in the Oregon Statewide Planning Goals and Guidelines. With increasing interest in missing middle housing as a way to provide more housing choices for area households while supporting inclusive, sustainable communities, what do metro area communities need to know to position themselves for housing success?

What is Missing Middle Housing?

Increasingly, communities are looking to housing models that were prevalent in many American cities before suburban living preferences, the ease of automobile travel, prohibitive zoning, and inequitable lending practices. These communities included a mix of housing types and discrete densities interspersed with single-family homes to form an innate neighborhood that supported a variety of households. While evocative of many treasured, traditional neighborhoods, this diverse mix of housing types didn’t have a name until recently: missing middle housing.

Missing middle housing represents the gap between single-family housing and higher intensity multi-family and mixed-use buildings. These types range from duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, row houses, stacked flats, courtyard housing of various kinds, cottage clusters, and small apartment buildings. Contextually-sensitive missing middle housing can be compatible with single-family homes and may be interspersed in neighborhoods or serve as a transition to higher-intensity or mixed-use corridors. The designers who coined the term often recommend that missing middle housing is no taller than two-and-a-half stories, ranging from two to fourteen units for compatibility with lower-intensity neighbors, while larger missing middle multi-unit buildings may be appropriate in certain contexts [2]. The resulting density may support broader community desires, including walkable retail, amenities, and public transportation through increased “feet on the street” [3].   

   

Why Is It important?

“Various housing types support household diversity, including income, size, age, and preferences for multigenerational living, enabling inclusionary, vibrant communities.

Proponents of missing middle housing assert that the various housing types support household diversity, including income, size, age, and preferences for multigenerational living, enabling inclusionary, vibrant communities. Missing middle housing is often smaller, and therefore is generally more affordable than larger homes—both to produce and for the resident. Smaller households, those seeking to downsize, live multi-generationally near each other, or age in community would have increased options through missing middle housing. First-time home buying may additionally be more attainable, and diverse rental options embedded in communities with access to neighborhood amenities like schools and parks would be more available. Missing middle housing can also increase density discretely without major changes in neighborhood character, conversely supporting the viability of neighborhood commercial districts, higher frequency transit service, and climate change objectives regarding the reduction of auto and fossil fuel dependency. In the Portland metro area specifically, various demographic indicators point to the growing importance of housing that meets these needs and preferences, and research at the Greater Portland Pulse’s Housing Data Hub explains these trends [insert link].  

What’s Being Built

Regional forecasts project that the Portland MSA in Oregon alone will gain over 274,000 households by 2040, a combination of new people and individuals striking out on their own. With a need for housing for these 274,000 new households, how are communities and housing providers meeting their diversifying needs?

According to a study by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, single-family zoning is still a dominant land use in most Oregon cities. Within the Portland Metro urban growth boundary as of December 2015, single-dwelling residential zones comprised 48 percent of all land area and 77 percent of all land area currently zoned for housing [4]. In many metro area communities, the areas where new missing middle housing is permitted may therefore be very limited, though many areas currently zoned for single-family residential may include small-scale multi-family homes that predate zoning regulations.  

From January 2010 to January 2018, roughly 62,000 housing units were permitted in Oregon’s Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties. The breakdown of these units, however, illustrates that the vast majority of the newly-built housing stock may not provide for the needs of an increasingly diverse community. Over this eight-year period, 40 percent of the permitted units were single-family, detached homes, consistent with the high prevalence of single-dwelling residential zoning. Over the same time, an equal 40 percent of permitted units were located in large buildings with forty-one or more units, generally representing high-density, urban apartments with smaller units. At the ends of the housing spectrum, the bulk of these single-family homes may be out of reach for many area households or located in far-flung neighborhoods, while many new multi-family units are generally high-end and do not meet the needs of families.

From 2010 to 2018, only 7 percent of units permitted from 2010 to 2018 were located in buildings defined as missing middle housing—generally considered two to fourteen units—demonstrating that the small-scale, discretely dense housing types that historically made up America’s urban neighborhoods truly are missing from housing production today.

Meeting in the Middle

With housing production concentrated on the extreme ends of the density spectrum and a growing, diverse population, many area communities are looking to missing middle housing to fill the gaps in the current housing supply. For example, the Residential Infill Project undertaken by the City of Portland is seeking to balance the contextual scale of infill housing with increased housing choice to provide more missing middle housing options. In Milwaukie, the city is undertaking a “cottage cluster” housing study to understand the financial feasibility and ideal site design of small home communities to create affordable housing, senior housing, workforce housing, and housing for individuals with physical and mental health needs. At a plan level, Hillsboro’s Comprehensive Plan 2035 includes a policy to “support innovative design techniques that allow the opportunity for varied housing types, such as, but not limited to, tiny houses, cottages, courtyard housing, cooperative housing, accessory dwelling units, single story units, and extended family and multi-generational housing.”  Implementation of this policy recommendation could include missing middle typologies at various scales, demonstrating the relevance of missing middle housing in communities large and small across the metro area.

For communities considering missing middle housing types, what do policymakers and technical staff need to know to position their cities for success?  Is the lack of missing middle housing an outcome of prohibitive zoning regulations alone, or are there other regulatory, market, and financing barriers to creating a range of housing choices at attainable prices?  While each community’s experience will be unique, understanding the major pieces that must align to realize its vision of diverse, accessible missing middle housing is critical, and the following common elements should be part of the conversation.  

Who Builds Missing Middle Housing

Missing middle housing is developed by both market-rate and affordable housing providers, and many affordable housing entities and community development corporations have developed, owned, and operated missing middle housing types—duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, row houses, and apartment flats—in the metro area for decades, integrated into the fabric of neighborhoods. The lower cost of production, ability to serve families and residents in all life phases, and location in neighborhoods make missing middle housing an important part of quality affordable housing. For-profit developers who have traditionally targeted first-time homebuyers or the workforce housing market often describe themselves as producing “attainable” housing, often in the form of missing middle typologies, but without the specific term. Notably, some developers who have traditionally constructed higher-end, luxury single-family housing are also interested in shifting their business to duplexes, townhouses, and row houses, because single-family development in infill locations is too expensive to be able to sell at a rate the market will support. Acknowledging both a market desire for these products, and the inability to produce single-family housing at a viable price in many communities, the development community’s interest in missing middle housing is increasing across the metro area.

In infill contexts, most missing middle housing developers today are smaller firms—both affordable and market rate— or general contractors. Larger missing middle development entities are more common in new, master-planned communities. It’s important for communities to understand who their housing providers are based upon this development context; larger companies are often better able to hold land for longer periods of time before developing and producing income from it, and smaller firms are generally unable to purchase and hold land as long with high carrying costs. Entitlement challenges discussed below that add time and cost to missing middle housing projects may be felt more acutely by these small firms.

Entitlement Challenges

“There is limited available land zoned appropriately for missing middle housing in the metro area.”

Housing developers widely acknowledge that there is limited available land zoned appropriately for missing middle housing in the metro area, consistent with the finding that 77 percent of land within the Urban Growth Boundary zoned for housing is limited to single unit dwellings. Zoning allowance is obviously the first hurdle in constructing missing middle housing, but simply enabling missing middle housing through other multi-family and mixed-use zoning options is not enough. While missing middle housing may not be precluded in an area zoned for mixed-use or higher-intensity multifamily uses, the corresponding market-driven high land value demands higher density development. Missing middle developers often cannot compete with other buyers for land zoned for higher intensities, because they would not be able to offer a comparable purchase price for the land while making less profit from smaller-scale development. While there are numerous technical and design elements to consider, zone districts that are specific to the desired missing middle housing types, but do not allow densities that exceed them, will be critical in implementing missing middle housing policy recommendations.

Many traditional missing middle housing units were constructed prior to auto-domination and minimum off-street parking requirements, and excessive parking ratios may often preclude these treasured housing types. Courtyard apartments, cottage clusters, and bungalow courts typically feature common central open spaces, a design that may not be possible where site area must be dedicated to surface parking. Additionally, dedicating site area to parking as opposed to living spaces may inhibit the realization of missing middle housing densities while increasing the cost of construction, and therefore rents or purchase prices. Carefully calibrating minimum off-street parking ratios to ensure that they do not preclude desired development types is important for all housing choice, not only missing middle housing.

Beyond zoning standards, a community’s subdivision standards and process may not align with intended housing choice and design outcomes. Where ownership units are desired, a subdivision process that prohibits the desired outcome, results in excessive delays, or introduces substantial uncertainty may shift a developer to the creation of condo units through the Oregon Condominium Act. The condo creation process is potentially costly and complex and necessitates the creation of a homeowners’ association, which can be confusing or intimidating for some buyers. Fee simple ownership, a desirable form of ownership for many potential buyers, is not available in condo structures, so aligning land division standards is important for implementing desired housing choice outcomes.

While not unique to missing middle housing development, unpredictable or protracted development and design review processes are a major impediment to housing provider’s ability to deliver desired housing. Development standards that lack clarity or are open to interpretation, lengthy review and inspection processes, and conflicting or accidentally omitted review comments increase the time and cost of development, expenses that are often passed on to the owner or renter. When producing affordable or lower-cost housing, the resulting increased development timeline and cost can be especially problematic.

Development Economics Challenges

 The high cost of development, including construction materials, labor, land, utilities, and development and permitting fees, is a substantial barrier to housing production. When asked about the impact of development costs, a metro-wide affordable housing provider offered that missing middle housing types have been part of the organization’s portfolio for over twenty years; however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to build housing that meets the needs of area families with increasing development expenses in various communities. A for-profit developer stated that many downsizing seniors are surprised to see that a newly-constructed row house or duplex is no less expensive than the larger, single-family home they are hoping to leave. The high per-square foot cost of new construction presents a market acceptance challenge, this developer indicated, where missing middle housing may be challenging to sell when single family homes are comparably priced.  

While developments with multiple units may often be able to leverage fixed, necessary development expenses—like a driveway, roof, or foundation, for example—developers report 5 to 7 percent increases in material costs annually and a pervasive shortage in skilled construction labor that increases cost. Contractors who are qualified to build a ten-unit project are also likely to be qualified for a forty-unit project; therefore the construction company would likely divert crews and resources to the larger job that pays more and would have greater certainty. Small-scale and especially one-off projects have challenges competing for construction labor and subcontractors.

While not isolated to missing middle housing types, both affordable and for-profit participants indicate that high fixed permit fees, impact fees, utility fees, or systems development charges increased the cost of providing housing. While appropriate development fees are certainly part of a jurisdiction-wide policy conversation regarding effective ways to provide public services and infrastructure, it’s important to calibrate these exactions in a way that does not disincentivize missing middle housing.

While there is no widely-accepted best practice, fees based upon the number of units may be a disincentive to providing multiple units in a missing middle housing development. Fee structures that account for the overall size of the structure or are graduated by unit size or number of fixtures to incentivize smaller-scale housing could be considered, along with calibrating fees on a per-structure basis instead of per-unit, or waiving some fees for additional units in existing buildings. Individual fees will need to be treated differently based upon the impact they account for—transportation, parks, or water quality, for example— but exaction structures that unintentionally disincentivize missing middle housing and reuse of buildings should be identified and amended if a community wants to prioritize these housing types.       

Owner Financing Challenges

For individual homeowners who want to add incremental density to their homes through detached accessory dwelling units or additional internal units, financing these improvements may be challenging. Home equity lines of credit or a first mortgage cash-out refinancing are the most common ways that a homeowner would finance the improvements, but these options may not be available for those who do not have substantial equity in their homes. Renovation loans may be possible based upon the predicated increase in value from the improvements, but they are typically very complex, costly, and seldom used. Additionally, rental income from the additional units cannot typically be counted as income to pay the loan payments, per federal lending requirements. While some banks are exploring loan programs tailored to accessory dwelling units, individual jurisdictions, like the City of Santa Cruz, California, have created specialized loan programs for accessory dwelling units with favorable terms. However, there remains a substantial challenge for most metro area homeowners when considering adding incremental density to their homes.     

External Challenges

“Some state building code standards may present challenges for accessible missing middle housing.”

While beyond local control, some state building code standards may present challenges for accessible missing middle housing. For example, elevator requirements dictated by state code are a particular challenge for providing stacked housing units accessible to residents of all mobility types. Residential elevators may only serve one unit, per state elevator code requirements, and commercial elevators are as much as four times more expensive to install and maintain, potentially making them cost-prohibitive for many projects. A configuration with ground-floor accessible units with two-story units above may avoid this challenge, but the overall desired density may not be possible, and upper floor units may not be suitable for those with mobility limitations, a challenge for seniors.

While not limited to missing middle housing types, and additionally outside exclusive local control, the risk of construction defects lawsuits may discourage the creation of condominium units. Addressing construction defects legislation in a balanced, comprehensive manner has been discussed in many states, and some cities, like Denver and Lakewood, Colorado, have taken local action to provide alternative processes or remedies where there are construction defects intended to incentivize condo construction. Legal risk may be more challenging for missing middle housing providers, because traditional standard and wrap insurance policies are not well-suited to missing middle housing scales, resulting in either gaps in coverage or excessive insurance.     

When adding units to existing structures, state building and fire codes may not account for the complexities and inherent limitation of older buildings. Building and fire codes are generally oriented to new construction, but some states, including New Jersey, have adopted building codes for existing buildings to preserve the building stock and encourage reuse. For example, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability commissioned an internal conversion report to explore the technical, building code, and constructability issues with adding units to existing buildings, revealing numerous life safety, accessibility, seismic, and energy and building code challenges that may discourage smaller builders and contractors from taking on such projects. The engineering and architectural services necessary to account for these design challenges may be cost prohibitive and beyond the construction experience of many small-scale housing providers.

How Communities Can Set Themselves Up for Success

“A collaborative mentality and willingness to work with housing providers is critical to create strong partnerships, identify improvements, and advance a common housing goal.”

With an understanding of the barriers and challenges in realizing missing middle housing, what do communities need to do to create missing middle housing opportunities?  First, a collaborative mentality and willingness to work with housing providers is critical to create strong partnerships, identify improvements, and advance a common housing goal. Municipal leadership often creates this atmosphere, and aligning various departments to facilitate the development process and communicate with consistency is a manifestation of this mindset. For example, assigning consistent project coordinators who help shepherd the development process and coordinate internal reviews is a successful element of advancing “one-stop shop” effective permitting structures, reducing time, expense, and risk for housing production.    

Many incentives for affordable housing are tailored for higher-density multifamily projects, an example of gaps in aligning missing middle housing processes. Identifying what support affordable housing providers need and creating tailored programs and processes will be critical for regulated affordable missing middle housing. Incentives that promote family-sized units, like density bonuses, for example, should be considered so that a range of housing choices are delivered to the market.

To increase the supply of lower-cost housing options, municipally-approved template plans, like cottage clusters, infill homes, and accessory dwelling unit prototypes can be replicated with little review and can reduce the time and expense of development while implementing the community’s design vision for new housing. Form-based zoning approaches may also be appropriate for communities seeking to encourage diverse housing options while responding to different neighborhood contexts and allowing housing to adapt over time. A form-based zoning approach can provide the regulatory framework to permit specific missing middle housing types without reaching the permitted densities that result in higher intensity, multi-family development.     

Solutions will look different in every community, but new construction, increasing density in existing buildings, and incremental infill development will all be important scenarios to consider, test, and recalibrate for. To truly realize housing choice, communities should attempt to devise regulatory systems and incentive programs that make desired missing middle housing types more profitable for developers than single family homes or high-density apartments. With a successful, predictable system in place, the homebuilding industry will adapt over time to provide more housing choices if opportunities are available, important for creating missing middle housing at a critical scale in different markets.    

Identifying building, energy, and fire code standards within the jurisdiction’s authority that disincentivize missing middle housing, especially standards that exceed state requirements, should be considered in the context of broader missing middle housing goals. For standards outside of a community’s authority, advocating for amendments to state regulations will be important, and communities with common goals can align their lobbying efforts.

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Sources:

[i] Lisa R. Proehl, “Who’s Home—A Look at Households and Housing in Oregon,” PDX Scholar (2011): http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=prc_pub

[2] Amanda Kolson, Hurley, “Will U.S. Cities Design Their Way Out of the Affordable Housing Crisis?” Next City (blog), January 18 2016, https://nextcity.org/features/view/cities-affordable-housing-design-solution-missing-middle

[3] Robert Steuteville, “Great Idea: Missing Middle Housing,” Public Square: A CNU Journal (blog), March 22, 2017, https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2017/03/22/great-idea-missing-middle-housing

[4] Website of Oregon.gov, Transportation and Growth Management Program, “Report: ​Character-Compatible, Space-Efficient Housing Options for Single-Dwelling Neighborhoods,” http://www.oregon.gov/LCD/TGM/Pages/SpaceEfficientHousing.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 




Planning on the Map: National Awards for Newberg & Lake Oswego

by Michael D. Harrell

Since its inception, the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning has produced nearly 700 graduates in the Master of Urban Studies and Planning program who have made their mark on the nation and the world. It should not be surprising, therefore, that four of them were involved, one way or another, in the award-winning projects described in this article. They are Sarah Selden and Laura Weigel, associate planners in Lake Oswego, Clackamas County Commission Chair Lynn Peterson, and Steve Olson, Associate Planner with the City of Newberg. — the Editor

In 2013, the American Planning Association (APA) recognized 18 cities that exemplified the “best planning efforts and individuals that created communities of lasting value.” Oregon is home to two of the honored recipients of the APA’s National Planning Award – Newberg and Lake Oswego.

Newberg won the National Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach. The city was recognized for the Design Star Program, an educational effort that connects local planners with elementary schools.

Lake Oswego won the National Planning Excellence Award for a Communications Initiative. The city was awarded for its efforts to bolster public involvement with “We Love Lake Oswego,” a short video that has been shown at more than 75 community meetings and events.

The 2013 award recipients were honored at a special luncheon held during APA’s National Planning Conference in Chicago, IL.

Neighborhood Planner Sarah Selden, an alumna of Portland State University, attended the luncheon and accepted the award on behalf of Lake Oswego planners.

Jessica Nunley Pelz, Associate Planner for the City of Newberg, and Jan Wolf, GIS Analyst, accepted the award given to the Newberg’s 6th Grade Design Star Program.

The APA is a nonprofit, professional institution that advocates and supports “urban and regional planning.” It is also the institution responsible for the certification of professional planners. Members can include practicing planners, students, elected and appointed officials, planning commissioners, as well as interested citizens.

“The communication award was directed toward programs in the U.S. that exhibited excellence in public outreach, which is, in many ways, the essential job of the City Planner,” Selden said.

“We were honored to win the award,” said Pelz. “But it was more exciting to show that a program like this could be done. It was a great way to introduce these concepts, and it could be done anywhere.”

Oregon planners met other civic leaders from around the country at the 2013 National Planning Conference. Among the recipients were representatives from New York City, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Riverside, CA, Cincinnati, OH, and the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo in New Mexico.

“But of course,” Wolf added. “It isn’t the award itself that really matters.” The Design Star Program itself is still running strong and has just begun its 9th circuit around local middle schools.

Newberg’s Design Star Program

In Newberg, the Design Star Program has connected local city planners with sixth grade students of the town since 2006. Each year Pelz and Wolf work collaboratively with the teachers to educate 6th graders about how cities are designed.

“The program is aimed at teaching students why things are organized a certain way in their city, and it allows them to think critically about both the positive and negative impacts of development.” Mapping, writing, presentation, and teamwork skills are all important aspects of the program that students learn and work on throughout the project in their classrooms.

The program started as part of the city’s outreach efforts during National Community Planning Month. “Now it is an annual collaboration between Newberg city staff and middle school teachers and has been integrated into their curriculum,” said Pelz. 

Wolf starts the presentation by showing how Newberg had been built from the ground up.

“We start with the bare earth layer,” said Wolf. “How the ground looks on its own. Then we add the streets, then parks, buildings, etc., to show the complexity of how a city is built. Geographic information systems (GIS) technology helps to visualize that complexity.”

Next, Pelz explains to the students why the city is arranged the way it is.

“Why commercial buildings are near the highway, why the industrial zone is where it is, and so on. We discuss the differences between a city’s ‘needs’ versus ‘wants,’ and then we discuss what makes Newberg a ‘great’ place to live now and what it might be missing that would make it an ‘awesome’ place to live.”

Pelz and Wolf choose two real, vacant areas in the city that they task the students with being developers. “They work in groups to come up with an idea and present their proposals to the class,” said Pelz.

“I really think we may be influencing some [of the students] to get into planning, or GIS work.”

The students propose everything from sports facilities to nature parks. The planners have seen proposals for a zoo, a biosphere, a multi-story restaurant, a lego store, laser tag . . . even a muffin ATM. “It’s very creative. We learn what the kids want to see built in their city,” said Wolf. Students with exemplary ideas get to present their ideas to city staff and officials at city council meetings.

Pelz and Wolf expose the students to a lot of new information.

“It’s very rewarding when students want more information on planning, when they want more details about how a building can be put into a public area. I really think we may be influencing some to get into planning, or GIS work,” said Wolf.

Since 2006, the Design Star Program has visited schools every year. Currently, Pelz and Wolf frequent two public middle schools, Mountainview Middle School and Chehalem Valley Middle School, and a private school, CS Lewis Academy.

Beside the APA’s recognition, The Design Star program has won other awards. It was recognized by the Oregon Chapter of the APA and another from the League of Oregon Cities.

“It’s a good experience all around for everyone involved,” said Pelz.

“The award is secondary. It gets everyone cooperating, getting something done, and letting people know how city government gets to work in the first place,” said Wolf.

Lake Oswego

Lake Oswego was given an award for a short film promoting the Comprehensive Plan of Lake Oswego. Featuring local celebrities of the time, like County Commissioner Lynn Peterson, State Representative Chris Garrett, Don Forman of the Police Department and local pub owner, Mike Buck of Gubanc’s, the film shows pep and pride for the present and future of Lake Oswego.

“Most people didn’t know what our Comprehensive Plan was. So we thought of a new approach to public involvement.”

The video also introduces the idea of the Comprehensive Plan, a long-term policy document for the city, periodically updated by local planners.

“Initial outreach had difficulties engaging people to discuss city planning,” said Neighborhood Planner Sarah Selden, who was present to receive the APA award. “Most people didn’t know what our Comprehensive Plan was. So we thought of a new approach to public involvement.”

The result was the three-minute film, “We Love Lake Oswego,” directed by Kevin D’Haeze of Rock Island Media (previously Firefly Studios), a filmmaker from Lake Oswego. D’Haeze offered the city a “great deal” to make the film, said Selden. 

According to the APA, the video aided planners in public outreach, stimulating conversation between community members and city officials. Today it has been shown at more than 75 different community events.

Public meetings would often start with the video because it invites viewers “to imagine the future of Lake Oswego.” It suggests several topics for discussion, such as how to ensure clean water and a safe environment, the best way to sustain a thriving business community, and how to provide adequate housing for all the city’s residents.

The emotional impact of the video helped “break the ice” with community groups and stimulate discussions on longterm plans, according to Selden.

The APA recognized the video because it conveyed “a compelling story about why to plan for the future, provide a clear, concise concept of what the comprehensive plan update is about, and offered inspiration for the community to participate in the planning process.” The video also “reflected on how the past has and will shape the future. It brought together all parts of Lake Oswego, and aimed to engage those typically not involved in the planning process.”

The video was linked to the city’s centennial, celebrating the people and work of the last 100 years that helped create the city. 

“The message was that cities like Lake Oswego don’t happen by accident,” said Selden. “Thoughtful planning, creativity, and dedication to follow through all are needed to make sure we’re on the right path for the future.”

City Planning in Oregon

In short, City Planners work as liaisons between civic leaders, businesses, and the community to offer suggestions for longterm plans of a city. Their ideas help shape the city – the layout of transportation, land-use, the policies that support employment uses and housing choices, preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods. That is, the personal effects that change brings for communities.

When entering Lake Oswego, it is hard to miss its “special design” of downtown. The brown, pitched roofs, the limited building heights – all give Lake Oswego its patent “village character.”

Selden, who works for the Planning Department of Lake Oswego, said “downtown has transformed a lot over the last twenty years. Many of the buildings were built recently, in the Urban Renewal District. Planners were involved in such projects, helping to ensure that projects meet the community’s vision as outlined in plans and code.”

In the city of Lake Oswego, there are two citizen commissions that make recommendations and decisions on land use planning: the Development Review Commission, which reviews applications for new development, and the Planning Department, which works with long-range planning.

The Comprehensive Plan, which was the focus of their award-winning promotional film, is a guiding policy document for the next 20 years of Lake Oswego. It helps with writing and revising development codes, outlining changes in land uses, building form, and transportation, and public facilities.

“We provide options and suggestions. It’s up to City Council to determine whether they agree or think there should be another direction for the city.”

Currently, Lake Oswego planners are in the midst of confirming with City Council to accept a grant from Metro to do a plan for the SW Industrial District, located near I-5 on the way to Tualatin. This would be the first major planning project to implement policy direction from the Comprehensive Plan.

“We’d look at analyzing how we can support redevelopment and increase the number of employees per acre,” Selden said. “Lake Oswego doesn’t have much more available land. Today the Industrial District is underutilized. So we’ll explore ways to make the best uses of land parcels to support more jobs for the next twenty years.”

“Planners strive to hear what the community wants and needs, then encourage decision makers and businesses to consider the opinions of the people.”

In Newberg, Pelz has been a planner for the last seven and a half years. Her latest project, Bike Newberg, focuses on the various bike routes and associated signage, maps, and racks. Bike Newberg also hosts an annual May Commute Challenge.

Wolf has been a GIS analyst in the Engineering Department of Newberg since 2001.

“GIS permeates many different fields,” said Wolf. “We collaborate with the planning department. If someone wants to develop in a certain area, they must know the location of the nearest utility—and where their resources are in the ground.”

Another essential role of the planner is education. Both Lake Oswego and Newberg were recognized for the APA’s National Planning Award because of their efforts to engage community members in the plans of their respective cities. Planners strive to hear what the community wants and needs, then encourage decision makers and businesses to consider the opinions of the people.

Michael D. Harrell is a Portland area freelance author, poet, and literary scholar. You can visit him at: www.mikahado.com.




Go by Transit! Out-of-town adventures on local public transportation

 

Every mode of transportation has its great travel story.

There are the steamships, railroads, and elephants of Jules Verne’s 80-day circumnavigation. And there are the hot air balloons Hollywood added 80 years later. There are Cousteau’s submarines and Lawrence of Arabia’s camels. There are the freight trains Jack London hopped as a teenage hobo in his memoir The Road. And in Kerouac’s On the Road, there’s everything from a ’47 Cadillac Limousine to the back of a flatbed truck careening across Nebraska in the middle of the night.

William Least Heat-Moon took a cross-country road trip in a green Econoline van; Steinbeck took one in a green pickup truck camper he called Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse. Heck, count the horse as well. There’s Che’s motorcycle and his Diaries. And the hiking boot Cheryl Strayed cathartically threw off a cliff. There’s Huck Finn’s raft and the one the Kon-Tiki crew sailed 4,000 miles across the South Pacific. There are the Freedom Riders’ buses. And Saint-Exupéry’s planes. And Peter Jenkins’ 40 pairs of worn shoes. And the single-speed bicycle Dervla Murphy rode all the way from Dunkirk to Delhi in 1963—she named it Rozinante, with a “z.”

But where oh where are the travel sagas on local public transit? Where is the city-bus-as-epic-adventure-steed?

Yes, I can hear your scoffing right through these pages. And I see your point: local transit is by definition high on quotidian practicality and low on wild expeditioning. But the fact is, you can get quite far on rural public transit (and I’m not counting Amtrak, Greyhound, or other primarily long-distance services here), and it can make for as much of a story as a voyage across the Pacific or a Walk Across America.

What’s more, many of these trips are simple. Forget the trekker’s pack or hobo’s bindle—there are many trips that anyone can do with a modicum of preparation and a minimum of tolerance for the unexpected. This spring, I took two such transit adventures to small towns at the edge of the Portland metro area, simple daytrips that are profiled on the following pages.

But there are a few brave explorers who are taking this game to the extreme. On a website called epictransitjourneys.com, for example, there’s one anonymous transit Magellan who has posted a particularly impressive itinerary—one that claims it can take intrepid riders from North Bend, Oregon, to Los Angeles via 11 local transit trips. This one is an outlier, though: not only does it take four days and go several hundred miles out of the way to Reno in order to make its connections, but, according to the website, it also costs a whopping $193.75 (well more than twice the Greyhound fare).

Most local rural transit, by contrast, is dirt cheap—often far cheaper than any other motorized mode of travel—and, while rarely competitive time-wise with driving, it usually doesn’t take you too far off course. For example, it’s possible to get from Portland to The Dalles or to Salem on local transit in only 30 percent more time than it takes to drive—and for only $8 and $5.50, respectively.

Besides, speed is most certainly not the point.

What local rural transit offers is the chance to journey at a purposefully slower pace, the chance to see those intermediate places that may not be conspicuously spectacular but that reveal the natural fabric of daily life in a way that driving never can. And it is just those “unspectacular” places that are often the most genuinely intriguing and, indeed, the most inadvertently spectacular.

And that goes for the people, too. The people Kerouac rides with on that flatbed truck—the high school jocks, the kindly tramp, the polite North Dakotan farm boys driving like Mr. Toad: those are not embellished characters. Add in the kissy couples, the single moms, the weary commuters, the lost foreign tourists, and think of all the people we’re not meeting when we travel only in cars with our own friends.

But there are other reasons to use rural transit. It’s not only a financial bargain but also an environmental one, at least when compared to driving. And there is a dimension of social responsibility here as well. People all across this spread-out country depend on rural public transit to get around, and these are often among our most vulnerable fellow residents: the young, old, disabled, and low-income; people of color, recent immigrants, and non-English speakers. While rural areas tend to have fewer people in some of these groups compared to cities (e.g., people living in poverty, people of color), populations of elderly and disabled Americans are substantially higher. According to the Census, 16.4 percent of rural residents are over 65 (compared to 13.1 percent in urban areas), and 14.9 percent are living with a disability (compared to 11.7 percent in cities).

If some degree of mobility is a basic human right (and it is)—and if the only source of mobility for some people is provided by scheduled transit service (and it is)—then higher ridership on those services means a higher chance they’ll be available to everyone in perpetuity. And as far as small transit systems are concerned, “in perpetuity” is at constant risk. As with any service, the more limited the revenue streams, the greater the vulnerability in the face of budget shortfalls, customer variations, or political whims.

Even so, rural transit does appear to be improving.

According to the Rural Transit Fact Book, 79 percent of US counties were at least partially served by some form of local public transit as of 2013, and that number has risen consistently each year since 2008. Moreover, Oregon and Washington beat the national average: in Oregon, 31 of 36 of counties are served by transit, up from 28 counties in 2008; in Washington, 35 of 39 of counties are served, up from just 24 counties.

But that’s a blunt statistic. Just because transit systems exist doesn’t mean they aren’t severely limited in their operating hours, frequency, or geographic coverage—they’re often limited in all three. And it doesn’t mean they’re actually connected to each other—sometimes you can get all the way to Los Angeles, sometimes not even to the next town. For people who depend on these services as their only source of independent mobility, those limitations can be thoroughly isolating.

Therefore, perhaps even city slickers have a responsibility to support rural transit, not just with our tax dollars but also with our fares. And as transit becomes an increasingly viable means of out-of-town adventure, that should become ever easier.

To that end, this article will showcase a couple of transit-accessible destinations at the edge of the Portland metro region, in the hope that you too may be inspired to look for inadvertently spectacular places and acquaintances—and to see local transit as a viable mode of intercity exploration.

Perhaps even one worth writing a novel about.

Gaston Travelogue

My first public transit adventure started off slowly. It was a Saturday, and I woke up late—noon or something slovenly. I had just bought a bike, an old early-’80s thing with blue polka-dot handlebars and rust up one side and down the other, and I thought I’d try out a combined transit/bike trip (Option 2, at right).

That said, the same journey can be done exclusively on transit (Option 1, at right) and in much less time—but only on weekdays. And note: Bus 33 makes no intermediate stops between the east side of Forest Grove and Gaston, so visiting downtown Forest Grove will require a transfer (see map).

MAX was cool and quiet, and those newer trains even have seats with a little lumbar support. Very nice. I switched to the bus, and we passed through Cornelius—home to one of the region’s first Sonic Drive-Ins, the retro burger chain with the cult following and the servers on roller skates—and into Forest Grove.

Cornelius may have the skates, but Forest Grove has the rest of 1950s Americana: a bucolic college campus on a hill, a main street movie theater, a corner café named after its owner (Connie) and known for its milkshakes. There’s a strip of shops and sidewalk cafés, and then the bus comes to a stop and that’s the end of the line.

I got on my bike and planned a route that would keep me off the main highway as much as possible—there’s a very wide shoulder, it’s safe, and Google thinks it’s the route you should take, but it’s no fun. There is a half-mile segment where the new highway is your only choice, but for the rest of it, Old Highway 47 and the other back roads connecting to it are by far the best way to go. And bring a good map or charge your phone beforehand, as this bike route isn’t a straight shot.

By bus or bike, the trip from Forest Grove to Gaston is beautiful. Given my late start and several afternoon errands, the light was fading, and the landscape was magical. Brick-red barns on deep green fields below a shimmery moon in the dusk. Birds chirping, wind rustling, no cars in sight—just a gently rolling strip of asphalt stretching out among those lilting hills. 

I stopped momentarily to watch some bison by the roadside. A sign on the fence instructs curious humans to keep their hands to themselves. A little ways along, another stop: llamas (or alpacas?).

I pulled out my map and noticed I had passed pretty close to a saké brewery and three different wineries. I suddenly realized something, this would make a perfect transit-bike-wine-tasting trip.

I arrived in Gaston at nightfall and looked around. This is no tourist town; it’s a self-sufficient place with its own school district and one of everything. There’s the obligatory feed and hardware store, the greasy spoon (the Screamin’ Chicken Diner), and the funky old Gaston Market—a.k.a., “Ralph’s ‘Pretty Good’ Grocery,” according to lettering on the side of the building. And there’s a bar, of course, the One Horse Tavern. I was parched and famished, so I went in.

One of the world’s greatest things is small town night life, and the tavern here didn’t disappoint. Good grub, an outdoor patio, knickknacks all around, comfy booths, and barkeepers so friendly they even offered me a ride back to Forest Grove. I just had to wait till closing time, they said. No complaint there, I said.

Molalla Travelogue

Another Saturday, another trip—this time out toward my homeland, rural Clackamas County. Faithful travel partner Lina agreed to go with me, and so out we went—out to Milwaukie, then south along the old highway to California, McLoughlin Boulevard.

Most would say the first part of this trip is less than scenic, that it’s just several long miles of car lots. But look between the cars, and you’ll find a western wear store with a giant cowboy boot over its sign and a life-size horse over its entrance, a Coney Island hotdog place with an extra-long neon wiener dog on its roof, and a thrift store called Red White & Blue that has to be the cheapest and most cavernous old-school thrift shop in the metro area.

Beyond the sunbathers on the Clackamas River comes Oregon City, which boasts a new riverfront walk, a revitalized Main Street, and an ambitious plan for its side of Willamette Falls (see Metroscape’s Winter 2015 issue). If you have a layover at Clackamas Community College, like we did, head to the beautiful old growth trees to the north of the bus stop or the man-made bubbling brook to the southeast. We saw three toads there (or frogs?). I’m obviously not much of a zoologist here.

On the bus to Molalla, the road narrows, and the farmland begins. I’m always surprised how the air changes out in the country—like a country-scented air freshener but more, well, authentic. I had considered stopping in Liberal, Oregon, a crossroads named (according to local lore, apparently) after the liberal credit once given by the local store. That store is still in business, and there’s also a working saw mill here, a shady riverside park that would be perfect for a picnic, and a couple of pubs. But all that would have to wait for another trip.

The bus makes a loop through downtown Molalla, so you can’t miss it. It’s a dusty, rugged-looking downtown—patently Western but without looking like a movie set—and that makes sense. After all, Molalla is home to one of western Oregon’s largest professional rodeos, the Molalla Buckeroo, which has been lighting up the town’s 4th of July weekend for 102 years.

Along with several restaurants—including a tantalizing outdoor BBQ place—downtown Molalla has everything a cowboy would need: a couple of bars, a gun shop, a men’s clothing store, a Mexican grocery, and a saddle shop. We headed straight to the saddle shop, of course, where— true to form—the owner was mending a saddle as we walked in. They have a backlog of repairs, he said, because they’re the only saddlery for miles.

After breathing in that good leather smell for awhile—and trying on several pairs of very nice work boots—we walked over to the city museum, a couple of rustic old houses housing a veritable wagon-load of artifacts. While it’s officially only open Fridays and Saturdays 1-4 p.m., one of the friendly volunteers said (incredibly) that she lives just down the street and could walk over and give a quick tour almost any day of the year, with a little warning. It’s free, but a small donation would certainly be kind. Look for more info on their Facebook page, under “Molalla Area Historical Society.”

We wandered some more, relaxed for a bit, and headed back to the bus—the last one leaves Molalla at only 4 p.m. on Saturdays, sadly.

But I’ve already planned my next visit. And no, it won’t include skydiving, though that is an option (see skydiveoregon.com).

First, I’ll get a bite at the top-rated Mexican restaurant on Main Street, El Charrito, then set out on a 50-minute trek east of town to Feyrer Park, which is set on a picturesque bend of the Molalla River. After a nap there, I’ll walk a few minutes up the road to the—and I can hardly contain my five-year-old self here—Molalla Train Park! Yes, that’s an exclamation point.

The Molalla Train Park (free admission) is a place for grown adults to share their love of ridable miniature trains. Oh sure, they may be only two feet off the ground, but some of them are as detailed as the real thing—complete oil-burning steam engines in some cases. Since the CCC-toMolalla bus only runs Monday through Saturday and the Train Park is only open on Sundays (1-5 p.m.) during the summer, this would appear to be a lost cause for the transit-adventurous. But fear not! For just $50, you can rent the park for three hours on any Saturday for up to 25 of your closest friends. Hello, 30th birthday party. Plus, check their website (pnls.org) for other special non-Sunday events throughout the summer.

For now, though, we were homeward bound, but we weren’t quite ready to call it a day. In Oregon City, we got off the #33 just before it turned the corner onto McLoughlin Boulevard up on the bluff. There are two pubs there, one with a patio view of Willamette Falls. We had a bite, and then crossed the highway for a better view. The river, the town, the bridge, the old rusting paper mills, and the enormous pummeling falls make for one of the most photogenic vistas in the metro area. It’s a truly spectacular sight— and this time, I mean “spectacular” in a very conspicuous sort of way.

Linn Davis is a journalist and a graduate student in the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State.




Living on the Edge: The forgotten tribulations of affordable housing in the suburbs

 

Everyone knows about Portland’s housing crisis. Even a newspaper halfway across the globe – The Guardian in the UK – ran a story last fall that wondered if the city was, in its words, “in mortal danger of being loved to death.”

But Portland isn’t the only place in the metro area struggling with rapidly rising rents. According to a Metro housing report released in January, rental housing costs increased in some suburban areas as quickly as they did in parts of Portland. Between 2011 and 2015 in Hillsboro and Forest Grove, for example, rents shot up by the same amount as they did in Southwest Portland (34 percent). And they weren’t far behind the 40 percent increases experienced in downtown Portland and the Inner Eastside.

In fact, rents all across the Washington County suburbs from Beaverton to Sherwood increased by nearly 30 percent on average over those four years, while those in the Camas/Washougal area increased by 25 percent. Within the portion of the metro region covered by the report (only the urbanized parts of Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, and Clark Counties), even those areas with the most modest increases – Clackamas County, East Portland, eastern Multnomah County, and Vancouver – showed rental price increases of around 20 percent. That’s nowhere near the 70 percent increases seen in North and Northeast Portland, but a 20 percent rent rise from 2011 to 2015 is still almost four times the rate of inflation over that same period.

What’s more, incomes have come nowhere near to keeping pace. According to the same Metro report, “between 2006 and 2015, rents in the Portland metropolitan area went up by 63 percent, while renter incomes increased by just 39 percent.” Homeowners have done better, with owners’ incomes somewhat beating housing sale prices over the same period, but it is renters who are far more vulnerable to displacement – so a discrepancy between rental prices and renters’ incomes is rightly housing advocates’ utmost concern.

And the Great Recession, of course, didn’t help things.

“We observed profound impacts among our residents,” said Ann Blaker, Executive Director of Bienestar, an affordable housing nonprofit with properties primarily in Forest Grove and Hillsboro. Things were bad enough during the downturn that the organization essentially transformed itself to double as a job center for unemployed residents and even hired a counselor to assist unemployed residents suffering from depression. “We did everything we could to keep people employed.”

For many low-income residents, however, no such help was available, and a new rise in economically driven homelessness, says Emily Lieb, who manages Metro’s equitable housing initiative, has driven greater visibility of homelessness in Portland’s suburbs. Or as the Oregonian wrote of suburban homelessness in an article last year: “The recession brought it out of hiding, and turned it into a crisis.”

“In Washington County, for example,” that article reported, “the total number of homeless people counted in biannual surveys rose from fewer than 200 in 2002 to more than 1,300 a decade later.”

Meanwhile, just as housing needs were rising, the recession also put the brakes on new affordable housing development. No one would offer Bienestar financing for new projects, said Blaker, and “the executive director at the time … kind of kept the organization going by getting grants for resident services.”

Even after the recession, according to Blaker, its effects live on.

“I think [the recession] changed development in a lot of ways. You have to be a little bigger, and it’s made development a little more challenging.”

In other words, smaller affordable housing developers – which most of those working in suburban and rural areas are – building smaller-scale projects now have a harder time finding funding.

Elm Park Apartments in Forest Grove, Bienstar’s first development built in 1984.

Funding Challenges

Recession or not, funding has always been a little tougher for suburban and rural affordable housing agencies. The Housing Authority of Yamhill County, for example, receives no money from either the county or the City of McMinnville, according to its Executive Director, Elise Hui. And whereas larger jurisdictions like Multnomah County and Eugene receive direct allocations of federal money, Yamhill County must compete constantly with most of the rest of the state for a limited pool of federal funds.

This adds an extra step – and therefore an extra burden – to receiving funding, and, according to Kim Travis of the state Department of Housing and Community Services, this pool of federal funds comes with strings attached. While larger jurisdictions that automatically receive federal cash – called “entitlement” communities – can decide on their own priorities, smaller communities competing for slices of the statewide pie cannot. Their funds have more strings attached and can only be used for certain eligible uses.

This system adds to an already significant discrepancy in resources and financial security between urban and suburban/rural affordable housing agencies. When federal or state grants require a local matching grant, small communities can find it very difficult to locate this companion funding. Often, “there just isn’t a local funding source to make that work,” said Joel Madsen, Executive Director of the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority and the Columbia Gorge Housing Authority, which work in a unique bi-state consortium to serve Hood River, Wasco, and Sherman Counties in Oregon and Skamania and Klickitat Counties in Washington.

Smaller communities not only have more limited funding options; they also have more limited staffing. In some towns, the planning department may simply be more of a “permitting department,” said Madsen, with little capacity to assist affordable housing developers.

But some suburban and rural communities are making changes. Beaverton and Clackamas County have both explored using urban renewal funding for affordable housing, and two housing experts mentioned Bend as a prime example of how construction excise taxes can be funneled toward low-income housing development. Locally, Metro has established a similar grant program to support small affordable housing projects in the Portland metro area, funded by a regional construction excise tax.

Farmworker Housing

In addition to housing for the general public, farmworker housing is a particularly unique challenge on the outskirts of the metro region.

Farmworkers and their families are a surprisingly large and exceptionally vulnerable segment of the population. According to the Farmworker Housing Development Corporation, which builds and administers farmworker housing in Polk and Marion Counties (just south of the Portland area), Oregon farms and ag businesses rely on around 90,000 migrant and seasonal workers each year. Among residents in its housing developments, 76 percent do not have health insurance, 40 percent are “food insecure,” and the median household income is under $16,000, about ⅓ of the median household income for Marion County as a whole.

In the past, much farmworker housing was provided onsite by farm employers themselves. When most farmworkers were male – and when most migrated seasonally – this arrangement worked better, although a system where employers had control over both the working and living situations of their employees was always open to abuse. But today, farmworkers have increasingly moved to the region with their families and prefer to live in town, closer to schooling and opportunities for their children, even if that means a long commute to work.

Affordable housing providers at the edge of the metro area – like Bienestar, CASA of Oregon, and housing authorities in Yamhill County, the Gorge, and elsewhere – have stepped in to develop farmworker housing closer to town, but it is not without particular challenges. Much of the federal funding for farmworker housing, for instance, comes with stipulations relating to the type and duration of agricultural work at least one member of the household must be employed doing.

“When so many strings are attached to funding sources as far as who can be part of a community,” said Madsen, “it makes it hard to have inclusive communities. We have a diversity in our workforce, and we want to integrate within our developments and within our communities as a whole.”

                                                               Lake Oswego’s affordable senior complex, Hollyfield Village.

 

Local Resistance

While public resistance to new affordable housing exists in places throughout the metro region, the independent power of wealthy suburban cities can make affordable housing initiatives particularly difficult there.

And two enclaves have been the targets of particular criticism: Lake Oswego and West Linn. Each has a median household income about half again higher than the region as a whole and a white population about 10 percentage points higher than the regional average. And both have a far lower per capita quantity of affordable housing than the rest of the region.

Of the 34,000 affordable housing units Metro counted in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties in 2011 (not counting Section 8 vouchers), just 0.1% of those existed in Lake Oswego and West Linn, despite those cities accounting for over 3.7% of the tri-county population that year.

“By contrast,” noted an Oregonian article at the time, “one census tract in Gresham, an area of about a half square mile and 5,600 residents, has 637 affordable units, not counting Section 8. That’s 3½ times the units in Lake Oswego and West Linn, which have a combined population of 62,000.”

“They’re not providing sufficient housing for the people who work in their community,” said Tasha Harmon, a land trust expert who served on Metro’s affordable housing task force in the early 2000s. “We can’t have communities that exclude people – that exclude the people who drive the school buses, who work at Starbucks, even who work on the police force.”

And Harmon lays some of the blame for these discrepancies at Metro’s feet. The regional government, she claims, “could have put requirements in place that they wouldn’t approve comp plans or wouldn’t add urban land unless [a city] had an affordable housing plan.”

But despite an effort by Metro to inventory regional affordable housing and calculate a “fair share” number of affordable units for each municipality, “there were no regulatory changes that had any meaningful impact,” Harmon said. “And without regulatory changes, it’s not going to happen.”

The situation, however, may be more complicated.

In a quote in the Oregonian in 2012, Rod Park, a Metro Council member from 1999 to 2010, argued that, “I wouldn’t say Metro failed the region. I would say that the region failed itself.”

Lieb, manager of Metro’s equitable housing initiative, agrees.

“Metro has to walk a delicate balance. The politics in Portland are very different than the rest of the region, and many of our councilors’ constituencies are suburban. But as the political climate shifts, there may be more of an appetite for a more a regulatory approach.”

Still, she sees funding as perhaps the more significant obstacle.

“You can’t regulate your way into affordable housing – there have to be resources behind it. So we’ve really shifted from that kind of regulatory conversation to more of a ‘how can we support local jurisdictions’ and develop new partnerships. There are some people who want stronger regulation and many who would like more funding. We’re trying to develop more carrots.”

And on both the regulatory and financial fronts, there have been local attempts toward housing provision. Lake Oswego set up an Affordable Housing Task Force, whose 2005 report detailed several dozen recommendations, from requiring a percentage of urban renewal funds be devoted to affordable housing to replacing discretionary standards for new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) with objective ones. It suggested establishing a housing trust fund, and it discovered that – despite the city’s high land values – there were nonetheless a fairly large number of underdeveloped properties that could be good candidates for incorporation into a land trust.

Dan Vizzini, who chaired the task force, saw the city council at the time as “a receptive audience.”

“I think that they were sincere about it,” he said. “They were also fairly realistic. There was not any expectation that they would raise new revenue or redirect existing limited city revenue at least in any near term to address the problem. What the task force was hoping to do was just get the ball rolling.”

Even this modest effort, however, ran into serious trouble.

“In the end, nothing was done. It may have been a combination of the Council feeling there needed to be more political work done because there was a pretty strong grassroots movement on the ground to oppose it, innocuous as it was.”

There were also other complex issues on the Council’s plate at the time, said Vizzini, including a major sewer project and a controversial streetcar connection to Portland, but the effort’s primary downfall was public opposition.

“It’s a serious lift to have a conversation in a suburban community like Lake Oswego where there is not a critical mass of public support for housing choice. You had a group in Lake Oswego of churches and synagogues that were actively involved in [providing emergency housing] and very supportive of affordable housing issues, and you had some community activists who were interested in it. But there was not a critical mass of support for it. Most of the populous was suspicious or openly hostile to even studying the issue, let alone having any policies or programs come out of it.”

Vizzini describes an incident at his daughter’s high school graduation ceremony, where he was verbally accosted on the floor of the gymnasium by the father of a boy who had grown up with Vizzini’s daughter.

“I had to stop him and say, ‘Look, can we just have this day to celebrate the lives of our kids?’ That’s how animated people get about this stuff. You couldn’t go into a grocery store without having someone debate with you the reasonableness of even investigating this. You couldn’t go to a soccer game or an open air concert in town without having someone take it up.”

Ultimately, little came of the task force’s efforts. Even what Vizzini considered the “low-hanging fruit” of streamlining ADU permits was canned. Then in 2010, a political shift brought in a city council majority that was far less amenable to researching affordable housing. Little has happened locally since.

Looking Forward

While unique funding, demographic, and political challenges in suburban and exurban communities show no immediate signs of abatement, there have been a few hopeful recent developments.

Several experts pointed to the Oregon legislature’s removal in March of a statewide ban on construction excise taxes – as part of SB 1533, which also legalized limited inclusionary zoning – as a positive step for small communities searching for local affordable housing funding sources. Earmarking urban renewal funds for housing is another promising option for mid-sized communities.

And even regional housing policy critics like Harmon see reason to hope that regulatory barriers can change.

“We’re at a moment now where we can stand on those foundations” built by Metro’s affordable housing work a decade ago, said Harmon. “At least the language is there, and at least there’s a way to calculate ‘fair share’ that I think is fair. And we have some data to look at – what it was then and what it is now. The question is now: do we have the guts to do something about it? It’ll be a lot harder to do now than it would have been 20 years ago, but how hard will it be 20 years from now?”

Linn Davis is a journalist and a graduate student in the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State.




Election 2016: Voter turnout and results across the region

 

Metroscape went inside the numbers from the 2016 General Election. We examined Oregon’s new ‘motor voter’ law to see if it affected turnout and to better understand the new voters added to the rolls in the ‘Beaver State.’ We also looked at the turnout and results from the counties we cover, five in Oregon – Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill – along with two Washington counties – Clark and Skamania, to answer several questions about the 2016 General Election.

Overall Turnout

If you look at the percentage of eligible voters who turned out on November 8, you might think it was a down election year in Oregon. After all, only 78.73% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Of the 15 general elections over the past 30 years, Oregon has cracked 80% turnout five times, and the 2016 turnout only ranks 8th on the list. You would also miss a bigger story, however, by focusing on turnout percentage versus raw vote total.

Largely due to Oregon’s new ‘motor voter’ law, Oregon clocked its largest voter turnout in history at 1,979,048 votes cast. This exceeded the previous record turnout from the 2004 General Election by more than 127,000 votes cast. Certainly, some of the increase can be attributed to population growth in general, but with nearly 100,000 of this fall’s ballots coming from motor voter registrants, this new law cannot be ignored.

Oregon’s New Motor Voter Law

Starting January 1, 2016, Oregon began automatically registering eligible citizens to vote when they go to the DMV to apply, renew or replace a driver’s license, permit or ID card. With this new law, Oregon continues to be a leader in the field of elections, becoming the first state in the nation to implement this system.

After being automatically registered at the DMV, new voters receive a postcard from the Oregon State Election Office giving them three options. If they do nothing, new voters are registered as non-affiliated voters. If they want to join a party, they can return a postcard indicating which party they want to affiliate with. Finally, if they wish to opt-out of registration, they can return a card to do that as well.

According to statewide data from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, by the end of October, 269,630 new voters had been forwarded to county election offices. Of these, more than 244,000 maintained their registration and 25,112 opted out. The New York Times reported on December 2 that nearly 100,000 of these new registrants voted in the 2016 General Election.

As one might expect, the vast majority of new registrants (237,200) decided to do nothing after receiving notice from the Elections Division and remain non-affiliated voters. Of the 28,709 citizens who chose to affiliate with a party, the breakdown is:

 

  • 50.4% Democratic Party
  • 37.6% Republican Party
  • 8.4% Independent Party
  • 3.5% Other

Thus, one of the main effects of the new motor voter law is to increase the percentage of Oregonians who are not registered with a political party. In December 2015, party breakdown looked like this:

  • 38% Democratic Party
  • 29.6% Republican Party
  • 24.3% “Non-affiliated” with any party
  • 5.1% Independent Party

With more than 237,000 added to the non-affiliated ranks, Oregon’s party breakdown now looks like this:

  • 38.3% Democratic Party
  • 28% Republican Party
  • 26.6% “Non-affiliated” with any party
  • 4.6% Independent Party

One of the most interesting numbers from year one of motor voter is how many people opted out of being registered to vote. As noted above, 25,112 (8.25%) of automatic registrants chose to return the postcard and not be registered to vote. This number will be interesting to track over time as Oregon continues to automatically register people to vote.

It would also be interesting to know why people are opting out. Christopher Shortell, associate professor of political science at Portland State University, suggested it could be several factors including a statement against the law itself, a fear of the government tracking citizens or those who do not participate for religious reasons.

“Or some combination of those factors or others,” Shortell said. “It is definitely something to watch.”

Metroscape also asked both Governor Kate Brown’s office and the Secretary of State’s office if they had any thoughts on why so many citizens opted out of being registered to vote. Neither office wanted to speculate.

“Governor Brown is not judgmental about why someone would opt out,” said Kristen Grainger, communications director for Governor Brown. “She believes Oregon has the best policy, which errs on the side of participation, and assumes eligible voters should be registered unless they indicate otherwise, and respect their right to opt out.”

The Office of Secretary of State gave a similar answer but did suggest that testimony from the legislative process might provide additional insight into those who opt out.

“We don’t question people’s motives, we merely respect their right to opt out of the process,” said Molly Woon, communications director for Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, who oversaw the implementation of the law and first year of the program. “I imagine that there is testimony from when the bill was heard in 2014 and 2015 from people not wanting to be on a voter list, those with religious exemptions, or people concerned with personal autonomy, etc. But we don’t require a reason, nor do we keep track of reasons, for opting out of the process. We simply respect people’s wishes.”

 

Drama in the Presidential Election, Not As Much At Home

While the national presidential election provided a measure of excitement and surprise, down the ballot in Oregon and Washington things remained status quo for the most part. In Congress, like the rest of the country, voters in Oregon and Washington returned all of their congressional representatives as well as US Senators, up for reelection or replaced them in open seats with members of the same party. Nationally, of the 466 races for seats in the US Senate and House, 445 of them were retained by the same party.

The exception to the status quo was Oregon’s secretary of state race, where Republican Dennis Richardson broke the Democratic Party’s 10 year hold on statewide offices by winning the race. Despite the relative sameness of these results, there are interesting numbers to look at within the counties Metroscape examines. Table 1 breaks down results for president, governor and secretary of state for major party candidates in Oregon.

Four out of five of the counties examined voted for the same party across the three races. The exception is Clackamas County, which went Republican for governor and secretary of state but voted Democratic in the race for president.

Looking more closely at the percentages for candidates in each race, Trump underperformed his fellow Republican candidates in four of the five counties examined. The exception is Columbia County where he received the same percentage of votes as Pierce did for governor. In fact, in the raw votes Trump did better, receiving 13,217 votes to Pierce’s 12,925. Everywhere else, the Republican candidates for governor and secretary of state did better than Trump. This indicates that a number of voters either voted for a non-Republican candidate for president or did not vote in that race.

The county this is most apparent in is Clackamas, which Richardson won but Trump lost. Richardson won his race with about 17,500 more votes than the total Trump received for president. Multnomah County also provides a good example, where Richardson received about 35,000 more votes than Trump.

In Oregon, Richardson’s win in the race for secretary of state was perhaps the most surprising. His success was even reflected in Multnomah and Washington counties which he lost. In both counties, Richardson lost by a smaller amount compared to the other two races analyzed. In the same manner, his win in the counties that voted straight Republican was also wider. What cannot be discerned merely from looking at the numbers is how much of this difference, and that described above relating to the Trump vote, is due to pro-Richardson sentiment versus anti-Avakian votes. As Table 1 indicates, Avakian underperformed his fellow Democratic candidates in all five counties.

In Washington, weakness at the top of the Republican ticket was also demonstrated via results in Clark and Skamania counties. As Table 2 indicates, Republican Bill Bryant won both counties. In the race for president, however, Hillary Clinton won Clark County by a razor-thin margin.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on Oregon’s motor voter law to see if it continues to sign up as many new voters and what those voters choose to do in terms of party affiliation. One big question that needs further analysis is what to make of the more than 25,000 Oregonians who opted out of being registered to vote. Why are do these citizens make the effort to unregister to vote? Finally, Oregon Governor Kate Brown is up for reelection in 2018, since this year’s contest was just to fill out the remainder of John Kitzhaber’s term. Have Republicans identified a campaign model based on Dennis Richardson’s success that might make them competitive in the 2018 gubernatorial contest?

Looking Ahead 

It will be interesting to keep an eye on Oregon’s motor voter law to see if it continues to sign up as many new voters and what those voters choose to do in terms
of party affiliation. One big question that needs further analysis is what to make of the more than 25,000 Oregonians who opted out of being registered to vote.
Why do these citizens make the effort to unregister to vote? Finally, Oregon Governor Kate Brown is up for reelection in 2018, since this year’s contest was just to
fill out the remainder of John Kitzhaber’s term. Have Republicans identified a campaign model based on Dennis Richardson’s success that might make them competitive in the 2018 gubernatorial contest?

Kevin Curry is completing a doctorate in public affairs and policy at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government. He is the director of integrated media at Linfield College, where he also teaches communication courses.