Category Archives: Alternative Housing Models

Missing Middle Housing Since the 1700’s

May 22, 2018  I just returned from the 26th Annual Congress of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Savannah, GA where I took the opportunity to go on the “Missing Middle Housing: Found!” walking tour with Savannah architect, Eric Brown, his two young staff members and about two dozen Congress attendees.  It was revealing!

As a city that has preserved a great deal of its 285-year history in its buildings and neighborhood layout, Savannah (founded 1733) is an ideal place to understand how what we now call “Missing Middle Housing” was an integral part of the development of our towns and cities in this nation since the 1700s.  Duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes along with carriage houses and lane houses coexisted nicely beside single family homes and mansions.

Since the current top priority of the Portland Small Developer Alliance is to get fourplexes allowed as a use by right in all Portland neighborhoods, I will focus on fourplexes first.  I believe the images speak for themselves but do read the captions!

Fourplex Clapboard

This fourplex with 2-way shared stoops was built as worker housing. It fits in well with the mix of homes, including single family, on this well-landscaped street. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Fourplex next to Single Family

This is the same street as the previous photo. The grey/blue building in the background is also a fourplex–with each entry having its own stoop. It has Single Family homes on either side. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Four Row Houses w English Basements

This series of four row houses seemed common in the 1800s when these were built. They are each painted a separate color and at least one has a canopy over the stoop. Each have English Basements that are often rented out separately. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

While many of Savannah’s row houses from the 1800s came in sets of four, some are in sets of three–as illustrated below.  I’m calling this a triplex!

Triplex Row House

This series of three row houses, while part of one structure, are sold separately as fee simple–as are the fourplex row houses above. They may have been workers housing for the staff of the elegant Single Family home next to it on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Three Floor w Flags

The realtor is advertising this structure as three floors–implying that each could be separate units. The bottom floor is used for a business (a day spa). And the flogs make it appear that there may be separate households sharing the other two floors. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplexes were somewhat common too. They came in a variety of forms.

Duplex with English Basements

These duplexes with English Basements are being sold by different realty companies. This corner lot structure first appeared to be one large single family home. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplex Mimic SF

Another duplex that first appears to be a single family home. Note the difference in setback from the structure on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Double Row House with English Basements

This double row house has substantial English basements that are often separately occupied–offering rental income or business space for the owners. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for Bridget Carey

Some of the row houses had simple signs about original ownership. I was surprised about how many seemed to be built for women. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for MargaretDibble

I talked to the current occupants of this home, originally built for Margaret Dibble. The woman of the couple had served many years on the neighborhood association board and was excited that CNU was in town. Although the siding of this home is different, it shares a wall with the Bridget Carey house. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Although many of the English basements serve as ADUs, I found this one off a courtyard that appeared to be a shared space.

ADUs off Courtyard

There appear to be two apartments off of this enchanting shared courtyard. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Single Family w Carriage House

This corner single family home has a carriage house in the rear–a lovely accessory dwelling unit or ADU. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Carriage House

It appears that a second story was added over an original carriage house. Today, the upper story has a separate entrance, leaving one to believe that it holds two small apartments. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Apartment buildings were an occasional part of the scene too.

Small Apartment Building with retail

This small apartment building was the only place I saw off-street parking on my tour–and that was likely added afterwards as the building probably had neighboring structures that were torn down to make way for it. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

I saw a number of drivers parallel park on the street while I was taking these photographs.  They did not appear to have been circling to find a place as there were empty places on the street–even though I was photographing during “rush hour”.

I hope that the above images make a compelling case that fourplexes, triplexes, duplexes, ADUs and small apartment buildings can fit nicely into a neighborhood.  They were certainly part of our early historic heritage–a heritage that I hope we will learn from as we now make single family-only neighborhoods a part of our history–a part of our history that has proved unsustainable.  Let’s give our young people the opportunity to share our close-in walkable neighborhoods with housing prices that allow them to thrive.  Let’s give our small developers the opportunity to build in ways that make sense for our current desire for 20-minute neighborhoods. The survival of our planet may depend upon it!

FOR PSC COMMISSIONERS READING THIS POST

The following is an amendment proposed by Portland Small Developer Alliance that we would like you to sponsor:

PSC Proposed Amendment to RIP

Allow four housing units on all residentially-zoned lots, by right, if within walking distance along a continuous pedestrian network to transit. Four units is considered by the Federal Housing Administration for mortgage lending to be a “house.” It is common sense to synchronize our zoning regulations with existing federal policy and definition. Given the high cost of land and development in Portland, new single-family houses on full-size lots affordable to average residents cannot be built. Dividing up the costs of site acquisition, design, permitting costs, impact fees, construction, and lending by four units allows the resulting cost per new home constructed to be affordable to a middle-class Portland household. Unit counts have a tiny impact on the surrounding community compared to building scale; within the regulated size of new projects, we should allow more units. Allowing a fourth unit gives us the opportunity to make the units we build more affordable to more people while still maintaining the scale and character of the neighborhoods we all enjoy.

Community Land Trusts Gaining Ground Fast

Tony Pickett speaking on Community Land Trusts as a tool against displacement at Oregon Metro on March 17, 2017

Tony Pickett speaking on Community Land Trusts as a tool against displacement at Oregon Metro on March 17, 2017

The Community Land Trust (CLT) concept is gaining ground FAST, not only in North America, but around the world says developer Tony Pickett: Advancing ‘in-placement’: Four housing and development lessons from Denver and Atlanta by Tony Pickett. To prevent gentrification and to develop permanent housing affordability, Pickett is working to develop the Community Land Trust concept in both Atlanta and Denver.

This slide from his March 17, 2017 slide show in Portland briefly explains the CLT concept: Typical CLT Model explained

After his presentation at Oregon Metro, Pickett met with a few Transit Oriented Development (TOD) managers and public officials from around the Portland metro region. Says Pickett: “Control of TOD land for shared-equity housing can accomplish the critical linkage of low-cost public transit access and affordable high-quality housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families.”  One might hope that the wheels are in place for shared equity housing, both rental and for sale, at every existing and future MAX station around the region. But it will take more than this one time, singular effort by Metro. We need to put pressure  on elected officials in the Portland region to adopt the CLT model with Transit-Oriented Development that Pickett promotes .

In both Atlanta and Denver, land-banked properties at transit stations and future stations are developed under the CLT model—not just housing, but community centers and small business space–even a charter school. Portland metropolitan agencies such as Metro and Trimet have done some of this land banking in our region, but their model has often been to sell off the land to a private developer who meets their guidelines. Those of us from the Portland region need to be more active in insisting our public agencies support the CLT model.

The reason I’m excited about CLTs is well-expressed by Gabriel Metcalf, author of Democratic by Design: Community land trusts represent the nascent form of an alternative system of land ownership. In that sense, they illustrate the broader strategy of alternative institutions as a way to make change: create the alternative, and then try to grow it, with the goal of displacing the mainstream set of institutions over time.[1]  CLTs are a new model of land tenure that could ultimately replace our current housing system.

Thankfully, a number of cities around the globe —not just Denver and Atlanta–are seeing the CLT as a solution to gentrification and skyrocketing costs. Even Vancouver, BC, a city that Portland sometimes likes to emulate, is adopting the concept. According to A Speculation-Free Zone in The Globe and Mail[2]:

Vancouver Land Trust Foundation Project under construction

 A growing number of people in British Columbia are viewing this fledgling organization, and community land trusts in general, as the way to provide an important new option in the escalating struggle over housing. . . . Advocates talk passionately about how land trusts help remove property from the speculative land market and preserve it forever.

Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation is vying to become the largest Community Land Trust in North America. Burlington, VT now has that honor!  Again, from The Globe and Mail:  But, in the Vancouver version, people are also attracted by the other power of land trusts – their ability to harness the energy of hundreds of isolated non-profit housing societies and co-ops, combining their land equity and their clout to be able to finance new development.  We also need to exert pressure on the Portland area’s various Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and other non-profit housing builders to join under a Community Land Trust umbrella–either under our existing CLT, Proud Ground–or an umbrella organization that we create.  

In New York City the New York City Community Land Initiative (https://nyccli.org) is an alliance of over two dozen organizations, academics, affordable-housing developers and community activists who educate the public about community land trusts and advocate for their inclusion in city policy.  (Which organization or academic in the Portland region will help put together a similar coalition to take on the work mentioned above?)

NYCCLI was successful in getting Mayor DeBlasio and the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) to release a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) from groups interested in forming community land trusts using city-owned property.

In a press release, HPD writes: “The CLT’s land ownership, paired with a governance structure that reflects the interests of CLT affordable housing residents and the broader community, can offer a unique housing model that empowers residents and neighborhoods. . . The release goes on to say that it is evaluating making city-owned properties in East Harlem, the South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens available for development and operation by one or more CLTs.

NYCCLI lauds HPD saying it has “taken a big step by recognizing the potential of CLTs to advance a truly progressive housing policy.” There was no word on the HPD or NYCCLI sites about whether any decision has been made.

Tony Pickett, for his part, could hardly be busier, with invitations from around the globe to help form CLT’s. He shows the growth of the movement in the US alone in this slide:

Unfortunately, the graph stops at 2010.  Fortunately, the trajectory since then has been even more geometric.

If you are really interested but need more inspiration to take action, think about going to Intersections 2017, the national Community Land Trust conference in Oakland, CA this year: https://groundedsolutionsnetwork.swoogo.com/Intersections2017  Intersections 2017 in Oakland

 

[1]http://www.rooflines.org/4392/interview_with_gabriel_metcalf_author_of_democratic_by_design/

[2] A Speculation-Free Zone http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/vancouver/how-community-land-trusts-could-help-build-affordable-vancouverhousing/article34026679/

Whole New System of Land Tenure Needed

Mary Vogel/PlanGreen Testimony to Portland City Council on Relocation Assistance  Proposal – Feb. 2, 2017  

To even begin to solve the housing crisis, a whole new system of land tenure is needed.  Relocation assistance for involuntary displacements of tenants seems like a fine and just idea–until you hear the landlords side and their schemes for getting around your proposed ordinance.

I didn’t come prepared to testify today, because under the current system of housing, both sides have compelling arguments. As long as we continue to pursue a housing system that sees housing as a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit, as long as we see it as a builder of individual wealth through the accrual of speculative value, there will be such dilemmas. These are dilemmas that cannot be resolved under the present system.

Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, VT is the largest CLT in North America. Logo compliments of CHT.

However, there is a whole new system of land tenure that has been around for over 50 years and built a tremendous body of law and custom as well as homes on the ground. That system provides security, equity and legacy to the resident, but the greatest part of the increase in value accrues to the entire community through the Community Land Trust. I wish I had some easy solutions for getting to there from here. I’m afraid that my best idea didn’t get traction and fizzled at the end of the primaries. That idea was to get Bernie Sanders, who played an important role in founding Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, VT —now the largest Community Land Trust in the nation—to talk about this new model of land tenure to his young followers during his campaign. (See Housing Affordability – Put a Bern on It.) He could have opened so many eyes to a different system and created tremendous demand for it.

We could have built on that demand to pull Portland Community Land Trust (now Proud Ground) out of its role of needing to chase after attention amongst all the various non-profits pursuing affordable housing dollars. We could have expanded its mission from a provider of home ownership opportunities for a tiny percentage of working class people to a central role in our strategy to address housing affordability with a whole new system of land tenure.

Proud Ground CLT office on Interstate Ave. in Portland

The arrow points to the Proud Ground office in the Patton Park Apt. Building on Interstate Ave. Image compliments of Proud Ground. Unfortunately, the building itself is not part of the CLT.

At this point, in an overheated market, I’m not sure how we get there from here. But WE CAN FIGURE IT OUT COLLECTIVELY.  Each of you on the City Council commands far greater media and public attention than I do. If each Council Member learned all you can about the CLT model—perhaps sending one of your number to Burlington, Vt.  to visit Champlain Housing Trust as well as the CLT experts at Burlington Associates—meanwhile each of you study their web sites and start talking and talking about the need for this new model, .

In closing, I want to quote a Jan 17 post from Bob Morris, a friend on Facebook:  What a great time to be alive and an American! There are as many opportunities now to take an active part in making our country better and living up to our highest ideals as at any time in my life. Who will be our new Freedom Riders, lunch counter sitters, voter registrars, river keepers, forest conservators, wild animal protectors, peace spreaders, truth speakers. I can’t wait to meet them. What will you do?  I will add to Bob’s list Community Land Trust builders. . .

Feb 19, 2017 Addendum to the above testimony:  

I was delighted to find out yesterday that Vancouver, BC has been working on a plan to do what I am calling for–on the scale I am suggesting.   A Speculation-Free Zone, an article in The Globe and Mail describes the efforts of the Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation to become an alternative to the speculative model of housing.  Their vision is to become the largest CLT in North America.

NYC Opens Door Wide to Community Land Trusts in Next City also shows the momentum of the CLT model as cities seek to find systemic solutions to their housing crisis as it is finally becoming obvious the patchwork solutions are not working.

In the late 70s/early 80s, I worked for the Institute for Community Economics, the pre-imenent group building the CLT movement in the US for several decades. I am available to consult on this model through my business, PlanGreen–if there is interest.