Think Out Loud

A vision for the future of cities

By Sage Van Wing (OPB)
May 27, 2022 10:36 p.m.

Broadcast: Monday, May 30

The Residential Infill Project would change zoning rules in areas currently zoned for single-family homes to allow duplexes and triplexes as well.

The Residential Infill Project would change zoning rules in areas currently zoned for single-family homes to allow duplexes and triplexes as well.

Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability


Oregon was the first state in the country to ban single-family zoning in all but the smallest cities, meaning duplexes and triplexes can be built next door to single-family homes. The idea is to increase density within cities while preserving land for farms and wilderness in more rural areas. Denser housing could also help to combat climate change, and create more affordable housing to help reduce the number of people living on the streets. That’s the vision of the Yimbytown movement. Last month, Think Out Loud hosted a panel at the Yimbytown conference in Portland to discuss what “Yes In My Backyard” could mean for the future of cities. The guests were Sam Diaz, Executive Director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon; Rukaiyah Adams, Board Chair of Albina Vision Trust; Marisa Zapata, Director of the Portland State University Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative; and Jerusalem Demsas, staff writer at the Atlantic magazine.

Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. Oregon was the first state in the country a few years ago to ban single family zoning in all but the smallest cities, meaning duplexes and triplexes can now be built next door to single family homes. The idea is to increase density within cities, while preserving land for farms and conservation outside of them. It’s just one aspect of the YIMBY movement, that’s as opposed to NIMBY, meaning Yes In My Backyard, not No. Yes to transit, to homeless services, to density.

We talked about all of these ideas last month, and we hosted a conversation at Portland’s Revolution Hall as part of the last night of the YIMBYtown conference. We had four guests, Marisa Zapata is the director of the Portland State University Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative. Sam Diaz is the Executive Director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon. Jerusalem Demsas is a policy writer at The Atlantic magazine who has written a lot about the future of cities. And Rukaiyah Adams is the Chief Investment Officer at Meyer Memorial Trust and the Board Chair of Albina Vision Trust. I started by asking all of them, beginning with Rukaiyah, for their vision of what we should be working towards in terms of housing.

Rukaiyah Adams: I think we should all be housed, and that we need different kinds of housing for different stages in our lives. Housing that’s culturally specific. I think the absence of adequate housing is holding us back economically and socially. I hope that in the future we have dense urban housing where working people or poor people can afford to live in neighborhoods that they can walk to work and walk to school and walk to the grocery store. That that kind of living isn’t the domain of the wealthy.

I hope that our housing is connected to walkable communities that center children. I hope that in our neighborhoods that are dense and affordable, that the streetlights are not blue spectrum and they don’t turn dark brown skin purple at night, and instead illuminate the color of our skin. More than anything, I hope that it isn’t just shelter that we provide for people, or even housing, but that we can generate a sense of home for people in many forms. That’s what I hope.

Miller: Sam, what about you?

Sam Diaz: I just entered dream time on that one, so thank you Rukaiyah.

I would say 1,000 Friends really looks at striking the balance. And Oregon really has made sure to not pit farmland against housing, or our beautiful scenic vistas where we love to just be in nature, be with each other and be with ourselves, we don’t pit that against housing either. So I would love to see Oregon lean into its strengths. Use the tools that we have. Use the tools that a lot of YIMBYs, a lot of housing advocates have created for us, like the Residential Infill Project. We have 150,000 homes short right now in our state, and we’ve got to keep up with the 20,000 home demand every year. So I do want some accountability by our governments to hold onto that, produce that housing, make sure it’s safe and stable, make sure people of all incomes have access to it.

Miller: Marisa, what’s your dream?

Marisa Zapata: For me, it is this idea that everyone can access the kind of structure that they want, the kind of housing unit that they would prefer to live in. I want to be able to move away from “you can only have a tiny box apartment if you make x amount of money,” if what you really want is a single family detached home. That said, I also want to maintain our climate goals, and allow us to have more dense single family homes, duplexes, and townhomes, if people want those. I do want to make sure that we aren’t just doing what my home state has done, I’m from Texas, [which] consumed everything for massive lots and big trucks. So I would like us to be able to say, first, where do you want to live? How do you want to spend your life inside your building or your structure? To what degree is that safe, affordable, culturally specific, trauma informed, all of those things matter.

I would also like to never have to say “supply” or “demand” again when it comes to housing.

Miller: What does that mean? I mean, I understand the words. But in practice, is that another way of saying that you want to take this away from the way we think about markets?

Zapata: On the extreme, that’s the idea, that we would be-commodify housing. And that’s a very extreme perspective. But at least to be able to understand that there are a lot of people, because we have such a market oriented philosophy or orientation to housing, that people will never be able to afford even adequate housing, let alone the preferred housing that they believe they could thrive in. And so if you’re always going to be looking at the penciling out, trying to make sure that you’re spending the least amount of money on people, that is going to forever undermine the goal of putting people in the housing that they want to live in.

Adams: I just wanted to say to Marisa that I wanted to build on her vision, which I really like, which is evolving our view of housing as being an investment asset for some people to make double digit returns but other people to live in. We have to stop thinking about it as an asset that will produce double digit returns year over year, or else we can’t get to reasonable treatment of people who need housing, bottom line.

But I want to build on the other dream too. We often think about the growth boundaries and infill. I almost want to talk about infilling nature into the city as well. We know that there are issues in some communities with tree coverage and trees being cut down. And I can imagine a future where our gardens are micro gardens and microparks, and we engage with the natural environment not in these large vistas that are difficult to manage and you know build, but in small ways every day. Anyway, I’m inspired by these dreams

Miller: Well, we haven’t heard Jerusalem’s dream yet.

Jerusalem Demsas: So when I think about housing, I often think about freedom of movement. When there is housing abundance, when there’s enough housing for people to move where they need to move at every stage of life, to be near their families, to be near the jobs they want to work, for whatever reason where they want to live, that is intricately tied with housing and with movement.

If someone in Missouri is 18 years old and they want to go to college in Washington DC, or they wanna go to Portland, there needs to be housing available for them there, or else they don’t have freedom of movement, they don’t have freedom at all. If there’s not housing when you are a senior and you need to downsize because your home is not accessible to you, you can’t go upstairs anymore, and there’s not housing in your neighborhood and your community, you don’t have freedom of movement. And so to me the dream is that there is housing abundance, that freedom of movement exists for everyone, and that you’re not constrained about how you want to structure your life and the structure of your family’s life by the fact that the only kinds of homes we’re building are for one specific set of dreams, that only apply at one point in life for some people. That’s what I conceptualize.

Miller: Rukaiyah, I want to go back to you. I thought we could get a little bit of history. I’m curious what you see as the most important pieces in terms of Portland or Oregon housing history that brought us to where we are now.

Adams: Sure, thanks for the question. I think a lot of people don’t realize that housing and housing affordability and availability have been a problem for Portland’s since its inception. Before the city became one, when Portland, East Portland, and Albina combined around 1920, we didn’t have a dense affordable central city housing when the wartime boom kicked off in Portland, as we were shipbuilders and contributing to the war effort. The federal government at that time, around the time of World War One, wanted the mayor of Portland to establish a housing authority to receive federal dollars in order to build what we would know today as “pre-war housing.” A part of the reason why Portland doesn’t have a lot of that housing is that wealthy developers and business people didn’t want dense affordable housing in the central city. And so the way that they avoided that was by not having a housing authority at all.

Portland didn’t actually get a housing authority until 1941. By that point, Vanport was already built. And for the folks who are not from Portland, Vanport was an affordable housing development that was built in the floodplain that was the intersection of the Columbia and Willamette River. Thousands of people were displaced when the rivers flooded and those homes were destroyed. And we think of Vanport as a natural disaster. Fundamentally, it was an affordable housing disaster.

This issue of Portland not having enough affordable housing was there from the very beginning of the city. The issue of having wealthy people control access to housing was an issue in the very beginning. Portland had scow villages, where people lived in tenements on the river for decades. Thousands of people lived there. Giles Lake, which is where the Pearl is today, was basically a marsh, and there was an affordable housing development built there. We’ve had this issue of needing more affordable housing, and having relatively few people control access to the construction and development of housing. This isn’t a current issue for Portland, it’s an issue that we’ve had since the city was formed. And the exciting thing about this moment is that we’re finally acknowledging, reckoning with that history, and saying that that’s not the way that we want to be going forward.

But for the young folks in the room, this didn’t happen in the last 10 years. My family has been here for seven generations. There has never been a generation that didn’t have an affordable housing problem.

Miller: Sam you’re at 1,000 Friends of Oregon, a nonprofit that is intricately tied to statewide land use planning, and really well known for Senate Bill 100 that Governor McCall signed in 1973, which was more about preserving farmland than preserving a livable climate. I don’t think that was a phrase that people used a lot in 1973.

I’m curious if you think land use planning goals have kept up with the most pressing issues that we have now, statewide, and then pushed down to all the different localities that manage urban growth boundaries and land use.

Diaz: For those who may not be familiar, the statewide planning program includes 19 goals and guidelines. One of them is focused on housing, and so I’ll dive into that. It requires local jurisdictions to produce abundant, diverse, affordable housing. It calls out Oregonians at all income levels. And that is really the kicker, that’s a statewide floor for all of our cities and towns to develop and take ownership of allowing and producing housing. Whether that’s zoning changes, or whether that’s funding and financing mechanisms, that’s really the responsibility of the cities and towns.

The state comes in with carrots, in the form of competitive grant programs, planning grants, and sometimes a hammer. I think we have seen the state legislature start to bat away some of the authority that the Department of Land Conservation and Development, which is the state agency that guards and enacts the statewide planning program, is charged with. The director, year after year, gets slapped on the wrist, saying “you can’t bring that appeal. You can’t come down hard on cities and counties.” And in this role, I’ve been able to talk to director after director after they leave the department. They’re like “Yup, the legislature took away my authority to bring an appeal for cities and counties.” And so I do think that there does need to be an enhanced authority, and we really need to empower the State department to have enough resources and have enough authority to make sure that cities and towns realize Goal 10′s obligations.

If not, that’s where 1,000 Friends comes in, as the watchdog. We’re actually currently intervening in lawsuits in Hood River in Eugene because a bunch of neighbors are bringing forward lawsuits because they don’t like duplexes, they don’t like triplexes. And so 1,000 Friends is serving as a watchdog group. We’re also co-creating solutions for what infill can look like, which is what you see in Residential Infill Project here in Portland, Better Housing By Design, and the state analog, House Bill 2001, which requires all medium sized cities to require that. Now we’re saying “Cities and towns, your hands may have been tied, but here’s the gift of infill. Make it happen.”

Zapata: I think what’s tough for me on this front of the land use system goals - I’m a Goal One person, that’s community engagement, I also like Goal Ten, housing - isn’t so much “do they need to be redone?” It’s that the Department of Land Conservation and Development, for reasons that Sam is articulating, doesn’t actually implement them to the degree that they could be. I don’t know that we’ve had a chance to see, if we actually use sticks, what it would look like to have housing be produced in the way that Goal 10 states that should be produced. I always hesitate a little bit to say let’s take down the goals and reimagine them. I’d rather actually try to implement them more strongly.

Miller: I want to turn to the zoning change. Oregon was the first state in the country, I think followed by California relatively recently, to get rid of single family zoning in everything but the smallest cities statewide. And it’s worth noting, just briefly, that the state did this before the city enacted this, the city had been working on it for a couple of years, and eventually the state did it, and then the city has its own sort of system that follows. What does this say, Jerusalem, about the power at the state level, as opposed to the local level or the federal level, to set and change housing policy?

Demsas: So I think the first and most important thing to understand is that the only power localities have is the power that states give them. The only powers enumerated by the Constitution of the United States are to the federal government and to the states. Anything that localities are doing is because the states have allowed them to do it, either through their own constitutions at the state level or because the state legislature has decided to allow that to happen. At the end of the day, while everyone always likes to say “housing politics is local,” that is often a way for state legislators to not take ownership of the fact that they have allowed a lot of these localities to get away with really exclusionary policies.

I think it’s really important to think about why we would want the state to be in charge of a lot of these decisions. The important thing is that, when you think about who is affected by whether or not housing gets built, it is not just the people who are currently living in that city. And so what you wanna do is make sure that the decision making body, the political body that’s deciding whether or not housing gets built or how it’s planned, is encompassing many more of those people, because it’s relevant to people right outside of Portland, or in a suburb of Portland, that another suburb is building housing, because you have to stay in the place that you’re living for your entire life. People move. And there are future people who don’t have a voice or say. And so when you move the decision to the state level, it encompasses more of the people that are going to be affected by the lack of housing that exists in many of these exclusive cities and suburbs.

And secondarily, one big cost that a lot of people don’t realize is that when housing isn’t built, when you create this massive shortage we’re seeing not just here in Oregon, but also across the country, (we’re facing a shortage of 3.8 million homes across the country, and that’s an estimate from last year, so it’s growing,) when you have that problem, you’re creating massive economic cost. There are estimates that this is, in the form of wages, over $10,000 a year for the average worker. These are not things that local elected officials are going to internalize because when people vote for local elected officials, they don’t say “I blame you for the larger economic situation.” So they’re not held accountable for the fact that the decisions that they’re making are still affecting that larger economic situation. And so putting at the state level, where voters do hold their elected officials accountable for saying, “are jobs coming to Oregon, are wages going up,” people care about that, and they care about their statewide elected officials being responsible for that, making sure that the place where decisions about housing are being made are also the place where voters are holding people accountable for economic outcomes is the way that you make sure that you actually end up building sufficient housing for everyone.

I think this is a big reason why, when you see the winds that are currently happening for the housing abundance movement, you’re seeing them at the state level much more than you’re seeing at the local level. When you look at California, when you look at Connecticut, when you look at Oregon, when you look at Washington state, these are places where you have a lot of activist groups and a lot of local elected officials, honestly, often not publicly, begging the state to just take the power out of their hands because they are not able to make the decisions that need to be made to provide economic opportunity for everyone.

Miller: Sam, every time I talk about the end of single family zoning, I have to remind myself, and maybe listeners, that it simply means that builders can build multi-unit properties in certain places, not that they have to. I remember being told by the speaker of the house and other folks when they were pushing for house Bill 2001 that it’s gonna take time. It’s going to take decades for us to see the real fruits of this. But it’s been a couple of years now. How big a difference has the end of single family zoning made?

Diaz: This is kind of the test of your advocacy, right? What is implementation gonna look like, how long are permits gonna take? So this is the latest from the city of Portland: Again, for those who may not be familiar, Portland City Council adopted Residential Infill Project, removing the ban for duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and because of an amazing mega coalition, gave two extra units if you’re permanently affordable. Because we can’t require it. There’s a state preemption that says cities and towns can’t require affordability. So let’s do a bonus instead, and make our Proud Ground or Habitat for Humanity partners competitive in this market.

Residential Infill Project became effective August 2021. To February, a seven month snapshot: ADUs 36, duplexes 10, triplexes 9, fourplexes 72. So that’s 371 homes people are building right now that cannot be built without the zoning changes. I would say that that is a strong start.

Zapata: But I think that the flip to that is that 371 is the number of units, it is also not so many units to be terrified. I think that was one of the counter arguments we were hearing. There was this great meme that went out, someone made a trojan horse and put it on top of a map, and then they had housing units falling out of the butt of the trojan horse onto the city of Portland, we were going to be buried in housing units.

Miller: It’s easy to make fun of that flier, but it may be it also makes sense to reckon with the fears behind it, because they’re not only about single family zoning. They’re about all kinds of fears people have, about losing something that they have, or perhaps losing something they don’t have but want to have at some point. And to go back to the economic piece, Rukaiyah, also potentially the fear that probably their biggest economic holding could suffer somehow. I guess I’m wondering what you do with that?

I’ll go back to you first, Marisa, that you like the community engagement part of land use goals. And this is community engagement. I guess I’m wondering how you reckon with these fears, whether you think they’re grounded in reality or not?


Zapata: Fears are real. I work in homelessness. There are a lot of fears that we understand where they come from. People are afraid of change. They’re afraid of what they don’t know or they don’t understand, or they’re afraid of what they imagine. When I used to teach on the East Coast, when I said the word density, or upzoning, the image of what kind of people’s mind was Gotham. Everything is in the extreme.

And so part of it is unpacking what are people’s actual fears? What are their actual concerns? And then and how can you move a conversation forward that recognizes that those concerns are valid, except when they’re very racist or classist. But you still have to work with those, right? Even if it’s fear of people, people of color or people who are poor, you have to be able to work with that set of concerns. But as planners, you also have to draw the line at some point. Community engagement does not mean everybody gets their way. So it’s a chance to put a conversation into motion where you can work with people, understand what their concerns are, but you also have to sometimes say, “I hear you, I appreciate you, and we’re going forward with this.”

Adams: One other way to think about the fears that I hear from people is I think there’s a failure of imagination. So we can frame it as a fear of losing value in your home, or losing a way of life, but also just a failure for us to paint a picture of what that life would actually be like. And I find that we’re also wrestling in Portland with what home is. We project onto ourselves and other people this value that home is a single family detached house with a private park essentially in a yard. And as we mature into life, and go through some of the rites of passage, there are these really deep cultural bogs that we hit in defining what is home, how do we step into community leadership, what do we share in common with our neighbors?

And so I don’t think we’ve explored enough the conception of home. What it will take to have the average Portlander go from desiring a house in Montavilla or Mount Tabor, to living in dense affordable housing in lower Albina. To think about an apartment as a home, not just a place that you live when you’re 20. And that’s going to take some work. We have to be kinder to each other in that journey. I feel like we’re not working through some of those challenges about what that will mean about how we get around the city, what it will mean about how we carry our groceries home from the store, what it will mean about where we buy our groceries. Will it be a big Fred Meyer that’s one stop shopping, or will it be a bodega? How will it radically transform our lives? We just haven’t had writers and thinkers helping us to take that walk into the future.

Miller: So for that example, are you imagining that the failure of imagination is also a failure of persuasion? That the person who says “I want a home in Tabor or Montavilla,” that if they just get enough information, they might realize that they could be happy in some other place? Or that this is the most affordable option for them, and once they get there things will be okay? I guess I’m trying to figure out what you mean by imagination.

Adams: I’m trying to detach this conversation from affordability, although that is a really important part of it. But I don’t think we can get to the kind of logic-brain thinking of affordability until we pass through the emotional-brain of home. I’ll use myself as an example. As a young adult, I didn’t live in Portland, I lived in dense urban cities. I lived in Gotham. And I struggled with the concept of owning an apartment as a home that I would pass on to my children. I wrestled with that concept. So I just think that there’s something in this American imagination, maybe even our human imagination, that needs some guidance. There’s some tenderness in there that we’re missing in this conversation, in my opinion. But it could just be me. But I get the sense that as people age, for example, my mom is at a point where she doesn’t need a Portland traditional four bedroom house. And so getting her to think about what life might be like on the 10th story of a multi-family building is a deep personal conversation to have with her, before we even get to the affordability question.

So I just think there’s some tilling that we have to do in the spirit as we approach this. I also think we have to provide some space in the town square for us to engage emotionally, to actually engage each other emotionally on this issue of home. We talk about houselessness and neighbors, but we’re actually not engaging each other emotionally about the consequences of not having enough housing for people. We’re talking about market forces and economics and investors. Well, what about the people who are there? And I say that as an investor.

Zapata: I love that you are optimistic about this. I guess my concerns are, I’ve been to some meetings in my neighborhood, St. John’s, where there was supposed to be a sustained conversation about citing a village of people experiencing homelessness. I had actually taught a land use class right before I went where I’d been talking about the language that was used in the 1920s to talk about how to exclude people with zoning code, language around racist terminology, language around health and disease and cleanliness.

And I went to the St. Johns neighborhood association meeting. It was in the bottom of a church, there were several hundred people packed in, it was the exact same language being used. There were people who were houseless who were there to share their stories, to try to connect with people. And the abuse that was hurled at them makes me want to rely on the law, to rely on our policies, and say whose labor is this to actually do. I agree with you, we should be able to connect as human beings. But at the same time, we have to actually get housing accomplished, rapidly and urgently. And that to me is where our policies and laws can come in. But I love your optimism.

Miller: Jerusalem, what forms of power do people, especially homeowners, actually have to say yes or no?

Demsas: The real power, as we’ve discussed, is in the ability to block housing. These community meetings, the community input process, is really about giving people the power to delay. Obviously, there’s some level at which delay is important, you have to think about the plan, and make a decision about where you’re gonna put housing and what it’s gonna look like. But the community input process basically says if you’re willing to show up and scream at a public official, we’re not going to do what you don’t like to do. And that is not a system of democratic governance.

In many states across the country, we’ve the Yes In My BackYard movement try to turn the tide, and use this as a weapon for good in many cases, in order to try to build more housing. But that does not actually vindicate the system itself, that it can be used for good. It’s still not democratic to say that someone has to show up at 9PM, 10PM, talk for hours, take often offensive abuse from other people in their community, in order to have their voice heard by public officials. And also, on the public official side, in the US we do not empower many of our elected officials, and also, more importantly often, people who are just government workers, to say “you can’t scream at me, I’m doing what’s best for the community, I’m listening to community input, and I’m going to implement a plan.” And this is something that’s unique to the United States in many ways, that we do not empower our public and state workers in order to make those kinds of decisions. And often because they’re under political threat of potentially losing their jobs, or their elected officials are at the behest of maybe only 100 or 200 voters for who actually shows up to local elections.

And so the real power right now, to directly answer the question, is in the hands of whoever is willing to yell the loudest, who is able to hire a lawyer to sue and to sue and to sue repeatedly. And what that ends up doing often is that developers who are aware of this dynamic show up to these public meetings, and there’s research about this, they show up willing to give wealthy, often white homeowners whatever they want in order to get a yes on a project. This raises the cost of housing. It means affordable housing doesn’t get built. It means homeless shelters don’t get built. It means mass transit doesn’t get built. It means renewable energy projects don’t get built. All of these things are sacrificed in the name of a very unrepresentative population, often who are working in interests that they themselves are not actually going to realize.

What we do know is that, while many people conceptualize densifying housing as somehow reducing their economic opportunities or their own financial stake in their own house, there’s significant research that shows that when you upzone, you actually raise the value of the property you have, because it means that a developer is willing to buy that property from you for a higher number. That means we’re not actually acting in any of our own interests. A lot of this has to do with breaking a lot of myths that have existed in American housing policy and American rhetoric for hundreds of years, and are not actually rooted in reality.

Miller: Do you have a prescription for how to amend the process you just described? So that there would be some version of meaningful public input -

Demas: Meaningful public input is voting.

Miller: Meaning voting, and then representatives pass laws, and then if some project then passes muster. But for example, you’ve also written about the National Environmental Policy Act, which you argue has been used improperly, or maybe cynically, to block various kinds of projects, including solar farms and things. It’s also being used right now to delay the I5 expansion that Aaron Brown has helped to delay. He doesn’t want to get rid of the National Environmental Policy Act and make it so there’s no requirement for an environmental impact statement. I’m wondering how you keep what you like? And voting is a way. But in our system, it’s not the only way. It doesn’t seem like you’re saying get rid of NEPA.

Demsas: I would get rid of NEPA, honestly. Sorry, Aaron.

Just to take a step back here. I don’t know if anyone in this room thinks that the United States is the best at making environmental protections, but that is not correct. A lot of our peer countries are able to do this without having a system of environmental protection that relies on individual people using lawsuits. And who’s going to do that unless you’re just extremely wealthy, extremely connected? And I’m glad that Aaron is doing that for good in this case, but that still does not vindicate the process in any way.

I think that what we see when we look at other countries who are able to instill environmental protections is that they have created an administrative state that empowers state officials, that imbues them with the guidance and goals to protect the environment, and makes sure that they themselves are responsible. And then people have elections. I just think that in general what we want is that we want to vote for candidates, we want to see how they perform, and then if we like what they do, we keep them in office, and if we don’t, we vote them out. And we don’t want a system of governance where I’m forced to think every single day about what someone is doing, tracking these meetings, going to these local elected officials meetings all the time? Do I have to hold them accountable on a daily, weekly, monthly level? That’s not a way of living that most people want to do. They don’t want to think about politics like that. And so to create that world for people where they can spend their time with their kids, with their friends, doing fun things in Portland, that requires creating a system of government that runs without constant monitoring because what we know is that if it requires constant monitoring, the only people who are doing that are wealthy individuals. And that does not provide a future that is actually accessible for everyone.

Zapata: Jerusalem, I just want to say that you have killed the soul of every Portlander tonight. I don’t know how much you know about Portland’s connection to advisory groups and boards, and the deep need that we have for us to be on 65 million things at one time.

I think it goes too far here, and I think that we do get very confused about the amount of power we actually have in our neighborhood associations and on our advisory boards. They are advisory. We have very limited actual power, because devolving power in this country to share government structures is actually quite hard to do legally.

I do think that there is a role for sustained community engagement though. The public meeting has its own role, but if we’re talking about doing the emotional work that Rukaiyah is talking about, the community building, there is a space for that kind of engagement. And I do think that having community members who are monitoring things that are happening can be powerful. And there are models on how we do that in ways that can create more inclusive and equitable structures. Thinking about how you schedule things, how you engage with people, whether you’re being able to pay people. There’s training programs with organizations to build capacity. But the idea that everyone should be able to go to a zoning meeting of course is absurd. Nobody has time for that, unless you’re in Portland and a professional volunteer.

I have never lived any place where I have met so many people who know what a land use planner is, and knows exactly what the setback rules are for every single neighborhood. They literally read these things at night for fun. We want to believe that does something in terms of our citizenry and our sense of community. I’m sure it does. But it isn’t going to overcome these more inequitable issues. I do think there are ways to keep people engaged, it just looks differently than the zoning meeting. God, I don’t want to go to a zoning meeting, I’m a planner.

Miller: Marisa, I wanna actually go back to what you were talking about earlier in terms of our current case study of where homeless camps should go. In 2016, Portland voters passed a $258 million housing bond. In 2018, Metro area voters passed a $650 million affordable housing bond. Then in 2020, voters said yes to Metro’s supportive housing services tax. The plan was for all these different governments, a bunch of cities, three counties, to get together and work together to solve a really complex problem or series of problems. And then the pandemic happened, and a terrible problem of homelessness got way worse, and in many ways, way more visible. And the sense I’ve gotten recently is that a lot of Portland’s others have simply gotten fed up with the pace of the response. How worried are you folks who voted for all of these things, and for whom YIMBY would have been the answer two and half years ago, now that their default answer is “no, I’m fed up, get rid of all of them”?

Zapata: I’m terrified. I think that people don’t necessarily understand that, particularly the measure that was passed in 2020, the supportive housing services measure, is one of the largest funds in the country to provide services for people who are on the cusp of homelessness or experiencing homelessness. Having that kind of unrestricted money, that is not coming from the federal government, changes the entire landscape to actually address this issue in a meaningful and forever way.

First of all, I don’t know how much worse the problem is. I don’t know how many more people are experiencing homelessness now. We had a massive change in policy during the pandemic where we were no longer sweeping camps. And so what that has meant is that people have stayed in place. We encouraged people to come in from further out early in the pandemic, because people weren’t able to access food and water, and it was easier to be able to serve people. So certainly, there has been some sort of increase. But how much that actually is, we’re not sure at this point.

I understand people’s frustration. And there are areas where we know people are just seeing things that are heartbreaking. Today, my niece was in town and we were walking around my neighborhood, and we saw someone who was in an acute mental health crisis, raising his voice at himself and pacing back and forth. She’s six or seven, and has a lot of questions about what that is. That is upsetting to see. And then when you add in not understanding what is taking so long, there is frustration, and I’m very afraid that that fund is going to be threatened. It already is being threatened. People are trying to fight against that fund and repurpose it.

So I think it’s really just trying to continue to emphasize, going back to what Rukaiyah said, we didn’t end up in a housing shortage overnight. I have some ideas about how we could be getting at housing faster, but the reality is acquiring units, whether you’re renting them, buying them, or building them, takes time. It takes time to hire staff and train them up in order to be able to bring people inside. And none of that is answered by shelter or tiny home villages. And that’s where people pivot to, because they’re like, “let’s just move everyone into a shelter if we’re going to have to wait for a long time.” But because of the NIMBY issues, shelters take as long as housing to open at this point.

Adams: The bridge is scale here. Portland is unique in that we have big chunks of land where we actually could do massive, dense, affordable communities, that would be entirely new, that could be zero carbon communities, that could be adjacent to the central city. What I hope we do is get moving on some of those scalable opportunities, in addition to the infill projects, because just doing the math, let’s say we take 372 over seven months, and average that out to 400 units per year, that’s not enough.

Miller: And there’s also no guarantee that those are going to be affordable.

Adams: Those units probably won’t be. I think the pressure, to the extent that there’s impatience with what’s happening, I hope that some of the hot steam from that directs us toward large, scalable redevelopment of neighborhoods that will really increase the housing stock dramatically at once. Lower Albina is one example of where we could have probably 10,000 people live in parking lots right now. The Lloyd Center was an opportunity for the city to really take a big chunk of property and do something exciting. We know that some of Metro’s properties with the raceways will be redeveloped so we have some opportunities there, maybe the Broadway Corridor Project.

I just hope that to the extent that our city, county, and metro governments lean into the scalable opportunities, that they do it, they get to it. Because one of those could house 10,000 people, be an entirely new catchment with schools, and we just can’t wring our hands and belly gaze anymore. We’ve got to get to scale, now.

Miller: We haven’t talked very much about climate change tonight, and I think we should. I’m just curious how you think it plays into everything we’re talking about.

Diaz: We’re a land use organization, so we think about how we manage the built environment to reach our goals, housing goals being one of them, climate goals being another, whether that’s greenhouse gas emissions, or whether it’s resilience.

In Oregon, the land use planning program has really saved lives and saved homes, because in Oregon, we don’t let people build in the wildland urban interface. My hometown of Redding in California, there were 1000 homes just burned down in the Carr Fire in less than a day. And in Oregon, there’s still of course heartbreak, still of course loss of life. It’s not to the degree of our neighbor to the south. And when I look to other programs, like the state of California grant programs, they’re funding local governments to adopt urban growth boundaries to prevent that type of sprawl, and to prevent that loss of life. So in Oregon again, I think we have a great tool chest here, we have to make sure the agencies implement it equitably and in a robust way, but we have a pretty good starting point here in our state.

Zapata: I think in homelessness it’s showing up in some particularly acute ways, and for people who are housing insecure. So during the last wildfires, we discovered because one of our staff members was volunteering at a Red Cross shelter here in Multnomah County, that they were turning away people who were homeless who had evacuated from the area because of wildfire smoke. And they said that “you can’t come because you don’t have a permanent residence.” They were supposed to be sending them over to the county shelter that was next to them doing emergency things, but actually some people ended up leaving and going back outside. And so people were trying to survive in their camps still. We of course know that people lost their homes, particularly in these areas down south in Oregon. And we saw a massive loss of mobile homes, and so a massive hit in affordable housing stock in towns has just been decimated.

The other thing that comes up for me with climate change is a really interesting tension between environmental advocacy around air conditioning units, and the reality of needing to close your window to escape wildfire smoke. If you need to close your window because of wildfire smoke, or because it’s very, very hot outside and there is no way to cool your home, you are now sitting in a heat box. And we don’t talk about that a lot. People get really snotty with me. “Oh, just because Texans love their AC.” And I’m like, no, I’m asthmatic, and air conditioning is a life force for me. So thinking about the ways that we even build our housing units, and what we expect out of them in terms of climate change.

Adams: I like to build on that too. In the work we’re doing with Albina Vision, there’s some thinking about how we can plan dense, affordable central city housing in a way that’s climate resilient. How can we actually use our planning and development to ward off some of the heat related issues that we know are coming? That’s a design issue and planning issue, but also as we place more people in the central city, then folks are not having to drive out to the edge of the city, and so you don’t have as many cars on the road. The way that we will consume and grocery shop will change. I actually think that scalable developments can have chunky impacts on the climate impact of an increasing population in the central city.

And, we don’t have to go far away from this building to see the consequence of bulldozing central city housing in favor of parking spots. And likewise, we won’t have to go far to see the benefit of it. So I really actually hope that we begin to take seriously the redevelopment of the central city.

Demsas: I think what a lot of this brings up for me too is how many people conceptualize of environmentalism as an aesthetic versus how do we reduce climate emissions, And when you think of it as the former, you think “I don’t want new buildings, I don’t want new things, I just want it to look the same, it means you’re intruding on nature by building these things.” What environmentalism really is is you’re building new climate friendly buildings. These are not going to look like older buildings because the older buildings are not climate friendly. They’re going to look different. It means you need to make sure that they have capacity for central AC. Across the country, a lot of places that were not building the types of homes that would have central AC, whether this is in the Northeast or here in Portland, now that climate change is changing how hot summers get, their built environment is not equipped to easily and simply put in a new AC unit efficiently.

And so the real problem here is that if you have an idea in your mind of what conservation and environmentalism looks like as being very pastoral, you’re going to become opposed to the very solutions that are necessary. They’re gonna look like wind turbines, and solar panels. The neighbors to the south in California, their version of NEPA, CEQA, many people are using that to stop things like bike lanes in favor of parking lots, to stop things like solar farms, to stop things like wind turbines. And this is being done many times across the country by groups that call themselves environmental and climate change advocacy organizations. And that is because we have allowed for a long time our vision of what climate change advocacy is to be rooted in this pastoral aesthetic, versus what is actually reducing emissions.

Adams: I would add to that that we often forget that humans are animals. And as we think about conservation, there’s some conservation work we have to do with human habitats. We can take some of the pastoral frameworks, land use structures, land banking, those concepts that we use for wild spaces, and begin to think about how we might apply them to the human habitat, and change the way that we live. Can you imagine conservation for us? Can you imagine black folks leading that? Because we’re up to it.

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