Portland should prevent the dismantling of good homes (OPINION)


By Lia Saroyan

I have become increasingly startled by and disappointed with my city’s lack of response to the disappearance of affordable housing in my and other established inner city neighborhoods. I moved to Portland in 1983 and settled into the Sabin neighborhood. As a single mother, I found a sweet bungalow to rent and a great elementary school (Sabin) four blocks away. I quickly fell in love with the house and the block. As many, I dreamed of buying a home and did so from my landlord. In August 2015, I will have been my home for 30 years.

An attraction of the block was its modesty. Its residents were owners and renters, elderly couples and widowers who had lived in their homes for 40-plus years, couples with children, couples without children, men living with men, a smattering of singles and the party house on the corner, where residents and vehicles rotated frequently. (“Mr. Pink” has been parked in the driveway for years.) All our homes were roughly the same size. Bound together, they create a block on which we each possess about the same space, horizontally and vertically.

Prior to 2009, my neighborhood experienced an exuberant rise in property values. Things slowed with the recession; there was little movement in or out. When the rebound began, our neighborhood experienced a new phenomenon: When the elderly widow died, a single resident married or a job took a family to another city, their homes were not purchased by people intending to live in them, but by developers, who often had no connection to or interest in the neighborhood.

And, with my city’s blessing, the developers began dismantling all but one exterior wall of these modest houses, replacing them with a home at least one — and often two — stories higher and taking up almost the entire lot. The remaining homes lost airspace, light and privacy.

The new homes are immodest, in design but, most importantly, in cost. And it is the cost that has changed the neighborhood’s demographic ethnically and socio-economically. Absent a six-figure income, it is no longer possible for young families — let alone a single mother or recent college grad — to buy a home in my neighborhood.

No longer will the single nurse live next to the elderly couple, who lives next to the family with a stay-at-home mom and a couple of pre-school children. When each small home is vacated, a developer, with the city’s imprimatur, swoops in with cash, tears down the home (leaving that small exterior wall to save on permit fees) and installs a four-bedroom, three-bath behemoth.

Is this the blueprint the city wants for our neighborhoods?

All of our residents deserve an opportunity to own or rent a home in well-established neighborhoods, close to good schools, transportation, grocery stores, libraries and parks. The city should stop the dismantling of perfectly good homes. Many people would love the opportunity to live in one.

Lia Saroyan lives in Northeast Portland.