Building Multifamily Housing in Portland

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 6 2012 9:30 AM

Building Multifamily Housing in Portland

1344188212166

I wrote on Sunday that Portland, Ore., has been more successful than I might have guessed in promoting population growth. But it's still true that even inside the urban growth frontier, the area is—like most of America—hobbled by anti-density, anti-urban rules. Here above, for example, is the summary table of what you're allowed to do in those parts of the city of Portland that are zoned for multifamily dwellngs.

FAR is "floor-area ratio." Basically if you have a four-floor building that occupies 100 percent of a lot, you have an FAR of four—there's four times as much floor space as lot space. Four is a pretty high FAR for America. Christopher Leinberger says a neighborhood with a .8 FAR is generally walkable, and car-free lifestyles start being possible at around 1.5 (although note that neighborhood FAR will generally be lower than a building's FAR because you'll have parks and whatnot), so the maximum density is definitely "dense enough" for urbanism. But it's still clearly much less dense that modern engineering is capable of building.

Advertisement

That's a shame because the zoning document says "Generally, RX zones will be located near the center of the city where transit is readily available and where commercial and employment opportunities are nearby." The thing about locations "near the center of the city" and/or "where transit is readily available" is that there are pretty sharp logistical and fiscal limits to how many places like that you can create. To build anything less than the maximum amount of housing the market will bear in such scarce places is very sad.

And of course that's just the densest zone. Most of the multifamily territory is zoned for less density than that, some of the city is zoned for exclusively single-family homes, and in Portland—like all American cities—most of the land is in the suburbs where exclusionary zoning practices are generally more severe.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 6:23 PM Bryan Cranston Reenacts Baseball’s Best Moments to Promote the Upcoming Postseason
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.