Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Notes on Wednesday's Multifamily Design Workshop

On Wednesday the 27th the City is holding a Public Workshop on multifamily design standards.

Eugene's "Working Flats," a very fine 1909 Craftsman 4-plex
on the National Register
According to the City's "background" blurb, it seems to be aimed at "missing middle" housing:
The existing design standards are generally geared toward large, suburban-type projects and are therefore not well suited for smaller multifamily housing projects. The standards have thus been identified as potential barriers to development.
The City's image: Cookie-cutter three-story walkup and parking lot
But the image they chose to illustrate the project page is a large, cookie-cutter three-story walkup set on a large parking lot - that "large, suburban-type project." So it's not wholly clear what is the focus here.

From the City again:
The community is invited to a public workshop on the design of multifamily housing on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the Salem Public Library, Anderson Rooms, 585 Liberty Street SE. The public will have the opportunity to provide input on ways to improve the City’s housing design standards.

The workshop is part of the Multifamily Housing Design project, which seeks to update the City’s regulations on housing developments with three or more dwelling units. The project aims to help meet Salem’s housing needs by removing barriers to multifamily housing development and ensuring new development is compatible with neighborhoods.

The City kicked off this project in December and has since held focus groups with neighborhood association representatives, City officials, and developers. Based on this feedback, initial concepts for updating the City’s multifamily housing regulations are being developed and will be presented at the Feb. 27 public workshop.
So I guess we'll see. There are no documents published to the project website yet.

The Working Flats again, on 6th & Lawrence and the BRT line

Each apartment is 3BR! They're huge, half a floor,
but occupy a normal-sized lot (NRHP nomination)

Here's a modern Craftsman duplex in Salem, on Statesman St. NE
These Craftsman-y plexes represent higher-end missing middle housing, and shouldn't be used to set standards, but they clearly model "compatible," and show ways that infill and missing middle projects can be very friendly neighbors and do not themselves harm any "neighborhood character." (And anyway, neighborhoods with no people out on porches and few walking on the sidewalks are the ones that lack character. They are not just quiet - they're dead! Adding people to the neighborhood is what would improve character, not keeping the sidewalks a sterile emptiness - but that's a different argument. We might come back to it.)

from "Visualizing Compatible Density"
An article at The Urbanist, "Visualizing Compatible Density,"is a helpful anatomy of density types and forms. It has capsule descriptions of densities ranging from 4 homes per acre up through 205 homes per acre around the greater Seattle area.

It's an "overview," but it doesn't segment the market much
from the annual Commercial Real Estate Forum
earlier this month

Just rent averages by size, and no further segmenting
Here's also an interesting summary of thinking about market segmentation in housing. A lot of pro-housing advocates or supply-side advocates say that building more market rate housing will lead to older housing - and the associated benefits - filtering down. Housing skeptics protest that the market isn't working, just building luxury or market-rate housing doesn't help with affordable housing and just accelerates displacement. Here is a run at a middle synthesis, "Why Voters Haven’t Been Buying the Case for Building":
If markets are segmented, then building middle-income housing would be vastly more helpful than only building luxury housing because instead of filtering from the top down, the benefits would filter from the middle out. While the market is unlikely to ever provide high-quality, low-income housing without public subsidy, in the past the market did provide plenty of middle-income housing and it could again.
And here's a couple of helpful breakdowns of the costs of new housing, one for Portland and one for Seattle.

In the meantime, as a kind of footnote, up in Seattle a hearing on housing a couple days ago brought out smears and fears of the "Density Bolsheviks."

Protesting the "Density Bolsheviks" at Seattle City Council
via Twitter
It's funny and all, but this over-the-top red-baiting is adjacent to actual NIMBY arguments about "preserving neighborhood character."

And as it happens, exactly 100 years ago there was in fact a general strike in Seattle, and the IWW and "Bolshevik element" were blamed.

A generation or more before McCarthy, blaming the "Bolsheviks" became an effective slur!

February 8th, 1919

February 14th, 1919
The Bolshevik name-calling is almost never done in good faith.

Since there are no materials posted for the workshop, there's really nothing much to say other than we should want more housing and a greater variety of housing. Again, it's at 6pm in the Library on Wednesday the 27th.

(We'll come back to this, in this design standard context, around the housing reforms at the Legislature, and of course around the Comprehensive Plan update!)


Oh yeah. Forgot to mention...the Working Flats in Eugene with four homes takes up no more space than the single-family houses out at Fairview Addition.

The lot and footprint is about the same for the Working Flats

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