Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Small Rooms Lead to Big Row

Apparently, strong coffee and grey skies aren’t the only commonality between Seattle and Portland. Like its northern neighbor, Portland has jumped on the micro-apartment bandwagon. More specifically, Portland is mirroring Seattle’s boarding-house style micro-apartments (often known as aPodments, which are actually the name of apartments developed by Calhoun Properties, not a general term). These apartments typically feature very small units (150-300 sq ft), a kitchenette, a shared kitchen and a personal bathroom rented at a low, all-inclusive price (often below $1000).

Just like Seattle, some Portlanders are up in arms about the perceived effects of these dainty digs. The issue, once again, is parking. Right now there are two developments causing the stir, both being developed by Snohomish, WA’s Footprint Investments. One is under construction in northwest Portland and another is looking for city approval in the northeastern Hollywood neighborhood. The apartments, enjoy a “group living” designation–the same as dormitories, monasteries and convents. As such, they are not required to provide a set amount of parking spaces. The threat of lost parking in the neighborhoods has spurred protests.

We can’t help but think this is another case of NIMBY-itis. Everyone loves the idea of more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. They love the idea of housing that supports public transportation (both developments are close to transit hubs). And they love the idea of building space and energy efficient housing. But when these ideas include the possibility–not the reality, mind you–of fewer or further afield parking spaces, people seem all too willing to squash those ideas.

From the outside, it seems like micro-apartments are a decent solution for a city with 3% vacancy rates for rentals and whose rents have increased 6-7% in the last four years. They also seem like a decent solution given the fact that even though there was a big hullaballoo about parking in Seattle, there were few reports of parking being a real issue. Most people live in micro-apartments to save money; the buildings are situated in central locations, making it easy to get around by foot, bike or public transport, thereby avoiding costly car ownership. Most Seattle micro-apartment developers claim that only 10-20% of their residents have cars.

Just so we don’t seem like blind advocates to micro-apartment living, some regulation is probably in order. Most of the residents of these developments will not be monks and nuns. And while Portland’s public transportation is probably great for a city of its size, it’s not on par with larger metropolises like NYC or Seattle; cars, for some, are a practical necessity. In short, there should be some accounting for parking. But this can be a future-based conversation. Why not wait to see if any problems actually crop up? The city of Portland seems to think this a sound tack. Elizabeth Hovde of Oregon Live reported this:

When I asked Joe Zehnder, a chief planner for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, about whether the definitions will be updated to better accommodate micro-housing, he said, “We need to see how this type of building performs. So we have nothing underway.”

Not to seem too insensitive to the plight of these Portlanders, but what if the micro-apartments reduce the number of available spaces in these neighborhoods? What if people had to walk a little further to and from their cars? As someone who has owned a car in NYC, I know that making parking difficult makes you far less inclined to drive. It makes walking, biking and using public transport far more attractive. These consequences, which support personal and planetary health, seem like questionable foes to fight.

  • maggie crehan

    It seems the solution is to rent to.people without cars..should be able to check registration. Also removes concerns for mother in law artments.

    • mattaudio

      The solution is to just not worry about it. No parking requirements. Price car storage separately. If it’s truly important to people, they’ll pay for it. If a developer can eventually make money building a shared parking garage, they’ll do it. If people are upset about losing on-street car storage, maybe the city should be charging much more for it.

      • DeWhit

        That is a good idea. The individual pays for machinery housing in the same manner as their own housing. It allows an individual to determine exact needs within budget and cash outlay and allows developers to provide additional property with returns.
        Why are some opposed to this idea for paying for intown parking when many European cities already charge for inner city car operation in denser zones

  • Pat Friedlander

    Ah yes–the assumption that everyone has (or should have) a car gives a basis for a specious argument or a false premise in a car-centric syllogism.

  • Michelle

    I think this type of development is beneficial, as it encourages car-free living. Portland’s projected household increase nearing 50% over the coming decades will only compound our significant air quality problems related to auto combustion.

  • Chris

    I think that these types of developments have a lot to offer as they’ll provide, relatively, affordable homes for people.

    Having said that, I do think that the current residents have some legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. I think that it would have been better for the developer to meet with the community and explain the project to them and to be honest about their expectation of the impacts. And, to listen to the community’s concerns.

    Given the location of these units, it is reasonable to expect only 10-20% of the renters to have a car? I live close to the center of San Francisco and a complex like this being built near me, I’d agree that the majority of renters wouldn’t need a car. In the north east or west corners of the city, more people would need cars as public transport isn’t as good in those locations.

    Talk to each other, people.

  • Carl

    This is not really about the issue of small apartments, green building, etc. It’s about corruption in Portland Oregon that allows developers to do whatever they like whenever they like to whatever neighborhood they want to do it to. The real estate powers that be run this city and much of the planning is done behind closed doors with little regard to the citizens of the city beyond what they know won’t float. This is a case where they just went to far. Follow the money. It’s the only “green” consideration there is in this situation.

    • snarkycomments

      Really? Please spend a year or two in 99% of the other cities in the U.S.. You’ll come sprinting back to Portland. There are very few cities with the foresight and vision that Portland has.

  • Tom Clarke

    “You need to build parking spaces. These are MY “public” parking spaces!”
    The same idiots would be protesting when someone wants to build a parking garage.

  • Lisa

    I believe the concerns of the existing neighbors need to be taken seriously. This website often promotes car-free living, which is ideal for most people. As a young healthy person, this works well for me. However, there are probably elderly and disabled individuals in this neighborhood who also need to park close to their homes. Walking a few blocks is not a logical option for them. Some people, such as my father, can not even walk to the closest bus stop. Should someone like him be shut out of living in one of these neighborhoods because he relies on a car? Too often the elderly and disabled are ignored in our society.