The latest from Michael Anderson at the Sightline Institute:

For three years, Portland’s proposal to re-legalize fourplexes citywide has been overshadowing another, related reform. …  This proposed mid-density reform, dubbed “Better Housing by Design,” includes various good ideas  … like regulating buildings by size rather than unit count; and giving nonprofit developers of below-market housing a leg up with size bonuses.

But one detail in this proposal is almost shocking in its clarity. It turns out that there is one simple factor that determines whether these lots are likely to eventually redevelop as:

  1. high-cost townhomes, or as
  2. mixed-income condo buildings for the middle and working class.

The difference between these options is whether they need to provide storage for cars—i.e. parking.

According to calculations from the city’s own contracted analysts, if off-street parking spaces are required in the city’s new “RM2” zone, then the most profitable thing for a landowner to build on one of these properties in inner Portland is 10 townhomes, each valued at $733,000, with an on-site garage.

But if off-street parking isn’t required, then the most profitable thing to build is a 32-unit mixed-income building, including 28 market-rate condos selling for an average of $280,000 and four below-market condos—potentially created in partnership with a community land trust like Portland’s Proud Ground—sold to households making no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

This is worth repeating: As long as parking isn’t necessary, the most profitable homes a developer can build on a lot like this in inner Portland would already be within the reach of most Portland households on day one.

But if we require parking on these lots, we block this scenario. If every unit has to come with an on-site garage, the most profitable thing to build becomes, instead, a much more expensive townhome.

When people say cities can choose either housing people or housing cars, this is what they’re talking about. 

I’ve never seen a more clear-cut example.

Lots more detail here.




  1. That’s a very expensive 950 cubic feet. I guess it comes down to who the City wants to piss off the least: the people who don’t have homes and therefore can’t complain about them, or those that currently do and don’t want the extra hassle of parking their second cars on the street that they don’t own? Any wagers?

    1. Considering the climate emergency that was declared and that city still has minimum parking requirements the lack of political will from the greens and NPA is glaring.

  2. Just curious – would that conclusion still hold true if:
    – the townhouses had to be built with underground parking? or, conversely
    – the condo flats could have parking at grade (like older buildings in Richmond) with apartments starting on level 2?

    i.e. I’m curious if this an apples and oranges comparison, and either of the foregoing might level out the cost of parking for the two styles of housing.

  3. …another way of describing it – what if you built a block of condo flats with a series of garages at grade for the parking (just like townhouses would have?)

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