Touring a basement conversion ADU in Portland

Last Thursday, as a part of Design Week Portland, I had the chance to tour this basement conversion ADU (accessory dwelling unit) off NE Prescott:

It was pretty cool! From the outside, you’ll notice both sliding glass and French doors where garage doors used to be. This is because it’s a basement and garage conversion ADU.

In case you aren’t already aware, ADU is shorthand for adding a second living space (bed, bath, and kitchen) to a residential property. ADUs can be inside the existing structure or somewhere else on the property (space-permitting).

More generally, ADUs are neat because they open up a number of opportunities:

  1. In communities without new land to build on, ADUs can be cost-effective infill housing.
  2. ADUs make homeownership more attainable by adding cash-flow to cover the mortgage.
  3. For seniors wanting to downsize, ADUs can offer a “downsize in place” option that lets them stay within the community.

Here’s a pano of the immediate interior:

The developer, Kol Peterson, has been building and consulting on ADUs for almost a decade now through his company, Accessory Dwelling Strategies. He’s also written a book, Backdoor Revolution, that’s incredibly informative and information-dense. I’m already at page ~150.

As far as building an ADU in our house goes, I’ve already discovered what Kol identifies in the book as a classic regulation blocker:

(5) In addition to the parking spaces required in TDC 73.370 for the detached single-family dwelling, one paved on-site parking space shall be provided for the accessory dwelling unit and the space shall not be within five feet of a side or rear property line.

In short, we need a three car driveway in order to permit an ADU. But, we only have two slots and there’s no place to put a third. And, ironically, our neighbor can park six cars in their garage, driveway, and street just fine.

Generation Screwed

We’ve all heard the statistics. More millennials live with their parents than with roommates. We are delaying partner-marrying and house-buying and kid-having for longer than any previous generation. And, according to The Olds, our problems are all our fault: We got the wrong degree. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. We still haven’t learned to code. We killed cereal and department stores and golf and napkins and lunch. Mention “millennial” to anyone over 40 and the word “entitlement” will come back at you within seconds, our own intergenerational game of Marco Polo.

[…]

For decades, most of the job growth in America has been in low-wage, low-skilled, temporary and short-term jobs. The United States simply produces fewer and fewer of the kinds of jobs our parents had. This explains why the rates of “under-employment” among high school and college grads were rising steadily long before the recession. […] The decline of the job has its primary origins in the 1970s, with a million little changes the boomers barely noticed. The Federal Reserve cracked down on inflation. Companies started paying executives in stock options. Pension funds invested in riskier assets. The cumulative result was money pouring into the stock market like jet fuel. […] The pressure to deliver immediate returns became relentless. When stocks were long-term investments, shareholders let CEOs spend money on things like worker benefits because they contributed to the company’s long-term health. Once investors lost the ability to look beyond the next earnings report, however, any move that didn’t boost short-term profits was tantamount to treason.

[…]

In one of the most infuriating conversations I had for this article, my father breezily informed me that he bought his first house at 29. It was 1973, he had just moved to Seattle and his job as a university professor paid him (adjusted for inflation) around $76,000 a year. The house cost $124,000 — again, in today’s dollars. I am six years older now than my dad was then. I earn less than he did and the median home price in Seattle is around $730,000. My father’s first house cost him 20 months of his salary. My first house will cost more than 10 years of mine.

[…]

And the problem is only getting worse. That’s because all the urgency to build comes from people who need somewhere to live. But all the political power is held by people who already own homes. For homeowners, there is no such thing as a housing crisis. Why? Because when property values go up, so does their net worth. They have every reason to block new construction. And they do that by weaponizing environmental regulations and historical preservation rules.

Michael Hobbes — Generation Screwed

Seeking hard problems

It's that time of year again (where my schedule empties out), so I find myself in search of a really hard problem to work on. Some problems that have piqued my interest:

  • Affordable housing. Did you know that affordable housing is defined as paying 30% of income or less on housing? And did you know that Washington County, where Tualatin is located, has a gap of ~14,500 houses and growing? I didn't either until about five months ago. Even if you can still afford your housing, this is a problem the entire socio-economic spectrum should be working on.
  • Government technology. The USDS is really cool and having an amazing impact. You should listen to Jennifer Pahlka's SALT talk, "Fixing Government: Bottom Up and Outside In". I wish there was a similar initiative in Oregon. Is there one?
  • Landing Gutenberg in WordPress 5.0. Gutenberg is a revolutionary editing interface. So revolutionary, in fact, that it's one of the worst-rated plugins in the WordPress.org directory. Getting from where we are now to happily shipped in core is going to be a challenging, multi-faceted initiative.

Let me know if you have any input on these problems, or whether there are others I should be considering!