My View: Promote housing diversity in Laurelhurst
Richard Kuhns' recent op-ed (Laurelhurst is welcoming, not racist, Nov. 20 MyView) contains several inaccuracies.
Contrary to Kuhns' claim, the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association's stated motive for nominating Laurelhurst to become a historic district was indeed to prevent infill development under the Residential Infill Plan.
Please see the LNA's Exploratory Historic District Committee report, which also indicates that the nomination was motivated by concerns about "overcrowding" and street parking.
Kuhns implies that the LNA supports internal conversions of existing homes to include apartments. But the LNA's bylaws include an unusual clause stating that one purpose of the LNA is "to preserve the single-family residential characteristics of the neighborhood."
This NIMBY clause seemingly requires the LNA to oppose internal conversions. Some LNA members actually advocated removing a board member on the grounds that his support for internal conversions violated the clause. Residents could make Laurelhurst more welcoming by changing this clause to direct the LNA to promote housing diversity.
Frankly, the LNA doesn't have a leg to stand on in claiming that it's trying to preserve affordable housing by opposing the RIP. According to Zillow, Laurelhurst's median home value is over $700,000. Even market-rate units in brand-new triplexes and four-plexes would cost far less than that. The RIP also could allow infill of subsidized affordable housing, of which Laurelhurst currently has none.
The historic district nomination lists Laurelhurst's historic features as including its park, street layout, entry markers, street trees and light poles. Preserving these features does not require obstructing affordable housing development.
Laurelhurst does have a special history of racial exclusion. According to research available on the city's website, Laurelhurst is the largest of only three neighborhoods on the inner east side that had racial covenants. Most Portland neighborhoods evidently did not have such covenants.
Obviously, current residents are not to blame for Laurelhurst's history. But in seeking to preserve Laurelhurst's single-family character, the LNA is working to preserve an arrangement originally created to exclude minorities and lower-income people. The first regulation prohibiting anything but single-family homes in Laurelhurst was implemented in 1909. A promotional booklet from 1912 explained:
"A residence district protected as Laurelhurst is, by building restrictions ... will naturally be occupied by refined and cultured people. ... This is a matter of great importance, especially to those who have families of growing children, because nothing contributes so much to their peace of mind as the knowledge that they are living in an atmosphere of refinement, and that their associations will always be desirable."
In other words, the single-family housing restriction was explicitly meant to keep poor people out of Laurelhurst — a task at which it has succeeded impressively. The current efforts to preserve this restriction are perpetuating its exclusionary legacy.
We Laurelhurst Historic District opponents hope not only to remove obstacles to diverse housing for people of all income levels in wealthier neighborhoods, but also to address the environmental impact of inner neighborhoods close to public transit retaining low suburban density levels. To reduce sprawl, traffic congestion, air pollution and global warming, we have to allow multifamily housing in all inner neighborhoods such as Laurelhurst.
People need housing somewhere or other, and it's much better for the environment if as much of that housing as possible is close in and close to transit.
The LNA should do its part to fight against global warming, or at least should refrain from fighting to worsen global warming by obstructing multifamily housing.