A lack of new housing in the walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods of the Portland peninsula is one of our biggest barriers to creating a more sustainable region. Thousands of households all over New England would love to live in a city like Portland where it's possible to live well without an automobile — and in spite of this demand, virtually no new middle-class housing has been built in the central city during the past decade.
Why should this be? I have a column in today's Portland Press Herald looking at some of the reasons our city's becoming increasingly unaffordable, and here's the short version: our current zoning laws make it mathematically impossible to build an affordable home in the city.
Go to any planning meeting and you’ll see that the people complaining about taller buildings and parking issues are almost always well-off. Unlike the working poor, they have the leisure time to attend long planning meetings and influence zoning policy. Our “public process” is inherently biased against progress and the people who need housing the most.
That’s why it’s so important for those of us who possess the privilege of being able to participate in these civic discussions (this means you, opinion page readers) to maintain some perspective about how our bourgeois desires in urban design weigh against the greater needs of our most vulnerable neighbors.
Shadows from taller buildings, or finding free storage for your four-wheeled private property – those are First World problems. Dozens of your neighbors living in the shelters for want of stable housing: That’s a real-world problem, and we need to work harder to solve it.