BY LINDA BAKER
Last fall I wrote a short piece about suburban housing developers moving into the inner city after the housing collapse and building high density infill houses instead of single-family subdivisions. I ended the story with a quote from Eli Spevak, a Portland developer who had been building such small-scale community projects for a number of years. Responding to my question about big-box developers encroaching on local territory, Spevak said their presence does re-enact a bit of the “local coffee shop vs. national coffee shop” dynamic. But as a proponent of high-density, low-impact living, he didn't want to complain. “I wish there were more,” he said.
I caught up with Spevak again yesterday, the day after he signed a $4.4 million construction loan from Pacific Continental Bank, the lender’s first new for-sale project since early 2007, according to Charlotte Boxer, Pacific Continental's president and director of commercial real estate. The loan will help finance Spevak’s latest project, Cully Grove, a 16-unit co-housing development in Northeast Portland. So far 15 units have pre-sold, no easy task in a city where there are virtually no new, for-sale multifamily developments.
Spevak attributes his ability to pre-sell the project to interest in cooperative living and “a great group of buyers,” about half of which are empty nesters and half families with children. The development consists of three 1,800-square-foot detached homes, which sold for about $420,000-$450,000. The remaining units are 1,500-square-foot duplexes and triplexes, which sold for about $320,000-$370,000.
The two-acre lot, which Spevak and his partner Zach Parrish purchased for $800,000, will also include community gardens, courtyards, an outdoor kitchen and small common house.
Spevak, who will break ground on Cully Grove this weekend, pointed to evidence that other alternative housing types are on the rise in Portland.
More specifically, the city is experiencing a boom in accessory dwelling units: self-contained homes built on the same lot as a single-family home. According to city of Portland data, these “ADUs” typically account for about 1 percent of new residential units. That figure increased to about 6 percent in 2010. The city expects to issue about 100 ADU permits this fiscal year, up from 70 last year.
Of course, the city’s decision in 2010 to waive system development charges for ADUs may have something to do with the increase. Those charges typically amount to $8,000-$12,000, making most people say “forget about it,” said Spevak, who lobbied for the waiver. The city also voted to increase the ADU size limits from one third to three quarters of the size of the main house.
In the years since the crash, anxious homeowners and homebuilders have wondered when the housing market will come back. But perhaps a more pertinent question is what form it will take when it does. Collectively, the success of Cully Grove, the increase in ADUs, the shift in city policy and yes, the decision on the part of big box developers to retool their projects for the inner city, all suggests that at least for a segment of the population, the future of housing is dense, flexible and more than a little neighborly.
Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.