Why Doesn’t the City Set Up a Thousand Tiny Houses on Empty Riverfront Property?

Also: Why has the last undeveloped parcel in central Portland lain fallow for so long?

Why doesn’t the city set up a thousand tiny houses on that big empty slice of riverfront on the westside between Tilikum Crossing and the Ross Island Bridge? Yes, it’s prime real estate and all that, but we’ve got a housing crisis on our hands!

—Befuddled in Puddletown

While I applaud your solutions-oriented enthusiasm, Befuddled, the reason we haven’t solved the housing crisis is not that nobody (until you!) has been able to think of a neat place to build shelters. Portland has plenty of open space; the real challenge is getting the neighbors to go along.

And if you think that’s tough, wait until you try getting buy-in from the people who actually own the site—it’s private property. Good luck! There’s a reason all the city’s Safe Rest Villages are on public land—NIMBYs are pushovers compared to NITAYOMAHs (Not In The Actual Yard Of My Actual House).

To be fair, it’s a big ask—you might balk at a public restroom in your kitchen even if access to one is a human right. I wasn’t able to reach the owners of your would-be favela for comment, but given that a very similar brownfield next door became the big-money South Waterfront, I suspect their reaction would be roughly that of someone who’s discovered a gold mine on their property and is now being asked if they would mind giving it up for conversion into a meditation center for exceptionally nervous yaks.

Why has the last undeveloped parcel in central Portland lain fallow for so long? For decades, the property was home to Zidell Marine, ship dismantlers and barge builders of distinction. In 2017, however—possibly noticing the killing the neighbors seemed to be making with that whole South Waterfront thing—the Zidell family closed the business, presumably to focus on pimping the site full time.

The next year brought an ambitious plan (a casual observer could be forgiven for describing it as “South Waterfront 2.0″), but sadly it fell apart amid squabbles with the city. So far, there’s been no follow-up.

Could their loss be our gain? Will the owners, embittered by the pettifogging planning process, throw off the shackles of crass capitalism? Will they erect a cashless utopia on the banks of the Willamette? Will the yaks ever find peace? Time will tell!*

*Spoiler alert: No.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.