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The State of Demolitions in Portland

City Chart

Residential demolitions in Portland (Image
courtesy Portland Bureau of Planning and
Sustainability)

The City of Portland is projecting that 2015 will mark a record year for residential demolitions, with approximately 400 homes expected to be demolished by year’s end. While new code requirements provide for a delay and notification period before a demolition takes place, the trend for more and larger housing units continues to increase pressure on older houses. As reported last year, significant numbers of demolitions are also occurring in Corvallis, Eugene, Lake Oswego, and other Willamette Valley cities, however data is not as readily available for those communities.

Since April 27, Restore Oregon has received formal notice of every residential demolition permit applied for in the City of Portland. On average, a house a day is being demolished. The map below shows the locations of demolitions and relevant information about the house that was lost.

Using data compiled from the demolition applications, PortlandMaps, and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the 172 demolitions that occurred from April 27 to October 5 had the following average characteristics:

  • Built in 1930
  • 1,340 square feet in size
  • Generated 58,558 pounds of landfill waste upon demolition (not including recycled materials

Assuming that 400 houses are indeed demolished in Portland this year, it will mean that 23 million pounds of waste will end up in Oregon’s landfills. That’s the equivalent of sending 2.5 billion pieces of paper to the landfill!

Restore Oregon will continue to track demolition applications on a daily basis, updating this page as appropriate.

Visit our Neighborhood Preservation page for more information.

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5 Responses to The State of Demolitions in Portland

  1. Susan Stelljes October 8, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

    I doubt that there are any statistics on the condition of each house that has been demolished nor any statistics on the level of toxic emissions or toxic substances in these tear downs. Many of them are torn down without the proper permits or any consideration that there is asbestos in them. Some contractors don’t bother to do the right thing when leveling these homes including safe removal of asbestos, recycling or repurposing the building materials. There are many good homes being torn down because the builder can build two homes on the same lot and thereby make a nice tidy profit.

  2. Jennifer October 8, 2015 at 12:40 pm #

    This is helpful information. Can you also provide statistics on how many of those homes had compromised electricity and plumbing? And how about the percentage of which had high emissions due to outdated heating systems / poor windows / little to no insulation? What percentage of the homes were built with toxic and dangerous materials that are illegal to use today?

    Could you also please provide a detailed cost analysis of how much it would cost to retrofit an existing structure to be appropriate for modern day living and energy efficient?

    I’d just like to suggest that perhaps we look at this from a different angle. Just because they are old, it doesn’t make them “historic.” Many (most?) of the homes built in Portland the 1910s – 1930s were templated spec homes – they were quickly developed and didn’t use great materials – much like the spec builders today.

    I agree that homes that have unique architectural or cultural significance are worth preserving. However, replacing poorly built structures that are not amenable to modern day life is progress, not catastrophe.

    • Denise Bartelt October 9, 2015 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Jennifer. The way we live certainly does change with the times. As an owner of an old home who came to Portland with the idea of building a new home, I can say that upgrades, while not always cheap, are much more cost-effective than tearing down the entire house and starting from scratch. An on-demand water heater costs the same whether it’s new construction or old construction. And new windows with plastic or vinyl components have a much shorter life expectancy than my historic wood windows (studies have shown that storm windows provide benefits comparable to replacement windows at a much lower cost). If you know anyone who is having difficulties upgrading an older home, they should call our offices. We can direct them to a variety of excellent resources.

      Older homes also often benefit from design features that buiders no longer incorporate into new homes like deep overhangs. The distance from the lot lines are measured from the outside edge of the roof, so to build with deep overhangs limits the amount of interior square footage. The overhangs keep the home cool in the summer and dry in the winter.

      As for toxic materials, what do we know of new materials? We’ve only recently discovered the dangers of BPA in plastics. Highly processed laminated bamboo flooring might present its own dangers down the line. We have proven methods for dealing with materials in older homes that are not usually as expensive as people are led to believe and the materials in question are much more of a danger during a demolition than when they are untouched.

      While it’s true that not every old house is historic, they may contribute to the historic character of a neighborhood.

  3. Mike Allen October 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    What about the “remodels” that are remodels in name alone? Every house demolished on my street has been a remodel that involved removing every last remnant of the original structure, save a bit of the foundation. Then the real estate agent is able to advertise it as an older home. My neighbors are still under the impression that their new home was built in 1927!

    • Denise Bartelt October 7, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

      Hi Mike, We know. We have an example of a particularly egregious case where nothing was left but the original hole for the cellar – not even a foundation! Our Field Programs staff is fairly exhausted getting the first round of articles up, but I will try to have one of them reply to you in more detail about the “remodel” situation. Denise

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