Portland’s urban-growth boundary has made housing less affordable, which is “pushing minorities out of their traditional neighborhoods to the edges of the region.” It is also leading some people to leapfrog to the next city: the two fastest-growing cities in Oregon are small cities about 10 miles away from Portland’s growth boundary.
Portland’s solution has been to increase density and the city has adopted numerous plans to squeeze more people into the city. But this is only going to make housing even more expensive.
One reason for that is that some neighborhoods have the political muscle to opt out of the city’s plans to impose infill development everywhere. Residents of the upper-middle-class Eastmoreland neighborhood, for example, have asked the National Park Service to list the neighborhood on a National Register of Historic Places. This will limit the amount of density that can be added to the area.
Here’s an incredibly stupid idea to deal with Portland’s housing affordability problems: Multnomah County proposes to build tiny houses in people’s backyard. The people will get to keep the houses on the condition that they allow homeless people to live in them for five years.
That’s supposed to be an incentive. For five years, you have to share your yard with a homeless person who may be suffering from a variety of problems, after which you get to keep whatever is left of the tiny home. But as one Portland neighborhood activist points out, what homeless people need is healthcare and social work, not to be warehoused in someone else’s backyard.
I suspect homeowners are going to be wary of this offer because they will have little control who lives in their yard. Not only would the homeowners be required to maintain the tiny houses while the homeless person or people lived in them, Portland is making it increasing difficult for landlords to evict unwanted tenants.
By driving up land and housing prices, Portland’s urban-growth boundary has accelerated gentrification of low-income neighborhoods, displacing blacks, Latinos, and other families. As the Antiplanner has shown in a recent paper, the number of blacks in Portland actually declined between 2010 and 2014.
Portland promised to find affordable homes for displaced blacks, but for some reason those blacks aren’t too thrilled with the 387-square-foot condos the city has offered them. The city is making the condos available to families earning less than $47,000 a year, with priority given to people displaced by gentrification (which is often subsidized by the city’s urban-renewal agency).
Such people will be welcome to buy these condos for a mere $164,000, or nearly $425 a square foot. Such a deal, especially considering many of the displaced people were living in single-family homes several times the size of the condos, and that such homes in places without urban-growth boundaries would cost half of what the city wants for its “affordable” condos.
The Census Bureau estimates that the city of Portland is growing by more than 10,000 people a year while the Portland urban area is growing by more than 40,000 people a year, or more than 100 people a day. Despite, or more likely because of, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on growth planning, the region is doing a very poor job of producing the housing those people need to live in.
Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, brags that not only is the region following most of the advice recently offered by the White House for making housing more affordable, it actually pioneered several of the techniques. Yet according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Portland-area housing prices are currently growing at 13 percent per year.
Metro has an article describing some recent housing developments that inadvertently reveals just why housing is getting so expensive. Continue reading
Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is following the White House’s advice by proposing to increase the densities of nearly two-thirds of the city’s single-family neighborhoods. Under the proposal, duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units would be allowed in single-family areas.
The plan also proposes to limit the size of a home to about half the square footage of the lot it is on, while at the same time allowing buildings to cover a larger area of the lot. That’s supposedly to prevent McMansions, but it also just happens to encourage people to build two separate homes on one lot (one of which would be called an “accessory” unit).
Portland’s current mayor, Charlie Hales, is a strong advocate of densification–so long as it isn’t in his backyard. When the city proposed to increase densities in Eastmoreland, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods on the city’s east side, residents strongly protested. Hales, who just happens to live there, backed them up. Judging from the map on page 14 of the proposal, neither Eastmoreland nor the wealthy Tualatin Hills neighborhoods are among those that would be rezoned. Continue reading
The city of Portland, which likes to call itself “the city that works,” subsidized the renovation of a 50-unit downtown apartment building. The apartments will now be made available to people who earn less than $15,400 a year.
“In Portland, we strongly believe that downtown should be a place where people of all incomes can live,” said city commissioner Dan Saltzman. One problem with that philosophy, as Willamette Week‘s Nigel Jaquiss points out, is that the city spent $514 per square foot renovating those apartments. For a lot less money, it could have built twice as many brand new apartments elsewhere in the city.
In many ways, Portland is the model for nearly all of the policies advocated in the White House policy paper described here yesterday: minimum-density zoning, streamlined permitting for developers who want to build high densities; all single-family neighborhoods put in zones allowing accessory dwellings; lots of neighborhoods zoned for high-densities and multifamily housing; tax-increment financing and property tax abatements to subsidize density; and elimination of off-street parking requirements (which is the only policy discussed in detail by a Washington Post article about the White House paper). Yet, despite doing all of the things that the White House recommends to make housing affordable, Portland politicians claim that the city is suffering from a terrible housing crisis. Of course, most of the ideas proposed to solve the crisis, such as rent control and inclusionary zoning, will just make it worse.
Portland-area politicians love to build things. In 2004, Multnomah County, the county in which Portland is located, built a new jail, called Wapato, at a cost of $58 million even though county officials knew they had no money to operate the jail. It has been empty ever since.
Now officials want to spend $60 to $100 million building a shelter for the homeless near terminal 1, a former port facility on the Willamette River. So someone came up with a bright idea: why not use Wapato Jail as a homeless shelter?
One argument against the idea is that most homeless people gravitate towards downtown. But terminal 1 isn’t downtown either. Another is that Wapato isn’t set up as a homeless shelter. But it would cost a lot less converting it to a homeless shelter than to build a brand-new one.
Interstate 405 is crossed by numerous bridges as it circles halfway around downtown Portland, and none of those bridges are estimated to be capable of withstanding a severe earthquake. Rather than update the bridges, Portland is going to spend $5.9 million building a bike-pedestrian bridge across the freeway that can survive a 9.0 earthquake. After all, Portland is the city that plans to use bicycles to rescue people after an earthquake, so it is important that bicycle overpasses be able to withstand such quakes.
The East Cliff Railway in Hastings is, at 78 degrees, the steepest inclined railway currently operating in Britain.
I could write about this in more detail, but instead I hope to entertain you with some of my favorite photos from my trip to Britain. That trip is now half-way done as I write, so I’ll probably have a second installment of photos in early September.
Congestion has a “chokehold on this city,” writes Steve Duin. Possibly the Oregonian‘s best writer, Duin’s empathetic articles about the downtrodden and forgotten people of Portland are always worth reading.
Unfortunately, his analytical skills are lacking, so when he notes that it takes him 64 minutes to drive 11 miles on a Portland freeway despite the fact that Portland has built a $135 million light-rail bridge across the Willamette River, he seems unable to put 2 and 2 together and get any answer but “stay the course.”
The last new highway built in Portland opened in 1975. Since then, the city’s population has grown by nearly 60 percent, and the region’s population has more than doubled. Rather than build the transportation infrastructure needed to accommodate these people, Portland has built five light-rail lines and two streetcar lines. As of 2014, these rail lines carried just 8,500 of the city’s 301,000 commuters to work.
Portland housing prices are growing faster than almost anywhere in the nation. So the Portland city council has decided to address this problem by building 1,300 units of “affordable” housing, adding less than one-half percent to the city’s housing inventory.
How are they going to pay for this? By taxing new homes 1 percent of their value. Because new and existing homes are easily substitutable for one another, when the price of new homes goes up by 1 percent, the price of existing homes will also go up by 1 percent.
The problem is that politicians don’t understand the difference (or hope voters don’t understand the difference) between “affordable housing” and “housing affordability.” The former is something governments build to help people who are too poor to afford decent housing. The latter is the general level of housing prices relative to the general level of incomes. Building “affordable homes” addresses the first problem, but not the second–except in cases such as Portland where affordable housing makes housing less affordable.