More and more households in the greater Portland region are feeling the housing crunch. The region needs more than 80,000 affordable housing units for everyone earning less than 60 percent of the median income.
But addressing a housing crisis alone is not enough. Regional leaders need to consider how people move around the region, which jobs are nearby, and who has access to nature.
"You cannot pick winners and losers in your community because everybody has to be essential," said Ron Sims, former HUD deputy secretary.
That was the message that Ron Sims, the former deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and former King County, Wash., executive, delivered to a group of Metro councilors and staff, elected officials, business leaders and nonprofits at the Embassy Suites in Tigard on June 29.
The event was hosted by the Westside Economic Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of businesses on the west side of the region.
Sims has a good pulse of what metropolitan regions across the United States are doing on housing and community wellbeing, having worked at HUD. He told the audience that the greater Portland region has every ingredient it needs to be a successful and prosperous place.
Those ingredients, or attributes, include lots of natural beauty, a strong economy attractive to employers, and a transportation network that combines driving, walking, biking, and transit.
“All the data we had at the federal government shows that the only way you will not be successful for the rest of this century is by a deliberate process of saying you don’t want to succeed,” Sims said. “You have every single attribute to be incredibly successful and a national leader.”
Sims said decisions that regional leaders make now, as they continue to tackle challenges in transportation, housing, and urban growth, will have a big impact on the future.
Finding mutual interests
“The key for you is to sit down and find mutual interests,” Sims continued, “and your mutual interests are simple: don’t you want to be a community of high prosperity, high growth, and attractive competitively in the world? It’s pretty simple. You cannot pick winners and losers in your community because everybody has to be essential.”
The region must welcome diversity, Sims argued, because diverse places will lead globally in the future.
Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington said Sims’ messages challenge the region to be more inclusive to ensure that everyone here can succeed.
“Mr. Sims had some very good points today that everyone is essential,” Harrington said. “We have neighborhoods throughout our region that are in decline, and we should be redoubling our efforts to make sure that those are stable neighborhoods and that people can continue to live in safe, comfortable homes in their neighborhood. Let’s invest and improve those neighborhoods.”
A Metro housing snapshot showed that housing is impacting racial and ethnic groups in different ways. People of color are more likely to be burdened by housing costs than whites. At the same time, people of color are being displaced from inner Portland neighborhoods to places all across the region.
Over decades, the greater Portland region has made large investments in protecting natural spaces and building a transportation network for more than just cars. Sims thinks the region will reap benefits into the future from past and present investments.
“Everything – working on transportation, working on housing – leads to better economic outcomes for entire region,” Harrington said. “We will succeed together, we can succeed together, and as Mr. Sims said, why don’t you want to be remarkable?”