Making decisions about where to live involves a series of complex choices. These choices shape the future of a region: where development happens, what it looks like and how people travel to and from it.
A new study provides an unprecedented glimpse into how residents of the Portland metropolitan area choose where to live. The preliminary results are now being released.
The study is the product of a unique collaboration between Metro, Clackamas County, Washington County, the cities of Hillsboro and Portland, Portland State University, the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors and NW Natural.
These partners used an innovative survey approach that asked participants to weigh trade-offs and real world options, presented in words and images. Analyzing thousands of these responses allows researchers to better understand how the region's residents make decisions about where to live.
DHM Research conducted the study online in spring 2014. A "managed panel" of 200 residents each from Clackamas, Clark, Multnomah, and Washington counties was accompanied by a nonscientific "public engagement panel" of roughly 5,700 respondents from throughout the region. The panels were weighted to reflect population and other factors.
"This study provides the best data ever collected in our region on people’s housing and neighborhood preferences, as well as choices they make when faced with real-life trade-offs," said Home Builders Association CEO Dave Nielsen. "It will be very useful to help our industry understand market preferences and adapt where needed. It should also be an important tool used by Metro and surrounding governments in their planning for growth."
Part of the study explored respondents' current living situation and general preferences, before considering any trade-offs like price or commute time.
- When asked simply for housing preference, single-family detached housing was preferred by 80 percent of respondents. 65 percent of respondents currently live in this housing type.
- Of four neighborhood types presented – "urban central or downtown", "urban neighborhood or town center", "outer Portland or suburban" and "rural" – similar percentages of respondents preferred the latter three. 13 percent of respondents preferred an urban central neighborhood.
- Most respondents would prefer to live in a neighborhood with activities within walking distance.
- The largest share of respondents –32 percent – would prefer a medium-sized yard.
The study's main portion asked respondents to consider realistic scenarios with trade-offs between price, ability to own a single family home, size of home, and commute time. Interesting trends emerged from respondents' choices.
- Each of the trade-offs led only a small portion of respondents to change their neighborhood choice – usually less than ten percent. There were, however, differences in how sensitive respondents were to each trade-off, depending on current neighborhood type.
- Housing price had the greatest effect on respondents’ choice of neighborhood. Suburban residents were most sensitive to a one-third increase in housing costs; rural residents were the least.
- Commute time had the least effect on respondents' choice of neighborhood. Urban neighborhood residents were most sensitive to a ten-minute increase in commute time; rural residents were the least.
- Residents of rural neighborhoods placed the most importance on owning a single-family detached home. Over a quarter of rural respondents would choose a different neighborhood type if necessary to accommodate that preference. Current residents of urban central neighborhoods placed the least importance on owning a single-family detached home.
- If they could have the same size and type of home at the same price and with the same commute time, most respondents would choose a neighborhood type other than their current one. Depending on their current neighborhood, some would choose a more urban neighborhood and others would choose a less urban neighborhood.
"The study provides valuable insight into housing preferences and trade-offs that Washington County can use in meeting future housing and infrastructure needs," said Washington County Director of Land Use & Transportation Andrew Singelakis.
"There are some interesting lessons in this study. We will continue to learn more as the data is further analyzed," said Metro planner Ted Reid.
"As we look to the future of our growing region, we will need to work with our partners to ensure our planning and development decisions reflect residents' preferences as well as their goals of protecting farms and forests and and using public resources efficiently," Reid added. "This study can inform choices about what to plan and build next."
Metro Council and the region's advisory committees will consider the study's findings as they work on a growth management decision in 2015.
Read an executive summary and the preliminary results from the study