Just how many apartments should the Portland region expect in the next 20 years?
With a regional growth forecast just two months from a critical vote at the Metro Council, members of the Metro Policy Advisory Committee engaged in a vigorous debate Wednesday about the house-vs.-apartment balance in the Portland region.
The forecast, called the Urban Growth Report, forms the basis for next year's evaluation of the region's urban growth boundary. State land use laws require Metro to have enough room in the UGB to accommodate 20 years of growth. The growth report outlines how much growth to expect in those 20 years.
The growth report's projections include a look how many homes the region can expect to see built between now and 2035. To get to those projections, Metro planners looked at plans from cities around the region, as well as market trends.
The planners said they think about 60 percent of the new homes built in the region in the next 20 years will be multi-family homes, and 40 percent will be single-family houses.
Today, 67 percent of the region's homes are single-family houses. If the growth plan is right, about 60 percent would be single-family houses by 2035.
But at the MPAC table Wednesday, some suburban leaders questioned whether consumers are actually interested in living in apartments, townhomes and condos. They cited a recent survey by Metro and the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, which found that 80 percent of the region's residents would prefer to live in a single-family house.
Metro officials have pushed back at that number, pointing out that preference doesn't always match with reality, and that the choice of a single-family house didn't take into consideration other factors, such as commute time, proximity to local businesses and neighborhood characteristics.
Still, the 80 percent number was resonating with some suburban officials, particularly Washington County Chair Andy Duyck.
"Eighty percent want single-family housing," Duyck said. "Where there's a shortage, that leaves families who believe they need single-family housing out in the cold – not even able to get in if they could afford it."
Duyck warned of consequences for the Portland region if it planned for too much multi-family housing, citing another time that the region's long-range planning seemed to be bit too far ahead of the curve.
"Most folks around the table would agree that Damascus is a good example of what happens if we deviate too far from what the market demands are," Duyck said. "If we don't build single-family housing to what the market demand is, because people have free choice, they will buy what they want – and those who we've planned for won't have the housing available."
But former state Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, now a policy advisor to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, said demographic realities may counter-balance people's aspirational desires for single-family homes.
"Sixty percent of new households are 1-2 people – as far as looking at affordability for single-family homes, I hear your point Andy, but how are those households going to be able to afford a single-family home?"
Marc San Soucie, a Beaverton city councilor, questioned the demographics of the housing preference survey. He said the low-income segment of the population was underrepresented in the survey – and pointed out that developers have the ability to get creative in building homes to meet market demands.
"To assume everything's going to be 7,000- or 5,000-square-foot rectangular lots with yards may be an assumption we don't want to make, because developers seem to be coming up with other ideas while still doing those," San Soucie said.
Duyck's reference to Damascus wasn't the only time that Clackamas County city came up. Voters there will decide next month on another attempt to get the city to pass a long-range plan. Without the plan, development in Damascus is somewhat limited.
Some MPAC members wondered whether Metro was putting too much stock in the development potential of Damascus. The draft Urban Growth Report says Damascus won't see much development for another decade.
"The turbulence out there is really not moving forward with anything at this point that seems to be particularly positive," said Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader. "I would expect we may have to take a look at some of the assumptions."
Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey had a different concern about Damascus.
"Where are those people going to go to work?" he said. "If we're looking at that being a residential area, are we putting them on the highways and freeways because there's no employment land anywhere close to there that they can go to?"
Metro Councilor Bob Stacey reminded the committee that there is employment land designated in the Happy Valley and Damascus areas. But Schrader said Metro should be looking on a more sub-regional basis to ensure there's housing near jobs, and vice-versa.
"The feedback I'm getting from (Wilsonville) is their concern, on a subregional level, is do they have enough housing so people can live there and work in all that great employment land and businesses they have," Schrader said. "That seems to be a regional vs. local perspective and policy issue – so we don't have these large commute sheds across the region from one area to the other."
But adding land to the UGB for sub-regional needs, warned deputy Metro planning director John Williams, might run into difficulties when it's time for legal review of the region's growth plans.
"When we go down to Salem," Williams said, "we have to defend it as a regional decision."