Representatives of local governments and service districts voted 11-4 Wednesday to support a recommendation that Metro hold its urban growth boundary in 2015, and reconsider it again in three years.
In a 90-minute debate, the Metro Policy Advisory Committee discussed Metro chief operating officer Martha Bennett's recommendations to the Metro Council for this year's review of the region's growth.
The council's vote is scheduled for November, but it is required to listen to MPAC before making its decision. MPAC's vote was nonbinding, but getting the support of the region's leaders was a key measure of regional support for the growth forecast.
In her recommendation, Bennett said she supported the region's growth forecast from Metro's demographers, economists and planners. Their 20-year growth forecast said changing demographics will prompt about 60 percent of the region's new housing to be apartments, with much of the region's growth occurring within Portland's city limits.
If their forecast is correct, 62 percent of the region's housing would still be single-family detached homes. But, the experts say, wages are decreasing nationwide, young people are waiting longer to start families and those and other market forces are driving the boom in multifamily living.
The report was welcomed by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who participated in Wednesday's meeting via phone. But, Hales warned, it may actually understate how much growth will occur in multifamily housing. He said other factors, not accounted for in the growth forecast, may drag down home ownership in the region.
"One of the reasons (young people) are not buying homes is they're typically carrying $50,000 to $100,000 in student debt each, and they don't see the prospect to qualify for a mortgage," Hales said.
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba added that there wasn't a silver bullet to improve the housing affordability side of the equation.
"A really large portion of our population cannot at this time, nor will it be able to, afford the kinds of single family houses that, were we to (expand the boundary) would likely be built," Gamba said. "It's not like the homebuilders are going to go out there and build a bunch of $150,000 houses. But that's what people can afford."
But Washington County Chair Andy Duyck, one of four MPAC members to oppose Bennett's recommendation, said the projections that Portland will add 6,200 new homes a year for the next 20 years didn't pass the straight face test.
"I would ask anybody, would you take a bet that those numbers would be hit in any given year? It's never happened once," Duyck said. "Why would we bet that it's going to happen every single year for the next 20?"
Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey was equally critical of the report. He cited a piece in Kiplinger's Financial Report that said the next growth boom won't be within urban areas like Portland, nor suburban areas like Hillsboro – it'll be in exurbs like North Plains, Banks and Canby.
"We mayors, we're at street level. We go to the grocery store and talk to people. And this urban growth report is being opposed by everybody in the region," Willey said.
Joining Willey and Duyck as no votes were Dick Jones from the Oak Lodge Sanitary District, who represents Clackamas County service districts on MPAC, and former Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, who is a citizen representative from Washington County.
But Lake Oswego City Councilor Jeff Gudman pointed out that any argument over the growth forecast wouldn't change the outcome: There was no path to an urban growth boundary expansion in 2015.
"I am not hearing anyone here say they are rejecting the conclusion that the urban growth boundary would not be expanded," Gudman said. "We, as a body, can best move things forward by saying we accept the conclusion identified in Point 1 of the ordinance (to hold the UGB in place), with recommendations to improve things going forward."
MPAC did put one caveat on its support for Bennett's recommendation. Her plan called for the Metro Council to review the UGB again in 2018, provided Metro reaches an agreement on urban reserves in Clackamas County.
Without that agreement, any UGB expansion would have to take place in Washington County. This year, only one city – Wilsonville in Clackamas County – sought a UGB expansion.
Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader doubted the prospects of reaching an agreement with Clackamas County on reserves by 2018.
Many leaders have called for the 2018 review as a chance to test out whether the current boom in apartment growth continues as economists predict. Clark County economic development director Jeff Swanson, a non-voting delegate to MPAC, reminded the committee that forecasting is an inexact science.
"Every forecast is wrong. That's the No. 1 rule of forecasting," Swanson said. "The question is to what degree are they wrong? We're really searching for how much does the forecast reduce uncertainty."
The debate now moves to the Metro Council, which has three public hearings scheduled for the growth decision, the first Sept. 24 in Portland's Jade District. Metro Council President Tom Hughes is expected to address the growth decision at the City Club of Portland on Sept. 25.
The council's vote is scheduled for Nov. 12.