A research paper by Portland State University professor Gerard Mildner drew sharp criticism this week, as Metro staff and others said the paper contained inaccuracies and spread misinformation.
The report, titled "Density at Any Cost," said that the region's current land use planning policies will make it unaffordable to live in the Portland region. In a response, two Metro staff managers offered 10 rebuttals to statements made in Mildner's paper.
In the paper, Mildner says that the region would need to offer $2.9 billion in subsidies for growth in existing downtowns and business districts.
In the staff response, deputy Metro planning director John Williams and interim Research Center director Molly Vogt pointed out that all development requires public investment.
"Your analysis asserts that costs only apply to existing plans and policies, but somehow don't apply if development occurs in UGB expansion areas," Vogt and Williams wrote.
For example, Mildner wrote that $266.8 million in subsidies would be required to build 5,336 homes in Portland's River District. By comparison, a recent study forecasted that it will cost $255 million to build just the roads for the South Hillsboro UGB expansion area, which is expected to have 9,200 new homes. That estimate didn't include cost estimates for other infrastructure, such as pipes or schools.
Mildner's paper also forecasted an inflation-adjusted median monthly rent of $2,281 in 2035.
"To simulate the situation in 2035, we increase the rents in all metropolitan areas by 2.5% per year, roughly equal to the rate of inflation in the last two decades. If rents were to rise by 37% in inflation-adjusted terms, the median Portland area rent would rise to $2,281, roughly equal to levels in Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco," Mildner wrote.
Williams and Vogt said Mildner's numbers are meaningless without accounting for wage inflation.
"Your findings are skewed," they wrote, "because you inflate housing prices but not wages."
In their letter, Williams and Vogt were perplexed by Mildner's criticism of Metro's economic and development forecasting model, saying Mildner was on the committee that reviews the model, called MetroScope.
"You dismiss the MetroScope model, but you make selective use of its data on several occasions where the data support your conclusions," the Metro representatives wrote.
"You ignore that your preference for unregulated growth and development has high costs, and that the public and elected officials have consciously and repeatedly chosen the path we are on for a wide variety of social, environmental and economic reasons," Williams and Vogt wrote. "You offer no realistic path for paying for the public structures and systems required to support that style of growth while decrying the costs for the alternative."
But in an email discussion forwarded to Metro News, Mildner said his point was to emphasize the increasing cost of housing in the Portland region.
"I'm not arguing for suburban sprawl, or criticizing bicycle commuting, or discouraging people who want to live in high density projects, much less criticizing those who build high density apartments," Mildner wrote in his email. "Rather, my point is that Metro should meet its legal obligation to provide 20 years of land supply in an honest, rational, and economically feasible way."
In a response, though, Portland State urban studies professor Ethan Seltzer said people have been claiming for decades that the UGB would hurt the Portland region's economy.
"Gerry's article is only the latest contribution from UGB-deniers, who have long claimed that increases in housing prices could be mitigated by getting rid of the UGB and that economic collapse was imminent because of the UGB," Seltzer wrote. " Oregon task forces since the (Gov. Vic) Atiyeh administration have found otherwise, and actual peer-reviewed scholarship has continued to refute those stark, simplistic claims."