Greater Portland continues to experience challenges as the region welcomes more residents and transitions from a small to a large metropolitan area.
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Regular check-ins on issues that matter to greater Portland: Housing, jobs, transportation and more.
Many residents are struggling to find homes to buy or rent. This is because demand for housing still outpaces supply, though construction equipment and cranes dot the landscape. Anxiety runs especially high for both low- and middle-income renters.
Below is a sampling of how communities throughout the region are responding to a range of housing challenges, from affordability to displacement to homelessness.
The challenge: Affordability
Several cities and counties in our region report that a concerning number of their residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and increasingly face rising rents.
Beaverton: Build and protect
The response: Preserve housing that’s naturally affordable (housing that’s not currently subsidized) and build more affordable housing.
What this looks like: With a grant from Metro’s Equitable Housing grants, city officials will create an inventory of both existing affordable multifamily housing that’s at risk for sale or increasing rents, and vacant or underused parcels of land that are ripe for development. They plan to create a best practices toolkit with ideas for how to move forward and pay for these efforts. They’ll evaluate what others are doing across the nation to address these pressing housing concerns.
“What we're hoping to end up with is a market-proof set of tools,” said Cadence Petros, the city’s development division manager. “So when markets are down, and on occasion when the opportunity arises, acquisition may be the best bet. But that might not be the most efficient deployment of our funds in hot markets. So maybe [issuing] grants to existing property owners in exchange for some kind of regulatory agreement or affordability covenant might be the best way to preserve affordability.”
“So we're looking at a variety of different things,” Petros said. “I don't know what all the answers might be, but that's one thing we're really excited about working on in the next year.”
Why it matters: In 2013, nearly half of renters in Beaverton spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. The city is committed to offering a variety of housing types for people of all incomes to ensure Beaverton is a place where families and individuals may thrive.
By 2035, city officials expect to welcome 18,000 more residents. Downtown Beaverton is one of the region’s main urban centers. In addition to its own employment, Beaverton is close to employment centers in Hillsboro and Portland. It’s a heavily travelled transportation corridor.
What’s next: City officials hope the toolkit will be useful to other cities and counties in the region in their quest to build and preserve affordable housing.
Milwaukie: Attract more developers
The response: Encourage developers to build more mixed-use buildings that include affordable homes.
What it looks like: The City of Milwaukie offers temporary property tax breaks to reduce costs at the front end of mixed-use projects built throughout all of downtown, central Milwaukie and the city’s north industrial area. That saves developers money that they can invest in other more expensive projects.
“We are trying to incentivize more housing development, so tools and resources are important to that end,” said Alma Flores said, the city’s community development director. She said the temporary tax breaks also apply to projects with office space over retail stores in addition to affordable housing projects.
Why it matters: Affordable homes are in demand. Milwaukie is in a prime location: close to the Willamette River, downtown Portland and a new MAX line. “We are seeing this need for that $100,000 to $250,000 home,” Flores said. “That could be a townhome, a duplex, a single-family unit. And we have more than 800 people [who rent] who can’t find housing within their price range.”
More than half of Milwaukie residents spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing and transportation, she said. “That tells me that people are stretched thin and those are just two needs,” Flores said. “Our 20-year outlook needs to come up with policies to address that, whatever that may look like – whether that’s to encourage more developers and nonprofit developers to look at Milwaukie as a place to develop affordable housing.”
The Milwaukie city council has declared affordable housing its number one goal. “The way we plan to address it is by creating an affordable housing strategic plan that will have policies and actions that the city could take in advance of updating its comprehensive plan, which is 30 years old,” she said.
What’s next: Milwaukie is looking for ways to fund affordable housing initiatives. The city plans to pursue a one percent tax on any new development over $100,000 in permit value. That tax revenue would go toward programs that encourage developers to build affordable housing. In addition, with a Metro’s Equitable Housing grant, the city is studying four key sites for building cottage clusters. They’re also evaluating how to right-size fees on construction of small homes, accessory dwelling units and more.
Metro’s Transit-Oriented Development program:
Invest in more affordable housing
The response: Support more affordable housing projects throughout the region.
What it looks like: “Metro’s Transit-Oriented Development program provides financing that helps proposed housing projects provide either additional units, or greater affordability, or both,” said Jon Williams, a project manager with Metro’s TOD program. “We also buy sites near high capacity transit, so that they can be developed for housing.”
In September, three projects broke ground: one in Cornelius and two in Southeast Portland. Those three projects are an example of the growing number of affordable housing projects that Metro’s TOD program supports.
“We work with many public, private, nonprofit, for-profit partners to secure the funding these projects need to be built,” said Patrick McLaughlin, a project manager with Metro’s TOD program. “They are leveraging a lot of other pieces already. We’re a small but important part of that.”
The program’s entire budget is $3 million a year. Metro would like to continue to acquire land for mixed-used projects with affordable housing near transit as it did for a project in Portland’s Jade District.
Why it matters: “There’s more of a need now for more housing across the income spectrum,” McLaughlin said. “Rents continue to go up and up but wages aren’t as much.”
“By supporting these projects we’re increasing people’s options to live in vibrant neighborhoods with high quality transit,” Williams added.
Why it's different: “We’re investing more in affordable housing now than we have in the past,” McLaughlin said.
The program historically supported more projects that increased density near transit in suburban areas. In recent years, Portland experienced additional job growth downtown and an increase demand in closer-in, urban neighborhoods.
Metro responded to the need for more affordable housing by adjusting the program to account for the fact that people with lower incomes tend to rely more on transit, and affordable developers have greater difficulty purchasing land in high cost areas. As a result, a higher number of affordable projects have met the TOD program’s funding criteria.
What’s next: “We have 825 affordable units in our pipeline of approved projects that haven't been built yet,” Williams said. “This is compared to 729 affordable projects supported in the program’s entire previous history. We really ramped up on what we’re doing on affordability.”
The challenge: Housing insecurity and homelessness
Nonprofits and faith leaders are seeing a growing number of people struggling to pay their rent and mortgages, and on the verge of homelessness. This is corroborated by the state's latest numbers on homelessness. The number of homeless people in Oregon increased by six percent this year. This includes increases in both the number of sheltered (three percent) and unsheltered (eight percent) people.
Parklane Church: "If people can't get to work,
they can't pay to stay in their homes."
The response: Free car oil changes.
What it looks like: Three times a year Parklane Christian Reformed Church offers a free car oil change to anyone who needs it. Volunteers leave flyers on people’s cars in the neighborhood to let them know when to save the date. Within 24 hours of distributing the flyers, “I usually have about 60 voicemails on the church answering machine from people who would love a free oil change,” said Pete Armstrong, the church’s pastor. This is one of several ways in which the church helps neighbors who are struggling to get by and for whom transit may not be practical.
Why it matters: “You know, everything is connected,” Armstrong said. “So if people can't get to work, they can't pay to stay in their homes. So we're trying to address the problem in various different steps along the way.”
“We serve a lot of marginalized families, a lot of single parent households, a lot of people for whom getting a $50 or $60 oil change is a luxury that they can't they can't really afford this month,” he said. Daily, people come to the church asking for help to pay rent or utility bills, and the church helps as much as it can.
Armstrong regularly meets with other faith leaders to exchange ideas about how to help the homeless. One idea they're still exploring is offering spare space on church properties to build transitional housing, such as tiny homes.
“I've been in full-time ministry for 15 years and these are not things that that we were talking about 10 or 15 years ago,” he said, highlighting the urgent need to come up with creative solutions.
What’s next: Armstrong said efforts are underway to reach out to leaders from different faith groups to continue exchanging ideas. “We're linking arms with anyone who wants to serve the common good of our city,” Armstrong said. “I think we all recognize that we've got some major challenges. So we're we are all about setting aside our differences and serving our neighbors.”
Rosewood Initiative and Human Solutions: Prevent evictions
The response: Help families in East Portland from getting evicted by making emergency rent payments for up to three months.
What it looks like: “Last year we were seeing loads of community members come into Rosewood asking for help with housing payments,” said Jenny Glass, the executive director of the Rosewood Initiative. “So we teamed up with Human Solutions to get funding from Multnomah County for an eviction prevention program.” Families in urgent need of rent assistance call a hotline number to get help. Nearly 180 families have received rent assistance since the beginning of this partnership.
Why it matters: “A majority of the assistance was used to prevent families from becoming homeless – diverting them from [our] Family Center shelter,” said Patricia McLean, project manager at Human Solutions. Funding is nearly gone, so the organization has enough money in the program to help only a few more families this year. Human Solutions has two year-round shelters: one for single women and another no-turn-away shelter for families. The family shelter hosted about 130 people at any one time when it first opened. Now it serves about 400 people with overflow help from partners that include churches.
Why it’s different: “The Rosewood Initiative partnership is unique,” McLean said. “I don't think there's another community organization in our service area that's so grassroots. So it was a pretty easy thing to say, ‘Yeah, we should do this.’ We will continue the relationship even though our funding from the county is more funneled into the Family Center shelter.”
Oregon City: "We're not going to arrest our way out of homelessness."
The response: Connect the homeless to resources to get primary health and mental health care, jobs, and temporary or permanent housing.
What it looks like: The Oregon City Police Department appointed one of its officer to be the city’s first homeless liaison. Officer Mike Day has done face-to-face outreach with people living on the streets since July. He interviews people to learn what barriers they’re facing to find and keep housing. “So if they’ve got mental health issues and they haven’t been receiving any mental health care, I’ll reach out to the behavioral health unit in Clackamas County if a person is in crisis,” Day said.
Day helps individuals sign up for drug and alcohol addiction treatment and find temporary housing. He also helps people on the verge of homelessness sign up for food stamps or reconnect with family members who could help them find and pay for housing.
In September, the Oregon City Police Department set up two new porta-potties designed with beautiful art. A local business owner donated one of the toilets and is splitting the cost with the police department to service the toilets weekly. Both porta-potties are located in downtown Oregon City and will be open 24 hours a day.
Why it matters: “We're not going to arrest our way out of homelessness,” Day said. “We need to take a creative approach to address the issue and address the individual barriers that homeless individuals are facing.” Day said this outreach is key in meeting people literally where they are. They may not necessarily have a phone or a watch or transportation to take them where they need to go. So Day will give them bus tickets or rides to the transition center, or wherever they may need to go to get help.
Why it's different: Sometimes homeless individuals are “a little bit taken aback” when Day approaches them in his uniform to offer help to get back on their feet. Now they’re calling the department or showing up in person to speak to Day as word gets around about the work he’s doing.
What’s next: Day learned recently that a community partner secured a grant to put together pop-up events in different parts of the city where homeless individuals can plug into health, housing and social services all in one place.
The challenge: Displacement
Investing in historically under-invested communities is often a double-edged sword. The private market takes note of the new investments and the potential for these neighborhoods to be up and coming. Property values and rents go up, often pricing out people who call these neighborhoods home.
Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives:
Pave a path back to home
The response: Offer people, particularly African-Americans, who have been displaced from North and Northeast Portland an opportunity to return to the neighborhood from where they have been priced out.
What it looks like: Through the Pathway 1000 initiative, the Portland Community Reinvestment Initiative will build 800 new affordable homes and 200 rental apartments over the next 10 years. PCRI will inform individuals or families about job opportunities and connect them to education programs focused on homeownership retention, saving money and eliminating debt.
“There are reasons why those households were so easily uprooted and displaced,” said Maxine Fitzpatrick, PCRI executive director. “So we're working to eliminate that and work with them to inform them and make them a greater part of their communities so that when something happens they won't be the first to be negatively impacted.”
Fitzpatrick said one of the main goals of Pathway 1000 is to make sure that the project's construction jobs go to people of color. “We work really hard to connect and inform the community of the nexus between constructing houses and the opportunities that are available to them as a result,” she said.
Why it matters: “Portland has experienced significant gentrification,” said Fitzpatrick. “The initiative gives those families and those individuals an opportunity to return to Portland. We feel that an injustice was done, so Pathway 1000 is not anything more than something that will redress that injustice.”
Why it’s different: Such an initiative has “never been done before,” Fitzgerald said. “Gentrification is happening nationally and nobody does anything about it, except to talk about it. This time we decided that we're not going to be upset about it; we're going to do something to change that, to mitigate those losses that primarily the black community experienced.” Fitzpatrick said she’s getting calls from groups in other parts of the country interested in replicating Pathway 1000.
Southwest Corridor Equitable Development Strategy:
"Our job strategy is also our housing strategy."
The response: Ensure that both long-time and new residents benefit from job and housing opportunities that a new light rail would bring to several neighborhoods in the Southwest Corridor and minimize the risk of displacement among existing residents.
What it looks like: Residents, businesses and leaders in the I-5 and 99W corridor are working together to relieve traffic and offer a range of transportation choices. A team will lead this project’s equitable development strategy, known as SWEDS. Part of the Southwest Corridor plan includes building a new MAX line from downtown Portland to Bridgeport Village in Tualatin. “We want to be thoughtful about the opportunities that exist beyond the transit element of the project,” said Brian Harper, a regional planner at Metro.
The team will look for ways to add more housing options for people of all incomes. Metro has awarded several cities in the corridor equitable housing grants to do this work and collaborate. They’ll work with local businesses and workforce development experts to identify and create jobs and offer training in emerging industries. Metro will conduct a displacement risk assessment as a key part of SWEDS. The assessment will tell decision makers about who lives in the corridor, and how building a light rail would affect their lives. That data will guide decisions about how to amplify benefits and minimize risks.
The SWEDS team also convened a diverse oversight committee that includes project partners, social justice and affordable housing advocacy groups, local community and neighborhood groups, and business and workforce experts.
Why it matters: Resources to secure affordable housing are limited. “In many ways our job strategy is also our housing strategy,” said Jeffrey Raker, a regional planner at Metro. “Beyond our efforts to invest in affordable housing, we need to support job training programs and other workforce development efforts as well as ensure stability among businesses to prevent displacement.”
Why it’s different: A traditional way of examining a project's impacts is through environmental impact assessments. “The equitable development strategy is a much more robust, involved way of engaging the community in conversation and trying to address both the positive and negative impacts of this investment,” Raker said.
“Our research shows that this type of assessment around a transit investment is rare,” added Harper. Other partners around the country are having conversations about equity as it relates to government infrastructure investments, “But nobody that we know of has ever taken this step prior to the construction of a specific transit line,” Harper said.
What’s next: To build on the work of the displacement risk assessment, Metro will soon embark on a storytelling project about people who live and work in the Southwest Corridor, primarily focusing on those who earn 80 percent below the median income. “The stories we want to tell through that project take a qualitative approach,” Harper said. “It’s the human side of what the data we gather means.”
Gresham Redevelopment Commission: Create pathways out of poverty
The response: Revitalize Gresham’s Rockwood neighborhood without displacing local businesses and people living in the neighborhood.
What it looks like: The Gresham Redevelopment Commission secured funding to build a project called Rockwood Rising on the site of a former Fred Meyer market. It will feature a community plaza and three buildings that include a public market. Rockwood Rising was born out of the Rockwood-West Gresham’s 20-year urban renewal plan with extensive community outreach and engagement.
The main building will feature a market hall that will house a combination of established local businesses as well as start-ups, and a commercial kitchen. The Oregon Food Bank will help GRDC source produce at low rates “to provide those savings to vendors in our markets, so that they can pass on the savings to our residents,” said Robyn Stowers, project coordinator with the Gresham Redevelopment Commission.
She said the commercial kitchen will allow food vendors, who've prepared food at home, to legalize and grow their businesses. “We’re trying to kill a lot of birds with one stone with the Market Hall: business and economic development, community development and affordable food pricing for food accessibility,” Stowers said. She said the commission was intentional about reaching out to businesses and community members who reflect the rich cultural diversity of Rockwood, where more than 60 languages are spoken.
Rockwood Rising will also include rental apartments priced at Rockwood's current market rate, which falls below the federal affordability benchmark. That would make the apartments affordable. But 20 percent of those units will be restricted for families earning 80 percent of mean family income.
Why it matters: Rockwood is one of the youngest, most diverse and most impoverished neighborhoods in the state. “This project is 100 percent about people,” Stowers said, underscoring that development without displacing people is at the heart of the project. “Our project will create pathways out of poverty.”
Stowers acknowledges recent pushback the project is getting from grassroots neighborhood groups concerned that the project will help gentrify the area and price people out. But, she said, the project will connect people and families with resources and opportunities that don’t exist in Rockwood today when it’s completed in two years.
“Everyone deserves opportunities and everyone deserves to live in a beautiful, healthy community,” she said. “The cycle of discrimination, displacement and racism has to stop. It won’t stop if we’re not intentional about how we develop neighborhoods.”
What’s next: The project will break ground later this year and open in 2019.
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