There are many dimensions to rising housing costs in the Portland region, as Metro's Regional Snapshot showed in September.
A report released last week by Metro's Equitable Housing Initiative adds several points of data that add depth to understanding the challenge and point to potential strategies to fight back.
Here are some of those findings, with charts copied from the report.
Housing construction came to a near-stop during the Great Recession – but demand continued to grow.
The Portland region's population has been booming for more than a decade, adding 20,000 or more people every year since 2005. But housing construction just hasn't kept pace. It stalled during the Recession and now is struggling to catch up.
It is not for lack of places to build. Despite new apartments and homes under construction throughout the region, thousands of acres added to the urban growth boundary over the last decade remain stubbornly quiet, the promised construction of new homes held up by things like high infrastructure costs or disputes over governance.
Renters in particular are feeling the crunch.
All housing prices in the region have been rising for years, but rents have risen more and have been rising longer. Since 2006, rents in the four-county region are up 63 percent while for-sale prices are up just 16 percent. That's not much of a surprise in a market where just 3 percent of rental units are vacant.
That's only part of the story. There's also the question of what people make. When that's included, the problem looks particularly bad for renters. Their incomes have risen just 39 percent in the last 10 years, while owner incomes have actually risen more quickly than house prices. (These statistics are for the four-county region, which includes Clackamas, Clark, Multnomah and Washington counties.)
Meanwhile, because of the costs of building housing, the private market generally doesn't build new housing affordable to households who feel the pinch the hardest – those making $40,000 or less annually for a family of three or $30,000 for a single person. Without some public or philanthropic assistance, these households aren't finding many opportunities for living in new housing. In fact, estimates say the greater Portland region is short by 80,000 units affordable to them.
The report recommends finding strategies to increase the supply of all units, but especially rental units to help meet this acute demand – including finding additional, more flexible public financing to get units built more quickly.
It also discusses mechanisms that could either provide incentives or mandates for developers to include a certain percentage of affordable units in any new construction project. To make such mandates possible, the legislature would have to reverse a statewide ban. But even if it doesn't act, the report points out several voluntary local programs that could be used to help.
Additionally, the report discusses public and nonprofit strategies to rehabilitate older apartment complexes to make them more livable to households earning less than the region's median income.
Rents are rising fastest in specific areas.
By and large, these places are Portland's inner neighborhoods, along with western Washington County.
Why are costs rising so fast in Portland's center? It's part of a reversal of long-dominant trends in housing prices: housing in inner-city neighborhoods is now more expensive than housing in suburban areas. And that contributes to another problem: displacement of families who have lived in these inner neighborhoods for years or even generations, now seeing their housing costs surge.
(None of this is to minimize the impacts of a 20 percent increase in rent in places like East Portland, Vancouver or Clackamas County. For lower-income residents especially, this increase can be too great a burden to bear.)
The report discusses a variety of strategies to fight displacement. Partially, and potentially counter-intuitively for some who see new apartments with mostly high rents, it recommends continuing to increase housing supply in these high-demand neighborhoods close to transit and job centers.
But the report also discusses complementary roles for community land trusts that can purchase homes and offer them at lower prices to families that can't afford the market rate; cooperative ownership of apartments; renter protections to limit or provide longer notification for evictions or sudden rent increases; and public or nonprofit programs to provide emergency assistance to help people pay rent and stay in their current homes.
Builders are building. But an important housing type remains stalled.
Duplexes and small apartment buildings have long been an important part of Portland's housing mix, particularly in neighborhoods built in the mid-20th century and before. They can be affordable entries to homeownership, or fit older people's lifestyles when they seek to downsize.
Or at least that's a role they've served in the past. Although construction of single-family and large multifamily housing has rebounded somewhat since the Great Recession, projects with two to four units have essentially zeroed out. Developers seeking to build this "missing middle" housing say they are stymied by things like zoning and parking requirements in inner neighborhoods, permitting delays and the like.
The report recommends local governments take a close look at their zoning codes and permitting processes to find more ways to expand this "missing middle" style housing.
The findings and strategies in the 50-page report will be discussed by leaders at a housing summit Monday in Portland. In the future, Metro plans to play a convening and technical assistance role to help local governments and private and public partners pursue the strategies that make sense for their communities.
Read the report