Here are a few things we know about living (or trying to live) in this city.
Low-income Portlanders are being pushed to the margins. In fact, the latest completely depressing report from the Portland Housing Bureau indicates persistent rent increases have rendered every neighborhood in the city unavailable to the average black, Native American, Latino, and single-mother-led household.
At the same time, we’re short roughly 25,000 affordable units, a small fraction of which will be addressed by the $258.4 million housing bond voters approved last month. Salaries aren’t rising at anywhere near the rate of monthly rents (which are up an average of 30 percent since 2012). Buying a home is even more out of reach. Most people believe homelessness is on the rise.
Everyone agrees something’s got to change. The bad news is that one of the biggest tweaks on the horizon for adding affordable units might be a flop for years to come.
On Tuesday, Portland City Council held its first formal hearing on Inclusionary Housing (IH), the much-pined-for tool Portland won permission to enact at the state legislature earlier this year. Essentially, it allows officials to demand some of the affordable housing that the market is neglecting to produce.
Befitting the urgency here, the city has worked for much of the year to concoct a robust plan—one that council may adopt next week.
As written, the policy requires affordable units where many other cities’ laws make them voluntary. In new housing projects of 20 units or more, the IH policy would mandate one-fifth of the units be affordable for people making 80 percent of the city’s median family income ($52,800 for a household of three). They’ll be required to maintain that affordability for 99 years.
In exchange, developers can tap a list of incentives—including increased density allowances and tax and fee abatements—intended to help developers offset the costs of foregoing profits. The City Budget Office estimates Portland will lose between $4,674 and $57,529 in revenues per affordable unit.
If it strikes the right balance, plenty of people say Portland’s IH plan could be a huge help in keeping neighborhoods diverse and economically viable. Boosters include labor unions, bike advocates, academics, and environmental activists.
“We’re on the threshold of doing something really considerable for the city of Portland,” Portland Housing Bureau director Kurt Creager told council on Tuesday.
Problem is: No one can say when that help will be on the way.
As the drum for IH has pounded ever louder, developers (who are skeptical of the proposal, of course) have pounced. According to the Portland Tribune, there are permit requests with the city for roughly 14,000 units—all of which are filed early enough to completely skip affordability requirements. “Historic supply,” one developer called it.
“We may very well see so many projects beat the... deadline that for the next several years, the bulk of development done in this city is not going to be inclusionary housing,” Commissioner Nick Fish said Tuesday.
Portland needs tools, and this new one might not be sharp for years to come.