Every spring, Portland City Council struggles to balance its annual budget—bemoaning the challenge of having to make big decisions in a short time and lamenting their inability to gather genuine public feedback before distributing dollars. But in 2020, the council will have a new tool to inform its whirlwind budget decisions: data.
In May, City Budget Office (CBO) staffers asked a wide swath of Portlanders—using community outreach to reflect a range of ages, races, genders, neighborhoods, and incomes—about how they think city leaders should spend their tax dollars. It’s the first time the budget office has collected this kind of info.
That data, released in mid-August, reveals big issues that nearly all Portlanders who were surveyed seem to agree on. Eighty-eight percent of all participants said they are dissatisfied with the city’s response to homelessness, and the majority of respondents said the city’s budget should prioritize programs that increase affordable housing. The majority also agreed that access to the outdoors and natural areas is the best part about where they live.
But what’s more eye-opening is where Portlanders diverge.
While polled Portlanders of all backgrounds agreed that the budget’s top two priorities should be affordable housing and transportation, their third choice was starkly divided by race. The majority of white respondents pointed to police services, while Asian, Black, and Hispanic respondents selected job creation and other economic support. That correlation between race and financial security popped up again when participants talked about housing: The majority of white people who indicated that they had moved within the past two years said they relocated because they “wanted a different type of home,” while Black, Asian, and Hispanic participants said they moved to be closer to work and to find more affordable housing. Nearly half of all Hispanic and Black residents polled said they can’t find a job in Portland that pays enough to support their families.
The majority of Black Portlanders polled disagreed with this statement: “In Portland, we are making progress on becoming a city where a person’s outcomes are not based on their race.” The only group who agreed with that sentiment? Those living in Southwest Portland, the whitest, most affluent region of the city.
Unsurprisingly, this divide was also reflected in respondents’ answers about police interactions. Black and Hispanic Portlanders were the least satisfied with the police’s ability to protect them from violent crime, and when asked how the city could use budget dollars to improve the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), most Black respondents said the bureau should prioritize programs that allow community members to discuss concerns with police. White respondents said PPB’s top budget priority should be increasing their presence in Portland neighborhoods.
The study found that, proportionally, more Asian, Black, and Hispanic people had moved to Portland within the past few years than new white residents. Yet Portlanders of color expressed the most dissatisfaction with how their city runs.
The CBO poll is hardly the first survey to tell Portlanders what many already know—that the city’s most satisfied citizens are wealthy and white. But this could be the first time—and hopefully not the last—that this kind of data impacts how the city’s biggest budget decisions are made.