By Don MacGillivray
With Portland’s rental vacancy rate at 2%, annual rents increasing by 11% a year, the population of Portland increasing by 7,000 a year, and renters being evicted, something must be done.
Real estate investors from all over have found Portland a great place to make money. Portland has always bemoaned its lack of affordable housing for the last 40 years yet this situation is worse than ever.
The Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) has announced that Portland is having a housing CRISIS. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has increased by 41% to $1,250 per month since 2010. Renter households have increased by 8% over the past five years due to decreases in owner occupied households and the influx of newcomers.
Multnomah County has a deficit of over 20,000 affordable housing units and the deficit of the Metro area is twice this amount.
The recent months have been described as the “summer of evictions”. As new and remodeled apartments are built and upgraded, another great gentrification is pushing many renters out of the central city.
The Community Alliance of Tenants is organizing a campaign to advocate for solutions to provide much-needed housing especially for those with low incomes. Their Renters Hotline has received an excessive number of complains about evictions and rent increases.
Mayor Charlie Hales and Portland Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman are promising changes to ameliorate the situation, but they are short on specifics.
With the increase in evictions, many are asking for changes to provide better protection for renters. A “Just-Cause” eviction law is high on the list of reforms.
In Portland a “No-Cause” eviction procedure is currently in effect. If the landlord gives the renter a thirty or sixty day notice of eviction the renter must leave unless he chooses to contest the eviction.
With housing costs high, the family budget is stressed for expenditures like food, family needs, transportation, etc. Savings for education, health care, retirement, etc, is reduced.
Multi-family rental and condominium units are increasingly being built to stem the current housing shortage and the expected long term increase in population.
With the low vacancy rate it is a landlord’s market and they are taking advantage of it. The new buildings are market rate housing and many of the older apartment buildings are being upgraded and rented at whatever the market will allow.
Many potential sources of funding used by local governments have been removed as options by the Oregon legislature. These include: real estate transfer taxes, construction excise taxes, and document recording fees.
There are many new ideas about building low-cost housing, but each has a set of problems that make them difficult to implement.
Private sector developers could build smaller, less expensive housing, but with more financially attractive opportunities available, they are unlikely to do this.
Government seems to be the best solution, but they will need additional revenues or regulations to solve the problem. The housing lobby seems to be too strong to let this happen.
There are a number of other housing options like building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) that are small and built in conjunction with an existing home. Another is the Tiny House concept where moveable homes are built by the owners.
Manufactured housing has always been thought to be a future solution, but few projects have been successful. Mobile and recreational homes are options for limited term occupancy, but often zoning or building codes prevent their use.
Other ideas successful in other cities and states include: a tax of 1% on luxury dining, a housing levy or bond, or increased development impact fees.
Another option is increasing to 50% the 30% housing set aside of the urban renewal Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds.
Yet another is to end the 1999 ban on inclusionary zoning. This is expected to go back to the Oregon Legislature until it is passed or otherwise made available.
Inclusionary zoning would allow up to thirty percent of the units in larger new housing projects to be affordable, providing much-needed housing more evenly distributed throughout the city. Developers will get bonus incentives to offset their costs and improve the projects.
A home for everyone is an essential ingredient to create prosperous families, quality schools, a healthy society, and a strong economy.
Every month, hard-working families make difficult choices between medical care, school needs, utility bills and mortgage or rent. There are thousands of people without homes who sleep in dangerous conditions every night.
It is time to find local solutions to meet Portland’s housing crisis and ensure equal housing opportunity for all.
The “Welcome Home Coalition” is a region-wide group of organizations advocating in support of affordable housing opportunities for all of Portland’s metropolitan residents.
The endorsing organizations for “Welcome Home” include:1000 Friends of Oregon, Catholic Charities, Central City Concern, Community Alliance of Tenants, Elders in Action, Habitat for Humanity, Latino Network, the League of Women Voters, Lutheran Community Services, Mercy Corps NW, Oregon Food Bank, United Way of the Columbia/Willamette, and 93 additional local organizations.
Affordable housing must become community-wide and a priority for a stronger, healthier, brighter future for everyone.