On the Streets Where We Live

By Nancy Tannler, Editor

The changing landscape of SE Portland is happening fast and furiously. Some are happily cheering the construction, thrilled by the modernity and progress of it all. For others, the rapid expansion has them feeling befuddled by all the newness.

For a native Oregonian/Portlander like myself, it is hard to adapt quickly to all the new buildings, housing and commerce centers. I feel uneasy over the destruction of old houses, the loss of vacant lots and the uptick in new apartment complexes. Still, I know it is to accommodate the projected increase of residents coming to live here.

Portland, as we have know it, has a unique mix of housing and apartments, walkable neighborhoods, small businesses and high tech jobs, plus quick access to some of the most beautiful natural areas in the United States. It’s easy to understand why a person would choose this destination to live in.

It is this very quality of life we want everyone to be able to experience – newcomers and those of us established here. I think the attraction of Portland lifestyle is the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic goals.

We live in a consumer culture, so the desire to pursue the finer things in life is only natural. We want good jobs to provide us with a home and nice possessions and the freedom to have recreation. We also care about personal growth, relationships, gardening, and community – all things without a price tag.

This is why activists challenge the City and developers – for reassurance that their projects will be sustainable and maintain the quality of life we have experienced by living here.

The following article helped me better understand the vision of Portland’s future and assuage my personal apprehension of the rapid changes taking place in our beloved corner of  the world.

A Tree in a Forest:

Is The Current Construction Boom Unique to Portland?

By Bob Kellett, Neighborhood Planning Program Manager, Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition (Originally printed in the SE Uplift Newsletter)

One of the many challenges we face as humans is that it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. It’s easy to see what is right in front of us. It’s more difficult to see how the immediate fits into a larger picture.

I was reminded of this recently when I was asked if the current apartment construction boom is unique to Portland. It would be easy to think that were the case. In some neighborhoods you can’t go a couple of blocks without seeing construction crews busy at work on the latest 4-story multifamily building.

In fact, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 apartment units currently under construction in Portland, and in the larger metro region there are about 7,000 apartment units under construction.

Those are significant numbers. They also happen to reflect what is happening in urban areas across the country. According to the National Association of Realtors, more than 220,000 new apartment units were added in the United States last year. It is estimated that this number will grow to more than 250,000 for 2015.

Those are significant numbers, but consider this: from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, the U.S. built a little more than 250,000 new rental apartments each year.

It was only during the economic recession that these numbers changed, falling in half during the worst economic years. Nationally, we are only now reaching the pre-recession new apartment construction numbers.

What is driving apartment construction growth in Portland and nationally? In part, we are playing catch up for the recession years when things were not being built. Vacancy rates remain low.

We are also in the midst of an economic expansion with job growth in the Portland metro area around 3 percent. Nationally, home ownership rates are at their lowest level in two decades. All of this adds up to demand for apartments.

What is different from previous growth periods is where new development is being concentrated. In Portland, and other cities across the country, development pressures are currently greatest closer to the urban core (Barry Apartment Construction Report, 2014).

This is in contrast to previous decades where development on the outer fringe of cities and in suburbs outpaced development in inner cities.  Access to jobs, a    desire for walkable neighborhoods, declining inner city crime rates, and smaller-sized family units are some of the many reasons attributing to this shift nationally.

In Portland, much of the new housing growth of the late 1990s and early 2000s was realized in outer East Portland where 14,743 new housing units (both single family homes and apartments) were added since 1996.

For comparison, SW Portland neighborhoods added 2,229 units during the same time. In some ways, East Portland’s growth relieved the inner neighborhoods of the development pressures some are feeling today.

Another trend taking place both in Portland and the United States is the rising cost of rents. In 2014, the Portland region’s median rent rose a whopping 7.2%. That is more than twice the national average of 3.3%, but within line of rent increases in cities like Austin, Kansas City, and Charlotte.

A city adding apartments units close to its urban core and facing rent pressures – these are just two examples of how Portland is neither weird nor unique. We are part of a larger trend playing out in cities both similar and different to ours.

If we are to truly be able to see and understand the forest in which we live, we need to take an even wider look into things like long-term demographic trends and global urbanization patterns.

I’ll save that for another day. For now, let’s get out and enjoy the trees – the real ones in our parks and forests.

On the Streets Where We Live

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