Portland: Victim of its own housing and zoning design

Civic Affairs

PSU researcher said Portland not building enough housing

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The housing crisis in Portland is escalating and some experts say the city is the victim of its own design.

The problem is, according to Dr. Gerard Mildner of the PSU Center for Real Estate, is we aren’t building enough housing.

Multnomah County had a 40% decline in building permits in the last year. Mildner said it’s because of the decisions leaders have made regarding land use.

“We want to protect the pinot noir and we want to protect the fir trees in the metropolitan area and the beautiful landscape in the Gorge and everything else,” he said.

But the land around the metro is low value, and a lot of land near Portland was allocated for this purpose and it’s just not suitable to grow these things.

The Urban Growth Boundary is another issue, he said. The population of the 4-county region has grown 78% over 40 years. But the boundary has grown just 11%.

But researchers say it’s not too late to right the shop and correct the volatile housing market. Mildner said it will require a change in attitude at all levels of government.

The more recent problem is a cluster of new regulations that have affected the mult-family market. Inclusionary housing requires 20% of units in buildings with more than 20 apartments be affordable. The definition of affordable is 80% of the median income for the region.

That makes downtown development nonsensical for investors. Mildner said building at the higher end of the quality spectrum opens up older properties for less money for affordable housing.

“Bless their heart, politicians love new buildings. They want to cut the ribbon on a subsidized housing project,” he said. “They don’t want to cut the ribbon on something that’s old. They want to cut the ribbon on something that’s new.”

But the problem with that is it’s so expensive.

The most efficient plan is to give low income people cash or vouchers. The second-most efficient idea is to give them a unit that’s been around 20 years. The least efficient is to give them a brand new unit, he said.

Mildner said there are some good signs. City commissioners Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan are trying to reduce permitting issues and trying to get the bureaus to coordinate to make more developments possible where they are needed.

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