Jobs, housing work together


Portland residents are rightfully concerned that their city is becoming unaffordable. Surveys and questionnaires gathered as part of Mayor Tom Potter's visioning project, VisionPDX, indicate that a significant number of citizens perceive that housing affordability in Portland is becoming a major problem. Many also say they feel the chance to land a good job opportunity within the city also is a mounting negative.

Portland's housing problems are not just ones of perception. Statistics that don't lie confirm citizens' fears. Between 1995 and 2005, median home sales prices within Portland increased by 92 percent, while median incomes in the city grew by 59 percent. Meanwhile, more than 21 percent of the households in Portland are estimated to be spending more than 50 percent of their household income on housing costs.

Figures such as these provide for many negative consequences, including forcing a migration of families with children out of Portland. This migration makes Portland less than the community it should be - and increasingly a place with less laughter and fewer children at play.

City's attacked the issue

It's not that city officials aren't trying to do something about the problem.

Commissioner Erik Sten has been among the most consistent and prominent regional supporters of affordable housing. Over the past decade, he has championed many fixes, including an upcoming vote by the City Council that will require the Portland Development Commission to devote 30 percent of its spending in urban renewal districts to affordable housing projects.

In recent years, the council has adopted numerous other housing policies to expand affordable housing citywide, promote minority homeownership and end homelessness.

Such efforts are laudable, but not all are universally appreciated.

Some neighborhood activists say that the city is pushing more low-income housing into some neighborhoods than others. Some housing advocates say the city should do more, including upping the ante on how much it spends to bolster homeownership in Portland.

Meanwhile, well-known Portland planning consultant Peter Finley Fry has called the city's PDC housing requirement a 'shotgun approach to something that needs finesse.'

Better jobs will help

Frankly, we suspect that each of these perceptions has a bit of truth. Yes, the city is doing a better job. But achieving a solution to the developing housing affordability crisis will require even more aggressive and strategic City Council leadership.

This should include an emphasis to support private-sector efforts to build the economy and create thousands more family-wage jobs.

The city must not only increase funding for affordable housing strategies; it must monitor how those funds are being spent and report successful housing outcomes.

Portland also needs to create a map of where affordable housing has been created and employment opportunities added.

And the city must reconcile how some redevelopment strategies, such as those employed within the Pearl, are causing an increase in property values that places homeownership out of reach for a growing number of Portland residents.

Ensuring that Portland is a community in balance with an availability of family-wage jobs and diverse and affordable housing opportunities is not an easy task. But it's a goal that we should never give up fighting to achieve through a measurable mixture of private- and public-sector efforts.