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Metro president: No need to expand urban growth boundary

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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Metro President Tom Hughes spoke before the City Club on Sept. 25.Metro will not expand the urban growth boundary this year but will launch an accelerated review of the next expansion review, according to Tom Hughes, president of the regional government’s elected council.

Hughes made the prediction during a presentation before the City Club at its weekly luncheon forum last Friday. Hughes admitted the decision will be somewhat controversial because the council has never not expanded the urban growth boundary during its periodic reviews before, but said population and employment projections confirm that it currently has a 20-year supply of buildable land, as required by state land use planning laws.

“We don’t need to expand the UGB. We have an adequate supply of residential and industrial land,” Hughes said.

At the same time, Hughes admitted the projections could have been affected by the Great Recession that the region is only now beginning to fully recover from. Because of that, he said, the council wants to complete the next review and expansion decision in three years instead of the six years allowed by law.

“We are all a little nervous about the projections because we have never not expanded the UGB in the past,” Hughes said.

The prediction was not a surprise to anyone who has followed Metro’s boundary deliberations over the past few years. Metro staff released a draft Urban Growth Report in 2014 that said there was enough capacity within the boundary to accommodate the 400,000 or so more people most likely to move within it by 2035, provided that 123,000 mostly multifamily housing units are built in Portland.

The City Council is scheduled to approve a Comprehensive Plan update with that goal by the end of the year. The council received its first briefing on the update Tuesday morning.

Hughes said the construction of so much multifamily housing will shift the historic residential balance in the region. It has been approximately 70 percent single-family homes and 30 percent multifamily housing. That will change to 60 percent single-family homes and 40 percent multifamily housing over the next 20 years. Hughes said the shift is justified by changing demographic trends, with increasing numbers of younger and older people wanting to rent in urban centers — a conclusion that has been disputed by home builders in the region.

Despite Hughes’ prediction, the Metro Council is still scheduled to hold two more public hearings on the boundary decision. One is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 29. The other is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 2. Both will be held at the Metro Regional Center, 600 N.E. Grand Ave., Portland.

Metro will move to allow future urban growth boundary expansions even before that happens, however.

One unresolved issue is the status of urban reserves where future development can occur in Clackamas and Multnomah counties. Metro and the counties had designated the reserves as allowed by state law, but the Oregon Court of Appeals remanded them back for more work.

Metro has scheduled a first hearing on the Clackamas County reserves for Oct. 8 and a second for Nov. 19. Both are at the Metro Regional Center.

Affordability growing issue

Even as Metro and Portland leaders are planning to add much more housing to the region over the next 20 years, affordability is becoming a bigger and bigger issue.

Housing in Portland is growing increasingly unaffordable, according to a report released by the city late Friday.

“There is no more pressing issue facing our city right now than affordable housing. We must work to ensure that Portland’s families can afford to live and succeed here. We’ve been given a clear path forward, and I’m committed to action,” said Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau, which issued the report.

Saltzman was scheduled to present the State of Housing in Portland 2015 Report to the City Council on Wednesday. It makes the following points:

1. Rents across the city increased since this time last year by more than $100 per month, on average.

2. Housing cost and income disparities continue to limit housing opportunity for the average black, Native American, and Alaska Native Portland household in every neighborhood in Portland, and are increasingly impacting Latino households and households headed by single mothers as well.

3. Inflation-adjusted incomes have remained relatively flat, and Portlanders have generally not seen increases in household income to counterbalance increased housing costs.

The report also says more than 1,100 new units of affordable housing are currently in development, including more than 170 targeted toward extremely low-income households (those earning up to $22,050 for a family of four).

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