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New demographic statistics muddle Comp Plan update

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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - People are flocking to Portland because of it's urban lifestyle - just not everyone.As the City Council continues working on the recommended update to the Comprehensive Plan, some of its most important goals already are being undermined.

The recommended update calls for Portland to be a city that welcomes and nurtures everyone, regardless of their age, race or education. But recent U.S. Census statistics show that a disproportionate percentage of people moving to the city belong to a much smaller demographic — young, white and college educated.

According to the U.S. Census, Portland grew by 68,650 people between 2007 and 2014. Nearly half — 37,675 — were between the ages of 18 and 34.

During those seven years, 61,132 people moved to Portland who were 25 or older. The vast majority of them — 57,945 — had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

And although the share of whites dropped slightly to 76.9 percent, the overwhelming number of people who moved here were still white. A total of 45,042 whites moved to Portland during those seven years, three times the next highest category of people of two or more races.

From a purely economic standpoint, attracting young, college-educated workers is good for the city, region and state.

As state economist Mark Lehner wrote in a January analysis of Oregon migration trends, “Once a regional economy is able to attract such workers, they rarely leave, as migration rates decline considerably as an individual ages into midlife. As such, a place like Oregon is able to grow its working age population through migration and raise the productive capacity of the regional economy.”

But the trend helps explain the gentrification that has occurred in desirable inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods, where traditional lower-income minority residents have been displaced by wealthier whites.

Portland not alone

This situation is not unique to Portland. Jed Kolko, the former chief economist for Trulia, recently published a report on the so-called Urban Renaissance across the country. He found that the increase in urban living is being fueled mostly by young, white, college-educated singles or families with no or primarily young children.

“But enthusiasm for the urban revival should be tempered by a recognition that most of America is not directly taking part. Both the poor, who traditionally have depended most on urban public services, and seniors, by far, America’s fastest-growing age group, have become less urban as the young and educated have moved in. And some of the talented, educated people who would boost cities’ fortunes aren’t urbanizing much or at all, such as people with school-age kids, nonwhite young adults, and baby boomers who are nowhere near retirement,” Kolko wrote in a recent piece titled, “Urban Revival? Not for Most Americans.”

Such statistics and findings underscore the challenge for the council as it works to update the state-required land-use document intended to guide Portland’s growth for the next 20 years. That is when approximately 260,000 new residents are expected to be added to the roughly 620,000 people already living here.

To achieve such recommended goals as increased diversity and equity, the updated Comp Plan — as it is commonly called — must not simply support current trends. It must reverse many of them.

For example, according to the U.S. Census statistics, two significant age groups actually fell in Portland between 2007 and 2014 — children 17 and under (minus 1,070) and middle-age adults between 45 and 54 (minus 2,987). The number of African-Americans, Native Americans and Native Alaskans in Portland fell by 5,879 during those seven years. And the share of those with only a high school diploma dropped from 32 percent to just 18.2 percent of the population.

First-time homebuyers squeezed

One of the most controversial amendments being consider to the recommended Comp Plan update calls for the construction of more duplexes, triplexes, row houses and small apartments. A majority of the City Council believes more so-called “missing middle” housing can help ease the affordable housing crisis, including the lack of entry-levels homes for first-time buyers.

The amendment is support by the City Club of Portland and Oregon Opportunity Network, which advocates for more affordable housing. But it is questioned by some neighborhood organizations that argue it was introduced too late to be fully understood and could change the character of some residential areas for the worse.

Now a new report says Portland is the second-toughest city in the country for first-time home buyers.

Entry-level homes are those in the lowest third of the market. The prices for those in Portland rose by 16.2 percent in the first quarter of 2016, according to Zillow Real Estate Market Reports. Only Denver saw its entry-level home prices increase faster, with a 20 percent jump in the first quarter of the year.

But Denver and Portland are not alone. According to the report, prices on entry-level homes are increasing the fastest in much of the country — well ahead of middle and top-tier cities in many cities.

“It’s going to be a tough home-buying market this spring, especially for first-time buyers or even people looking to move up into a slightly more expensive home,” said Svenja Gudell, chief economist for the online real estate resource. “In order to stand out in a competitive market, buyers should get pre-approved for a loan, find an agent who has experience with bidding wars, and consider coming in at the asking price, so the seller knows they’re serious.”

According to the report, the increase in entry-level home prices is fueled by a lack of supply. There are 5.9 percent fewer homes of all prices for sale in the United States than a year ago — but 10.4 percent fewer entry-level homes.

The number of available entry-level homes declined the most in Portland, where there were 40 percent fewer in the first quarter of 2015 than a year ago.

The report says the average home price in Portland was $322,000 in the first quarter.

The council is scheduled to begin approving amendments to the recommend Comp Plan update today, April 28, and finish considering them on May 11. The final vote is scheduled for June 15.