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Area population growth could be larger than Metro expected

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The Portland region may already be growing faster than Metro forecast when it decided against expanding the urban growth boundary last year.Just a few months after the Metro Council voted against expanding the urban growth boundary, new population estimates suggest the region is growing faster than it predicted.

Last November, the council unanimously agreed the population of the seven-county region would range between 2.33 million and 2.35 million people in 2015.

The most recent estimate released by the Portland State University Population Research Center put the number at 2.36 million people, however. And the most recent estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau is even higher — 2.39 million.

The differences may seem small, about 11,000 to around 35,000 more people spread over the seven-county region that includes Portland, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Oregon City and Vancouver.

But the numbers will grow much larger over time if the trends continue — 2015 is just the first of 20 years of estimates used by Metro to justify keeping the urban growth boundary where new development can occur intact. If Metro was wrong, there could be somewhere between 220,000 and 700,000 or even more people living in the region than Metro estimated by 2035.

The council did not rely solely on previous PSU or census figures for its decision. Metro’s forecast process begins with population estimates from PSU and other sources. It then uses a model called MetroScope to generate its own forecasts.

The elected regional government says its forecasts have been remarkably accurate in the past. It is not overly concerned about the differences because they are so small and early in a 20-year cycle expected to see ups and downs over the years.

But before last year's vote, the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland (HBA) and others warned that Metro's population estimates were too low. They said more people were likely to move to the region over the next 20 years.

"It is critical they address these numbers, because underestimating growth in our region even by 100,000 people, let alone 1 million people, will have disastrous consequences for housing affordability and economic prosperity," says HBA director Dave Nielsen.

Council anticipated problems

The Metro Council knew its estimate could be off, however. In the ordinance that maintained the existing urban growth boundary, the council directed its staff to beginning working on the next capacity review sooner than usual. The council is now expected to decide whether to expand it again in late 2018 — three years early.

Much of the upcoming work is related to whether residents are shifting to more multi-family housing, as the 2014 Urban Growth Report predicted.

"Work is already underway on a 2018 urban growth forecast that will help us understand if the current dramatic shift in development toward more urban, multi-family housing is part of a permanent trend," says Metro President Tom Hughes.

The elected regional government has initiated a process that could add additional land for housing even sooner. Hughes has appointed a 17-member Urban Growth Task Force to study and recommend ways to make modest urban growth boundary expansions for housing outside even in the absence of a 20-year shortfall. The expansions could occur only on land already designed as urban reserves for future development.

The task force is composed mostly of city, county and Metro officials, along with representatives of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland. It is scheduled to begin meeting this spring with the goal of reaching consensus on a proposal by the fall.

"It is my view that making small UGB expansions on land already affirmed as urban reserves, and where cities desire such growth — even in the absence of a 20-year regional housing capacity shortage — may offer real improvements to our urban growth management process," Hughes said in a May 5 letter to task force members and others.

Buildable land supply

Under state land use planning laws, Metro administers the UGB that encompasses the urbanized areas of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. It must always contain a 20-year supply of buildable land. Metro normally decides whether to expand it every six years.

The council's decision to not expand the boundary last November was unprecedented. It based the decision on a 2014 Urban Growth Report compiled by Metro staff. The report included growth forecasts for the region that includes Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Columbia, Yamhill, Clark and Skamania counties.

Among other things, the report included a range of possible population increases within the seven-county region by 2035. It recommended the council adopt the mid-range estimates, which stretched from 2,331,100 to 2,353,887 people by 2015. The report's mid-range forecast said there would be between 2,896,800 and 2,980,976 people in the region in 2035 — and that there is already enough buildable land within the UGB to accomodate the share of people expected to live within it.

But in March, the census estimated there were actually 2,389,228 people in the region on July 1, 2015 — well above the highest end of Metro's mid-range forecast. In April, PSU estimated there were 2,364,954 people in the region last July. That's less than the census estimated, but still above the highest end of Metro's mid-range forecast.

Metro is taking the new estimates in stride, saying PSU is more accurate than the census, and its 2015 forecast was not that far off the middle of the Urban Growth Report mid-range forecast.

"We’ll know more when the Census actually counts everybody in five years. For 2015, PSU is estimating the regional population at 2,365,051, which is close to the middle of Metro’s population forecast range. The bottom line is that we are experiencing a lot of growth, as Metro, PSU and others have predicted,” says Andy Shaw, Metro's regional affairs manager.

Urban Growth Task Force

The following are the members of the task force appointed by Metro to consider a process for modest urban growth boundary expansions for housing:


Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis

Happy Valley Mayor Lori DeRemer

Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba

Sherwood Mayor Krisanna Clark

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales

Troutdale Mayor Doug Daoust

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp


Clackamas County Chair Ludlow

Washington County Chair Duyck


President Tom Hughes

Councilor Sam Chase

Councilor Carlotta Collette


DLCD, Carrie Maclaren

1000 Friends, Jason Miner

Home Builders Association, Jeff Smith