MITCH HORNECKERIncomes, however, have not grown at the same pace, and many Portland-metro residents are feeling the strain of rising costs — especially in when it comes to housing. A big reason why incomes continue to be stagnant for many folks that our job growth has been in the low-wage and high-wage brackets, with middle-wage jobs trailing significantly. That puts a squeeze on middle- and lower-income families — especially as they look for housing.

With about 700 people moving to this area every month, Portland-metro suffers from a lack of housing inventory at nearly every point of the affordability scale in both the ‘for sale’ and ‘for rent’ markets. As we have added more higher-end housing inventory in, or close to, the city core, many families have been pushed out further from the city’s core to find more affordable options.

Our largest inventory of low-cost housing is located in east and outer east Portland. The problem is that now the far east side has some of the lowest vacancy rates in a region of very low vacancy rates. As a result, when a family currently living in outer east Portland loses their apartment because of redevelopment or an unexpected medical bill or a missed paycheck, they are no longer able to find a less expensive apartment because they just don’t exist. Instead, we now see families faced with options that include trying to get a limited spot at a social service agency, living in their car or even living on the streets. This is a new and unwelcome dynamic for Portland.

The current best guess of Portland’s homeless population is about 4,000, about half of whom are living with no roof over their heads. People become homeless for many reasons, and we must remember that most deserve and need our help. But the reality is that, with our current vast undersupply of housing, emergency shelters and programs to support them, Portland’s homeless population will continue to grow in the near term.

So what’s the solution? Elected, community and business leaders must come together to address this crisis. Fortunately, some progress has already been made. Most notably, Portland, Gresham and Multnomah County are working together for the first time to try to make real change by removing redundancies, consolidating and streamlining management, and pooling resources, primarily focusing on long term solutions. The challenge is that we need more emergency shelters and services today.

For these vulnerable people, sleeping outside is not the answer, which is why we believe Mayor Hales’ Safe Sleep policy is not a humane option, it is not a sanitary option and it is most certainly not a safe option. We have tent camps on the same block as a pre-school and seem surprised when a resident of one of those tents is shot and killed just a couple of hours before the pre-school opens. We have children’s summer bike camps canceled due to safety concerns on the Springwater Corridor. There are fires in makeshift camps nearly every week. The current approach is not working. Now is the time to stand together and say that Portland is not now, and never has been, a city where we accept the proposition that sleeping outdoors is a “safe sleep” option.

Housing affordability and homelessness are defining issues that Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler must take on, and we in the business community stand ready to be part of the solution. We want Portland-metro to be a place where every individual has a roof over their head, where families can thrive because housing is affordable and good family-wage jobs are plentiful. We can make this happen if we demand it of ourselves and of our elected leaders.

Mitch Hornecker is chair of the Portland Business Alliance and executive vice president and chief legal officer, West Region, at Howard S. Wright Balfour Beatty Construction. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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