Housing: Peering back and looking forward
Back in August of 2011, the Portland metropolitan region, like most of America, was recovering from the Great Recession.
At that time, the Westside Economic Alliance (WEA) hosted a forum called, "Where do we grow from here?" It featured then-Metro President Tom Hughes, the Port of Portland's Bill Wyatt, Hillsboro's Jerry Willey, Wilsonville's Tim Knapp, Beaverton's Don Mazziotti, and New Home Trends' Todd Britsch. Todd was from Seattle, and he had a crystal ball outlook no one else could envision.
He said the Portland area was about to face a housing crisis. It was hard to understand because, in 2011, empty housing developments were dotting the region — places where streets had been paved and lots plotted, but the land was sitting vacant, and it had been in that state for years. Britsch said at the time that Portland had a limited supply of buildable lots. The 10-year outlook showed only a 3.5-year supply with most of that being in Clark County, yet Washington County had 35% of the region's new construction between 2001 and 2010, and its 10-year average looked to be about a 1.75-year supply.
Flash forward to 2019. Here we are, witnessing thousands of people living in their cars or on the streets. The region has passed an affordable housing bond. The state Legislature has passed legislation to limit rent increases, and it has tried to increase building capacity by changing the single-family zoning laws to allow more housing per lot in larger cities. Policymakers are trying to combat the crisis that we didn't believe would happen back in 2011.
In a recent news documentary, ECONorthwest's John Tapogna said part of what we're seeing today is from underbuilding between 2010-2017. He also said 56,000 low-income individuals in the region are spending more than 50% of their income on housing. These are people who are one job loss, one medical event, or one act of domestic violence away from being homeless, according to Tapogna.
Earlier this month, the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland hosted its annual housing forecast. It brought together Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington, Economist Jerry Johnson and Economist Dr. Robert Dietz. Housing, overall, is like a multi-faceted puzzle that includes land supply, construction costs, having a skilled workforce building the homes, and a living wage for those buying or renting a home. There are financing issues and the fluctuation in interest rates, as well as regulatory costs added to home prices as well.
This housing forecast did make it clear though — the region has grown, and the supply of housing has not kept pace with growth — just as Tapogna mentioned. As any economist will tell you, something in high demand and limited supply creates an increase in price. The speakers did feel the region is missing middle housing — known as a diversity of housing, filling the gap between single-family houses and multi-family — think along the lines of townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, and small apartment buildings.
Johnson said HB 2001 should help the land supply issue. HB 2001 is the legislation that allows single-family zoning to include multi-family on one lot — increasing the amount of buildable space inside the urban growth boundary. On the Westside, we are also seeing areas like South Cooper Mountain and South Hillsboro include diversity in housing types.
WEA follows the housing situation closely and convenes key leaders in addressing these types of issues. It also partners with other organizations such as the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland. WEA also has a member-led Land Use & Housing Committee that brings issues to the table and weighs in when it deems it necessary.
One of WEA's member cities is the city of Tualatin, and Mayor Frank Bubenik said his council would be voting soon on the city's 2040 plan, which includes housing. Bubenik said the city is also working with Community Partners for Affordable Housing and the Community Housing Fund to bring more workforce housing to its community. Both of these housing nonprofits work with our Westside communities to find opportunities for partnerships. It takes all of us working together to make our region better.
Brantley Dettmer is the chief operating officer of Kaiser Permanente's Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, and board president of the WEA. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org
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