Urban-growth boundary contributes to metro area housing crisis
This article has been updated from its original version.
I have lived in the Portland metro area for almost two decades. It has been a privilege to watch this beautiful area grow in so many positive ways. However, there are growing pains that we must face.
While the metro-area population flourishes, this growth has conversely led to an undeniable increase of homeless citizens. We need to ask ourselves, "Why are more people becoming homeless?" Is it because they are dealing with mental illness, or can't make enough to own or rent a place to live? While these are serious complexities, one undeniable fact is the supply and demand issue that will arise when these homeless situations transition into wanting off the street and having no place to go because of a lack of supply. Solving this issue comes with hurdles, like the scarcity of developable land under our urban-growth boundary (UGB), sufficient investment in infrastructure for housing, determining necessary construction regulations, and having an able workforce for the building trades themselves. This all needs to be discussed to meet the affordable housing needs of both the homeless here and those from elsewhere.
Basically, homes are too expensive to fully accommodate this large influx of residents. While new homes are being built, they are simply not being built fast enough to for this population growth. Furthermore, the average salary needed to buy a home in Portland is $76,883.89, among the highest in the country. Implementing rent control or mandatory inclusion zoning may initially seem helpful, but eventually, this would only lead to even higher housing prices. These acts would only create more demand within this already limited housing situation, and consequently, increase prices, which would only exacerbate the problem.
Instead, we should be building units that the markets allow and be innovative in our solving of this crisis: this can be accomplished by relaxing/changing some our state's idiosyncratic and restrictive land-use laws, namely the UGB that currently restricts the area for buildable land. For those not familiar, the UGB exists to separate suburban neighborhoods from farmland, which impedes any development on sacred and agricultural land. I have focused greatly on this issue as mayor of Happy Valley. Preserving land is integral, but our UGB hinders our ability to build housing on completely buildable land. Our current UGB not only limits housing, but also creates higher prices and lower affordability, and accordingly, more homelessness. Therefore, to create more houses and reduce our homeless population, we must expand our UGB to account for this new population boom. Since I want to talk supply and demand, I also recognize that UGB expansions rely on the changing of other factors to work.
These factors include better compensating labor industry workers, decreasing property tax and funding infrastructure improvement. These are seemingly unmanageable issues, but they sit at the forefront of every mayor's discussions across the country. We must be pragmatic. Our citizens and businesses are counting on us to be real in our solutions and alleviate the current affordable housing/homelessness crisis here at home.
Lori Chavez-DeRemer is the mayor of Happy Valley. In a previous version of this op-ed link online, Pamplin Media Group inadvertently published an op-ed that the mayor had submitted in September about her thinking about running for governor. Pamplin Media Group apologizes for the error, and her latest op-ed submission is now appearing above. As announced in October, she decided not to run for governor and more information and a video announcement can be found at https://www.facebook.com/lorideremer.org/.