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Metro study sees population shift; critics believe numbers skewed

The traditional "American dream" is alive and well in the Portland metropolitan area.Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - More than three dozen new homes have been constructed in the Bronson Creek development on West Union Road in Washington County. A new study says many people still desire the suburban lifestyle.

Despite all the buzz about tiny homes on wheels and apartments with no designated parking, most area residents want to live in their own single-family detached home with a yard. And more people prefer the suburbs instead of downtown and close-in neighborhoods.

Those are among the results of the most comprehensive study on housing preferences ever conducted in Portland and surrounding communities. The Residential Preference Study for the Portland Region was undertaken by Metro, the elected regional government. The results are the most in-depth and complete ever gathered in the metropolitan area. And they fly in the face of national surveys that claim most people prefer to live in cities.

According to the study:

• Asked what kind of housing they prefer, 80 percent of metropolitan residents said a single-family detached home. Only 13 percent prefer an apartment of condo, and just 7 percent prefer a single-family attached home, such as a row house or townhouse.

• Asked where they prefer to live, 34 percent chose a suburban neighborhood; 27 percent chose an urban neighborhood or town center; 26 percent chose a rural neighborhood; and 13 percent chose an urban central or downtown neighborhood.

• Reaffirming the preference for suburban-style living, 61 percent of respondents said they would like a large or medium size yard separating their home from a neighbor. Thirty-nine percent preferred a small yard or private courtyard.Photo Credit: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Sandy Windermere Real Estate reports home sales have increased in 2014.

"There is still significant support for single-family detached homes across all demographics. The question is, is there going to be enough buildable land to meet that need," said Dave Nielsen, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland, one of several partners in the survey. Others include Portland State University, the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, NW Natural, the cities of Hillsboro and Portland, Clackamas County and Washington County.

But Mary Kyle McCurdy, staff attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon, said the results do not paint a complete picture. She noted that most of those who participated in the survey were older and had lived in the region longer than the average resident. And she said the existing population is projected to change with more younger people moving to the region in coming years.

"It's a snapshot in time of what the people who responded to the survey are thinking, but it is just one piece of information and does not say what people will prefer as their households change in 10 or 20 years," explained McCurdy. "And we know the demographic of the region will be different in the future.”

McCurdy also notes that most residents also said they prefer to live in a neighborhood with activities within walking distance, something not offered in most traditional subdivisions.

Metro did the study to gain a better understanding of housing preferences in advance of the next decision on whether to expand the region’s urban growth boundary. By law, the Metro Council, which sets the boundary for cities in the Portland area, must decide whether there is enough room within it to accommodate the next 20 years of projected growth in 2015.

According to Metro, about 400,000 more people are expected to be living inside the growth boundary by 2035. The agency released a draft regional growth report in July that suggests the urban growth boundary does not need to be expanded in 2015 to accommodate that increase. Photo Credit: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - New housing developments are popping up in Sandy as the local economy begins recovering from the recession.

The study was conducted by DHM Research. The firm used a variety of techniques, including an online poll, a "managed panel" of 200 residents each from Washington, Clackamas, Clark and Multnomah counties, and a "public engagement panel" of roughly 5,700 respondents from throughout the region. They were asked to choose which style of housing and neighborhood they preferred, and were then asked what factors — such as housing costs and commute time — might encourage them to change their minds. Each tradeoff led only a small percentage of respondents to change their minds, however; usually less than 10 percent.

Yet that does not mean residents will not compromise: Only 65 percent actually reported living in a single-family detached home, well below the 80 percent who said they prefer it. More than twice as many people live in apartments and condos than prefer them, 28 to 13 percent.

The Metro Council is just beginning to consider the results of the housing preference study. Although the council is not obligated to honor the results, they will be discussed as it considers the draft regional growth report in preparation for a decision on whether to expand the Portland region’s urban growth boundary next year.

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