Longtime foes join forces to gather public input, guide growth

by: PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - Metro is working on a survey to determine where people want to live in the region, including apartments like these being built in St. Johns.Two longtime opponents on land-use issues are working together on a groundbreaking study on where and how people in the Portland area want to live.

The Home Builders Association of Metro Portland represents companies that prefer to build single-family homes on large tracts of land. The group 1000 Friends of Oregon has repeatedly fought to preserve farm and forest lands from those kinds of developments.

Many of the battles have played out at Metro, the regional government that manages the Urban Growth Boundary that determines where growth can occur. Clashes have frequently occurred over where Metro should expand the UGB to allow new subdivisions.

Now the two organizations are working with Metro to craft a survey to help determine the kind of housing Portland-area residents want. The Housing Preference Survey will be conducted by Portland State University with assistance from DHM Research, a local polling firm.

“In the past, we’ve argued over the assumptions that have gone into Metro’s decisions. If we can make sure the assumptions are based on objective data, we should be able to reach agreements easier,” says HBAMP CEO Dave Nielsen.

Mary Kyle McCurdy, the policy director and staff attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon, is not yet sure the results will be all that significant, however.

“We’re still asking a lot of questions [about the survey] at this point. If anything, it will just be a snapshot of what people think needs to be considered, with other information, like transportation and census trends,” McCurdy says.

Nielsen and McCurdy are both serving on the Project Management Team for what Metro is calling the Residential Preference Research Partnership. Other members include representatives of local governments in the region.

When the survey is completed in March 2014, it will be the first scientific attempt by Metro to measure housing preferences since the 1990s. According to Metro employees working on the survey, no similar efforts have been attempted anywhere in the country in recent years.

Metro Deputy Director for Community Development John Williams says the survey partners are still writing the questions. They will attempt to probe preferences well beyond a simple choice between living in a city or a suburb, however.

A July 2013 draft proposal for the Residential Preference Research Partnership describes its goals as developing a better understanding of “Preferences for different housing, community and location characteristics” and “How factors such as income, number of household members, presence of kids, the age of the householder, and lifestyle may be related to residential preferences.”

The results will incorporated into the housing calculations in the Urban Growth Report that the elected Metro Council will use to decide whether and where to expand the UGB in December 2015.

Nielsen says that previous Metro housing surveys have not been detailed enough to provide usable information. For example, a question on a January 2012 online Metro survey asked whether participants would choose to live in “walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and job types, smaller lots for single-family homes, and less use of automobiles.” The question did not include any information about the price or size of the homes, the quality of the schools, amenities such as parks, or the availability of transit.

Nielsen also says the survey could be duplicated throughout the country. He will seek financial support from the National Home Builders Association for it soon.

“Portland is seen as a national model for smart growth, both successful and otherwise. What we do here could have an impact around the country,” Nielsen says.

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