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Professor Aaron Golub says federal funding for light rail could take a long time to be approved

Hillsdale residents received scholarly input last month about a key project that would alter transportation and likely affect affordability in Southwest Portland.

Aaron Golub, a Portland State University professor of urban studies and planning, offered his perspective on the Southwest Corridor project — a proposal currently in the federal environmental review process that would implement a light rail line from Portland to Tigard — and its effects on affordable housing at a Hillsdale Neighborhood Association meeting on Thursday, Feb. 7.

Golub was a professor at Arizona State University for eight years and studied a similar light rail project in Phoenix. He noticed that real estate brokers increased housing prices immediately after the project was announced and costs continued to skyrocket as the project came closer to fruition.

"If you're an owner, it's going to be good. If you're a renter, it could be bad. On the other hand, it could lower your transportation costs and give you more flexibility," he said.

However, Golub said housing affordability wasn't addressed to a large extent prior to the project's implementation, and that Portland has and could continue to implement regulations and investments to provide affordable units within a sea of valuable real estate.

Golub championed the federal grant Metro received to assess the light rail's impact on housing. And some of the $258 million affordable housing bond approved by the City could also foster equitable investment, he said. Tenant protections such as no-cause eviction, as well as inclusionary zoning to force developers to add affordable housing units to new developments, would also help, according to Golub.

"That grant will enable them to effectively inventory some of the housing to track the market," Goulb said. "If you don't keep track of things, then it gets away from you."

In addition, Golub said, the project might not increase housing prices as much as some think because of the existing bus line in Southwest Portland.

"This area will become more desirable. But to push back on that, your bus service is already so good to downtown that I question whether there will be that much of an impact up the hill here from MAX," Golub said. "But there is a cachet in the real estate market to having a line nearby that's not in this neighborhood but pretty close."

He described the Southwest Corridor as a good project, but maybe not good enough for the federal government to approve funding quickly — especially considering the total allotment of funding for transportation projects has receded. Therefore, he said, the Southwest Corridor project might take a while to be built.

"That could put the project at risk of not receiving funding for many years. The impacts you're worried about, they may not go into effect for 15 years," he said.

Golub hinted that the Southwest Corridor project could contribute to the City's push to add more density.

"Cities tend to look to these big investments to inspire changes in density and zoning, even though you really don't need them to up-zone like that," Golub said. "If they want more density or affordable housing, they could do that without the MAX. The bus can carry a lot of people. But they tend to use it as an excuse or a catalyst to then inspire more urban development."

However, Golub said the City of Portland has done a better job dealing with its housing crisis than cities facing similar challenges, such as Seattle and San Francisco.

"There's no silver bullet, but I would say that Portland, in my experience, has been one of the most proactive communities," he said. "We're far from the affordability crisis of the Bay Area or Seattle. We're not even close."

In a more abstract note, Golub said he recently visited Japan, which has a more centralized planning structure in which local areas have little say in the policymaking process. In Portland, he said, residents are witnessing the benefits and drawbacks of the American political system.

"They're assuming (in Japan) that the benevolence for the planning process is going to deliver benefits. And with the system of trust they have, it arguably does deliver quite a lot of benefits. There are tradeoffs," he said. "We have to navigate all these intertwining webs of planning processes and decision-making processes and hearings and environmental reviews and draft documents and final documents. There are constant benefits to all this."

Contact Connection reporter Corey Buchanan at 503-636-1281 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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