Going forward staff will reconsider 45,000-per-year population growth estimate

Call rewrite!

When a movie director wants changes made in the script by the screenwriter, that's what she does. When a politician finds out the facts in her stump speech are suspect, that's what she should do.

So it's time for Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty to fix her talking points. Here's what I reported at and in the pages of the April 1 edition of this newspaper after listening to Commissioner Hardesty address members of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association: "Let's talk about the elephant in the room. Our population grew by 45,000 last year and by 45,000 the year before that and it's going to grow by 45,000 this year," Hardesty said. "We will have to change. Every single neighborhood will change. More infrastructure will be built and that's good. More people will be living closer together and some people think that's bad . . . People will continue to move here, so how does the city change? It changes so people at every income level can live wherever they want to."

That's a lot of people. The context of her comment was the debate about overhauling Portland's zoning regulations to allow multi-unit housing (duplexes, triplexes, apartment houses) in more areas of Portland currently zoned for one house on one lot. Backers of the Residential Infill Program (RIP) — and Hardesty is definitely one of them — contend all that future growth needs to be housed in the type of units they're proposing.

Opponents — and most of the people there that night oppose RIP — counter that zoning rules don't need to be changed because there's already plenty of space for new housing. And they challenge the population estimates like Hardesty's claim that "our" population is growing by 45,000 people per year. (See Letters to the Editor)

Should I have checked that 45,000 number before publishing it? In hindsight, yes. So now, better late than never, I reached out to Charles Rynerson at the Population Research Center at Portland State University and asked him if the 45,000 number is solid.

"I believe that the 45,000 figure pertains to the 2016 and 2017 growth of the 7-county Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro MSA. Our 2018 estimates show growth of about 37,000 for the same area, and the flurry of articles last week were in reference to the April 18th release of the Census Bureau's 2018 county and MSA estimates showing growth of just 22,000 for the MSA," he wrote in an email.

To translate, MSA stands for Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes seven counties: Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Yamhill and Skamania. Some people in the audience that night might have thought when Hardesty said "our population," she was referring to Portland's, since it's only the city that would be impacted by RIP. Growth in Portland from 2017 to 2018 was less than 10,000, according to Rynerson's organization.

This isn't just a debate about numbers. It's about using the correct numbers in a debate. What is the correct number? That's debatable. But it sure isn't 45,000 a year.

Lokyee Au is the communications strategist for Commissioner Hardesty. Asked about the discrepancy, she replied in an email, "Thanks for reaching out. The Commissioner is referring to the Portland Metro area, although a recent Oregonian article talks about the rapid increase slowing down," she wrote.

That article cites new census figures for the seven-county area showing growth has slowed down drastically to just over 22,000 people per year around here, meaning in the seven counties.

Asked where the 45,000 number originated, Au referred to Appenix 1a of a report issued by Metro, the regional planning agency, in 2015. Asked if the commissioner will continue to use the 45,000 figure, she said, "In light of the Oregonian article showing it ( the growth rate) going down, we're going to revisit that number. The point still stands, though, that in the last couple of years we've seen between a one and two percent growth rate in the metro area. The bottom line is the population is growing at rates faster than we have housing available."

How will it sound if Hardesty tells the crowd, "Let's talk about the elephant in the room. It's not as big as we thought it was, but it's still an elephant!"

Call rewrite!

Bill Gallagher


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