Mayor Wheeler on How Portland is Addressing Housing Issues

Today I received an email from the office of the Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler. I haven’t been as attached to Mayor Wheeler as I have previous mayors (I miss always seeing Sam Adams around town) but I was excited to see what the 10 things the City is doing to address housing issues. I think we will need a lot more than 10. But it’s a start! Here’s what Mayor Wheeler sent out:

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“Like many cities, Portland, Oregon has had a massive influx of new residents in the last decade. More than 100 people move to Portland every day-and more than 100,000 more are projected to move here over the next 20 years.

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This growth is undoubtedly exciting: Portland is often listed as one of the most desirable places in America to live. Situated in a park-like setting, thanks to the green trees, parks, and the various rose gardens Portland is known for, visitors and new residents alike enjoy our creativity evidenced through our celebrations, our maker culture, and our pioneering spirit. This has created an economic draw for many of our visitors and new residents. The Seattle Times recently called Portland's economy "transformational." Forbes called Portland the best place in America for careers and business.

I'm taking on these challenges. So are mayors across the country. It is our responsibility to grow smart, which we are doing by protecting renters, preserving existing units, and producing new units.

Here are 10 ways Portland is tackling housing-along a spectrum from homelessness to homeownership, and creating affordable solutions along that spectrum. We have focused our efforts on leveraging funding sources, and maximizing strategic investment opportunities:

  1. We are implementing a fee on short-term rental units, including Airbnb, to create additional homeownership opportunities. Because short-term rental companies have a significant impact on the availability of rental units, we are modestly increasing the fee to create a dedicated fund for homeownership opportunities in our gentrifying neighborhoods in our community.

  2. We are leveraging Portland dollars to create 1300 units in five to seven years with a Housing Bond. We are delivering well ahead of schedule on this promise-announcing four projects totaling more than 560 units of permanently affordable housing planned or purchased to date under the Bond only 18 months in. We are also pushing for a constitutional amendment statewide to allow us to leverage our dollars by combining them with private resources to create more housing units.

  3. We are implementing Tax Increment Funding in urban renewal areas- We have over 600 units (and hundreds more on the way) in the construction or permitting process in our urban renewal districts.

  4. We utilize public and private sector partnerships to increase housing opportunities. Portland continues to work with longtime partner Kaiser Permanente, who recently joined Mayors and CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment. Kaiser committed a record $200M into a new community investment fund to preserve and expand affordable housing.

  5. We utilize methods of creating permanent affordability. We continue to partner with our local land trust housing provider, Proud Ground, and our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate to create permanently affordable homeownership opportunities for Portland area residents.

  6. We work with local and state agencies to create funding availability for permanent supportive housing units. This funding opportunity marks the first-time funding to build affordable housing has been bundled with funding for the services residents will need to thrive in that housing. By packaging construction capital and support services funding together for the first time, the City and its partners hope to achieve a minimum of 50 permanent supportive housing units.

  7. We are using a Smart Cities PDX Priorities Framework to ensure our growth is equitable. As the City evaluates new technologies, uses of information, and related partnerships, we must ensure they promote equity, address inequities and disparities in our city, and provide tangible benefits to the people of Portland. We intend to expand this framework into how we approach housing-promoting equity and addressing inequities and disparities in our city.

  8. We are increasing renter protections with an expungement program. The pilot program reduces barriers for those with a criminal record trying to rent homes and increases access to housing opportunities. Those with violations, misdemeanors or low-level felonies are eligible for expungement.

  9. We leverage market rate developments to include affordable housing. The Multiple-Unit Limited Tax Exemption program incentivizes those with market rate developments in the pipeline to include affordable housing units in their projects, so we can more quickly put more affordable housing units on the ground.

  10. We utilize Inclusionary Zoning.  We require any new development of 20 units or more to have affordable housing units included in the development.

We have focused our efforts on leveraging funding sources, and maximizing strategic investment opportunities because I want to ensure that Portland remains a city that is accessible and affordable for everyone. I don't want millionaires to be the only people who can afford to live downtown. I don't want service industry workers to have a two-hour commute. I want a city where we actively create housing options at every income level and for people of all ages.

Portland City Council has consistently voted in favor of more housing despite otherwise important and competing values-and I want to be clear that our efforts have paid off.

Annual production and permitting levels are higher than at any point in the last 15 years. In 2017, there were 14,000 units in the production pipeline, including permits. More than 600 affordable housing units came online in 2017-more than double the number of units in the prior year.

And this year will be another record year. There are currently more than 700 newly affordable units under construction and slated to open in 2018. This will be the largest number of affordable units ever produced by the City of Portland in a single year in modern history.

As Mayor, I will continue to prioritize policies to protect renters, preserve existing units, and produce new units.  

-Ted Wheeler”

So, there are a lot of things in the works, including a lot more affordable units, but what else can we do? I think putting social workers in our public libraries would be helpful! And paying more taxes to have more money to put towards all of these projects, but I’m a Democratic Socialist, so I always think that the state supporting people is a good idea.