In his State of the City address, delivered last week before City Club of Portland, Mayor Charlie Hales talked about spending the past two years “righting the ship.”
Financially, the city is stronger than it has been for several years, with commissioners and bureau chiefs now licking their chops over the city’s budget surplus.
But righting the ship means different things to different groups of people, and for many Portlanders, it means correcting the inflated rental and housing market that has left many residents underwater or simply adrift without a home.
This is a familiar issue for readers of Street Roots, who have no doubt read this in our pages in the past. But the crisis of housing continues to build, and an increasing number of middle-income families are feeling the pinch. It is a very real crisis that is harder to reverse with each passing year.
So we’re optimistic with the announcement of some positive plans in the works. None of them are panaceas to the problem, but they show a refreshing effort to get serious about our widening housing deficit.
We applaud the City Council for investing $20 million in housing in North and Northeast Portland to build, repair and preserve much-needed affordable housing for Portland families. By the Portland Housing Bureau’s own assessment, it is nowhere near enough to correct the displacement, past and present in the neighborhood. But it is a start to leverage even greater financial investment in the area.
Other projects are being explored to build small, basic and affordable apartments that give people who are working their way off the streets a place to move into. The tiny house movement also offers a viable housing option for families with children on smaller budgets.
This week, the Portland Housing Bureau — in the budget surplus request process — boldly asked for $7. 2 million — half the total surplus. The other half has already been dedicated to infrastructure maintenance.
The bulk of that request — $5 million — would be dedicated to the Housing Investment Fund to preserve affordable housing in areas at risk of being gentrified. These are the neighborhoods where jobs are created, where public transportation is accessible, where the good schools are located. We should be preserving these neighborhoods for all.
Let the market take care of it, some might say. But in reality, the housing market hasn’t taken care of itself without government manipulation and subsidies for decades. Tax credits, increment financing and similar incentives benefit developers and homeowners. Taxpayers help people get into very nice homes, even second homes, every year.
Meanwhile, the demand for housing assistance continues to increase. Portland’s affordable housing deficit for our poorest residents, according to federal housing and census reports, is more than 20,000 units.
Today we have a very popular city that each year becomes increasingly unaffordable for a growing number of residents. To put our resources and energy into preserving and creating affordability is the right thing to do if we want to still recognize our neighbors 10 years from now. Let’s right this ship.