As progressive as Portlanders like to believe themselves to be, there’s no issue like population growth and housing to bring out their inner conservative. As the city’s population has surged, established neighborhoods have sought historic designation to guard against change. Homeowners in wealthy enclaves are posting yard signs decrying demolitions. And longtime residents are bemoaning the loss of “neighborhood character” amid the growth.
So it’s not surprising that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is pulled in different directions, trying to calm irked neighbors while laying the groundwork for how the city will absorb new residents. Unfortunately, some of the proposals in the bureau’s draft “Residential Infill Project” – a plan for updating development rules in single-family neighborhoods – lean too heavily on ensuring the comfort of existing homeowners rather than helping create new ones…
But Tracy said the bureau felt it important to continue discussion about the challenges and opportunities that these narrow lots provide. The bureau’s right and deserves both credit and support for being willing to push forward the issue. Because for as much as people want to blame Portland’s housing crisis on greedy landlords or “McMansion” developers or rich California transplants, the problem boils down to the dispassionate laws of supply and demand. There are far too few homes and apartments in the city at far too few affordable price points for far too many people who need them.
I do not think it is easy anywhere in the United States to convince wealthier homeowners that cheaper housing should be built near them. It is one thing to suggest that wealthier residents should pay more taxes or promote affordable housing in the abstract. It is whole other deal to suggest that such homeowners should have to live near those people who need the affordable housing.
Another way to put it: if Portland with its well-known liberal politics and metropolitan planning boundary cannot promote affordable housing, who can?
(A side thought: it would be interesting to hear more from local experts how race plays into this. Portland may be a progressive city but it is also quite white – “the whitest big city in America.”)