Research makes the case for preserving them when planning for new transit investments.
Rising rents are no longer news in the Portland metro region. And as greater Portland grows and becomes a more desirable place to live, the need for housing will continue to push housing prices upward.
That’s why the cities of Portland and Tigard are trying to get ahead of this demand as planning continues for much-needed transportation investments in the Southwest Corridor. The two cities are developing a SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy, which will include preserving some currently affordable housing along the corridor as part of a broader housing strategy.
To inform the housing strategy, Portland State University was commissioned to analyze market trends and demographic information across the region and within the SW Corridor. The analysis looks at the trends in apartment sales and rents from 2006-17, focusing on how they affect vulnerable populations — renters who are lower income, people of color and/or with disabilities.
Titled Preserving Housing Choice and Opportunity, PSU’s report focuses on what the authors term “naturally occurring affordable housing” — or NOAH. A shorter executive summary of the report is also available:
“Most low- to moderate-income renters are living in naturally occurring affordable housing,” stated report co-author Lisa K. Bates, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Urban Studies in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. “This is housing that is not subsidized or regulated. It's subject to the market when it comes to rent going up or the building being sold, renovated and leased at a higher price.”
NOAH in the SW Corridor
According to Dr. Bates, there are roughly 11,400 of these lower cost, older rental units along the Southwest Corridor. These units typically are more modest with fewer amenities. Many of them are in buildings with 100 or more apartments.
“The loss of these kinds of units is exacerbating the housing crisis in our region, and preserving their affordability is an important component of a strategy to ensure that the new light rail provides access and opportunity in an equitable way,” Bates said.
Tigard Community Development Director Kenny Asher stated, “Many Tigard residents are in danger of being priced out of their neighborhoods and losing connections with their schools and social networks. The cities of Tigard and Portland are working together with regional stakeholders to find an equitable way to bring much-needed transit to the SW Corridor without increasing housing costs even more.”
Some findings from the report include:
- Ninety-three percent of existing apartment buildings in the SW Corridor are considered naturally occurring affordable housing or NOAH.
- Many apartment buildings in the SW Corridor have been sold in recent years, and the pace is increasing, with sale prices of this type of housing have climbed by 274 percent.
- Two-thirds of NOAH sales in the SW Corridor are in low-income census tracts, and nearly 40 percent are in racially diverse areas.
- Many cities and regions across the nation have developed innovative funding solutions to acquire NOAH and preserve its long-term affordability, some with a specific focus on locations near transit.
“Fortunately, we have promising examples from other cities who have made the holistic investments in both housing and transit,” said Ryan Curren, SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy Project Manager. “Light rail could serve so many households who need good quality transit the most if we can muster the resources to preserve some of this housing near future stations in the Southwest Corridor.
Housing crisis is real for many
Most of the Portland region’s low- and moderate-income residents live in NOAH apartments. Preserving the stock of this type of housing is important for the stability of these low-income renting households as higher income renters move to the area. It is also important to address because the loss of NOAH means a reduced ability for vulnerable populations to access new transit.
Amina Omar, a Somali refugee with four children, speaks from experience. “I first moved to Portland in 2005 and then to Woodburn in 2015, when my family needed more space. When I left Portland, things were much cheaper. Finding a place was easier. Rent was not that bad, but now rent is up in the sky.
“We moved back to SW Portland in May of this year. Nowadays, landlords ask if you make three times the money for rent. Three-bedroom apartments that used to be $1,000 to $1,300 are now $1,700 or more. The rising rents impact families, but if you have assistance like Section 8, that helps a lot. If I had to pay everything on my own, I would have to work three jobs just to survive, and I would have no time left for my children or for myself.”
The City of Portland has responded to the citywide housing crisis by declaring a State of Emergency, which prompted the inception of several programs, projects and land use plans to address the shortage of housing for middle and lower income residents.
One of these initiatives is the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy, which focuses on the area around the proposed alignment for the new light rail line and other public investments from Downtown Portland to Bridgeport Village. With funding and staffing support from Metro, the cities of Portland and Tigard are partnering with community groups and institutional partners to leverage a major public transit project with housing policies and investments so all people — regardless of race, ethnicity, family status or disability — have a range of affordable choices of where to live.
The PSU report provides a deeper understanding of the housing dynamics throughout the region and the SW Corridor. With this new information, staff at the City of Portland and Tigard and advisory group can more accurately plan for and develop an equitable housing strategy for the area, with the goal of preserving as much naturally occurring affordable housing as possible while also creating new housing for residents of all incomes.