Racial Equity in Planning: Affordable Housing in the City of Portland

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Providing enough affordable housing has been a main priority for the City of Portland. Numerous housing projects have been initiated by Metro and BPS to tackle this immense issue. In the survey, eight out of twenty-five open-answer responses expressed concern about the affordable housing issue. The Comprehensive Plan recognizes that the racial income gap needs to be closed and provide upward mobility for low-income households in order to build a sustainable city economy (Portland, 2020a). In order to sustain one adult and an infant, at least $36,000 a year needs to be earned in wages, yet twenty-seven percent of Portland households earned less than $36,750 and only 7.5 percent units of the housing stock is affordable to these households. The Portland Plan set a goal to increase existing affordable housing supply to fifteen percent or at least produce 10,000 affordable units by 2035 (Portland, 2020a). Chapter five of the Comprehensive Plan arranged a list of policies to aid in meeting affordable housing goals. Mainly, the plan aims to ensure equitable access to affordable housing, removing disparities that block this access, construct different types of housing, and preserve communities by taking action to prevent displacement (Portland, 2020a). PAALF pointed out that new housing resources must also address racial justice considering African Americans have experienced a large increase in homelessness by forty-seven percent between 2013 and 2015 due to difficulties in finding affordable housing amongst Black households since thirty percent of Black people in Portland are in poverty (Forum, 2017). Chris Smith pointed out that Portland’s affordable housing problem started out in the 1980s when the Federal Government stopped largely investing in public housing and have continuously cut funding since, hindering cities from building a more abundant amount of affordable units. It costs around $300,000 to build one unit, and even with the city putting more money into it, Smith feels that the Comprehensive Plan’s affordable housing goal will not be reached by 2035 (Chirinos, 2020a).

During the interview with Smith, he mentioned various housing projects that the city is currently working on where zoning ordinances have changed to accommodate better housing policies. One was the Affordable housing Project where faith and community-based organizations can offer any available land they have, mainly parking lots, to be used for building affordable housing. In 2010, twelve new affordable units were built on land inexpensively sold by Rivergate Community Church in north Portland (Sustainability, 2020), then in 2017, living Cully (a coalition of four non-profit community development organizations who unite to improve the quality of life for POC and low-income communities) had a conference meeting with five faith-based organizations to discuss affordable housing matters, where more than fifty participants attended and many organizations expressed interested in the cause (Sustainability, 2020). Another big project is the Residential Infill Project. Smith recognized that many cities in the U.S. including Portland, created zoning ordinances with racist intent to exclude POC from those neighborhoods (Chirinos, 2020a). This project updates the single-dwelling zones so that “duplexes and triplexes and quadplexes” (Chirinos, 2020a) can be built in most of these properties while simultaneously accommodating for the rising numbers of households in Portland (Portland, 2020b). The changes in zoning proposed by this project would allow for different types of housing like the duplexes, but also other varieties such as shared housing where residents have their own room but share a kitchen and bathroom (Chirinos, 2020a). The project helps fulfill Policy 5.40 in the Comprehensive Plan as well where different types of housing are encouraged (Portland, 2020a). In Order to give more people the opportunity to live near schools, parks, and jobs at different price ranges, housing type options need to be expanded (Portland, 2020b). However, the affordable housing built to help POC and low-income communities are not helpful if POC still face discrimination when searching for a place to live. The Portland Housing Audit ran undercover testing and found that landlords gave worse treatment to immigrant and non-white renters about twenty-five percent of the time. Immigrants and POC were more likely to be quoted a higher price for rent and security deposit that White renters (Friedman, 2018).

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In February 2017, the City of Portland adopted an inclusionary housing policy where multifamily projects providing more than twenty units had to set aside twenty percent of those units to be affordable (Johnson and Kingsella, 2019). However, this policy seems to have done more harm than good since project permits to build less than twenty units rose after this policy was adopted. Furthermore, from April 2018 to April 2019, out of the fifty-four projects submitted for permit approval, only two were in the urban core and the rest were pushed out away from downtown Portland, meaning, the new units would be away from jobs, public transportation, and other amenities (Johnson and Kingsella, 2019). How can the city incentivize developers to invest into affordable housing when they are meant to profit off these units? At the end of the day, building housing is a business even though it shouldn’t be, plus permit approval in a slow process and the longer developers wait for their permits to be approved, the less money they make and become less motivated to invest in affordable housing (Chirinos, 2020b).

Gentrification and displacement have been exacerbated due to the lack of affordable housing, mostly in North Portland neighborhoods. In the 1990s, Alberta, a popular area in the Albina neighborhood, started being gentrified (Sullivan and Shaw, 2011) and in 2012, Cully started showing signs of gentrification (Bañuelos et al., 2013). Both areas are renowned for their proximity to downtown, public transport, parks, and having amenities at a walkable distance which made it desirable for middle-class White residents (Montgomery, 2016, Bañuelos et al., 2013). Soon, affordable housing started to diminish forcing the low-income and POC residents out to East Portland (Sullivan and Shaw, 2011). Between 1998 and 2001, a wave of new residents moved into NE Portland and properties were remodeled to be sold for a high price leading in the gentrification of long-time residents. The city did little to fix this problem resulting in few vacant homes and affordable rentals available in this area (League, 2015). After an outcry from displaced residents, the city initiated a project to preserve affordable housing in 2001, instead investment went into market-rate housing for new residents and nothing was solved (League, 2015). From this situation emerged the housing Organizations of Color Coalition which helped in building affordable housing (League, 2015). In addition, when Cully was annexed by Portland in 1985, little investment went into improving infrastructure. In 2013, thirty-four percent of Cully’s streets had sidewalks for example, and twenty-four percent of residents lived a quarter mile from a park when the regional average is forty-nine percent (Bañuelos et al., 2013). Once more affluent families started moving in and renovating the neighborhood causing property prices to rise, original Cully households were forced to move out (League, 2015).

As a response to the ongoing housing crisis, Metro, BPS, and TriMet (the local public transportation authority) launched the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy in par with the SW Corridor Light Rail Project, which will be discussed in the next section. The new project aimed to build affordable multi-family apartments, strengthen tenant protection, and provide anti-displacement services (Sustainability et al., 2018). Tenant protection would be provided by rent control ordinances that would add difficulty in evicting tenants (Chirinos, 2020a). The current housing stock in this corridor is fifty-six percent detached single-family, and only twenty to twenty-five percent of Latino and Black households in the corridor are homeowners compared to the rate for White households which is fifty-six percent (Sustainability et al., 2018). The new project will result in eighty-eight percent of the housing stock to be multi-family housing, (Sustainability et al., 2018). which will hopefully decrease the affordable housing disparity.

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Racial Equity in Planning: Affordable Housing in the City of Portland. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/racial-equity-in-planning-affordable-housing-in-the-city-of-portland/
“Racial Equity in Planning: Affordable Housing in the City of Portland.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/racial-equity-in-planning-affordable-housing-in-the-city-of-portland/
Racial Equity in Planning: Affordable Housing in the City of Portland. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/racial-equity-in-planning-affordable-housing-in-the-city-of-portland/> [Accessed 17 Apr. 2024].
Racial Equity in Planning: Affordable Housing in the City of Portland [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Apr 17]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/racial-equity-in-planning-affordable-housing-in-the-city-of-portland/
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