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This April 21 photograph depicts a building under construction on N. Missisippi Ave. Rents in newly constructed buildings fell in 2017 for the first time in years, according to the city’s recently-released State of Housing report – but renters of color are still unable to afford rent in any neighborhood in the city. Photo by A. Davey (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr.
By Christen McCurdy | The Skanner News
Published: 10 May 2018

A new report from the Portland Housing Bureau paints a bleak picture for renters of color in Portland.

The 2017 State of Housing Report, released at the end of April, contains a few encouraging signs – including signs that rents in newly constructed have decreased for the first time since the Portland Housing Bureau started publishing the report in 2015.

It also shows that due to a combination of rapidly rising rents and stagnant wages far below the median for the metropolitan area, African Americans are more likely than other Portlanders to be housing burdened, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent.

“It’s unacceptable. It really is,” said Katrina Holland, executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, which advises and advocates for renters around the state. “The data shows that we as a city have a huge responsibility on our hands to think about the way in which we are crafting policy that  either helps increase a range of choice for families or decreases a range of choice of families.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • Rents rose by an average of 2 percent in 2017. That’s the first time since 2012 that Portland rents have increased by less than 5 percent, and the average rental unit now charges $1,398 -- $31 than the previous year.
  • The average Black house hold in Portland, with a median income of $27,412, cannot afford to rent anywhere in the city without being cost-burdened;
  • Neither can Latino households (with a median income of $38,901) or Native households (with a median income of $28,373) or households headed by single mothers. The average senior household (with a median income of $39,328) can only afford rent in one Portland neighborhood, located in East Portland.
  • Though most neighborhoods saw increases in rent, the average rents stabilized in MLK-Alberta, Interstate, Northwest and West Portland;
  • The number of residents of color increased in almost every neighborhood in the city between 2000 and 2015 – with the exception of MLK-Alberta and the Interstate corridor, which are historically Black neighborhoods where the percentage of residents of color decreased in that period;
  • Communities of color are increasingly concentrated in East Portland and outer Southeast Portland;
  • Rents in some East Portland neighborhoods – including Parkrose-Argay and Pleasant Valley – experienced larger rent increases than the rest of the city;
  • The average senior household can only afford to rent in one Portland neighborhood;
  • Homeownership rates fell in a majority of Portland neighborhoods in 2017, and there are no neighborhoods where low-income Black, Latino, Native American, senior or single-mother households can afford to purchase a home.

The report draws in part from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, according to which the number of Black Portlanders decreased from 41,589 to 35,667 between 2000 and 2015; also in that window, the number of Black Portlanders living in poverty increased from 25.9 percent to 39.1 percent.

According to Shannon Callahan, the housing bureau’s interim director, the city also used CoStar, a proprietary real estate database, to ascertain changes in the housing market, including median rents.

“I think the real takeaway from this is how different renting and homeownership is for White families versus communities of color,” Callahan said.

“For communities of color, Portland is out of reach,” Holland said. She noted that while rents in newly-constructed buildings decreased, the availability of family-sized rentals – those with two bedrooms or more – has not increased in the current apartment construction boom, and prices of larger rentals are increasing, creating a painful squeeze for working families.

Callahan noted the recently passed housing bond requires that 50 percent of new housing units be family-sized units, and said multiple organizations and projects, including the North/Northeast preference policy, as well as Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives’ Pathway 1,000 – which aims to add 1,000 new homes to the Portland area and assist residents displaced from Northeast Portland in finding a new place to live – are working to change the outlook for Portlanders of color seeking housing.

“The work that PCRI is undertaking is probably the largest community project we’ve seen in quite some time,” Callahan said.

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