Murmurs: Four in Five Portlanders Can’t Afford a House

In other news: Highway critics say tolls could reduce Rose Quarter traffic.

FOUR IN FIVE PORTLANDERS CAN’T AFFORD A HOUSE: It used to be high prices that made Portland housing unaffordable. Now, it’s high prices and rising interest rates. Until recently, a 30-year mortgage (3%) was the best deal in town after a Costco rotisserie chicken ($4.99). What a difference six months make. To cool the economy and tame inflation, the Federal Reserve has been raising rates. As expected, mortgage rates have followed, rising to around 6% for 30-year money. Combined with ongoing price appreciation, mortgage payments have risen by up to 50% in just a few months, says Josh Lehner, an Oregon state economist. He estimates that 168,000 Portland-area households have been priced out of the market. Now, only 1 in 5 can afford to buy a home here, down from an already terrible 1 in 3. Less demand will likely slow the rampant price appreciation that took hold during the pandemic, but without more supply, Portland is likely to remain unaffordable, he says. “Longer term, we know housing demand will be solid given income growth and demographics,” Lehner wrote in his blog June 21. “Oregon needs to see continued gains in new construction.”

HIGHWAY CRITICS SAY TOLLS COULD REDUCE ROSE QUARTER TRAFFIC: Critics of the billion-dollar-plus project to expand Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter are calling on the Portland City Council to negotiate a better deal with the Oregon Department of Transportation before signing on to an intergovernmental agreement. They ask the city to postpone a June 22 hearing and subsequent vote and instead require ODOT to prepare a full environmental impact statement that analyzes the option not to expand the highway and instead implement congestion pricing or tolls on that portion of the highway. While several groups skeptical of the Rose Quarter project were mollified by the addition of freeway caps, environmental advocates remain unconvinced. “Although ODOT has nominally expressed intent to toll the project area as part of the Regional Mobility Pricing Project, it is clearly dragging its feet, and is more interested in widening the freeway than using pricing to manage demand and reduce traffic and pollution,” states a June 20 memo to the City Council from No More Freeways, Allan Rudwick of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, and Mary Peveto of Neighbors for Clean Air. “It’s worth noting that ODOT’s own consultant studies of road pricing indicated that pricing I-5 would be just as effective in reducing traffic as widening the freeway and could save hundreds of millions of dollars.” Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera says: “Everyone agrees that pricing is essential and that it is expected to be in place before the opening of the Rose Quarter project. With the agreement in place, the city will be able to engage and advocate for appropriate environmental study.”

SEATTLE GOES WHERE PORTLAND WON’T: Two months ago, three Portland-area officials up for reelection in the May primary convened an “emergency meeting” to discuss using a portion of the Metro-owned Expo Center as a “safe parking” site for houseless Portlanders living in RVs or cars. They revived a year of discussions between the city and the regional planning agency Metro. Since that meeting, no progress has been made and discussions appear nonexistent. Last year, City Commissioner Dan Ryan declined to spend $1.5 million to rehab a gravel lot offered by Metro, saying it would be a fiscally irresponsible move. But it’s one that another Pacific Northwest city has decided is prudent: On June 21, The Seattle Times reported that the Seattle City Council had approved $1.9 million toward development of an RV park. Metro spokesman Nick Christensen says, “We have no update to the discussions over safe park.”

BECKWITH SENTENCED FOR ROAD RAGE KILLING: Donald A. Beckwith, 31, was sentenced to 17 years in prison last week for the fatal 2020 road rage shooting of LaSalle J. Shakier in Northeast Portland. Beckwith was the lead figure in a WW cover story (“Spare the Jail, Spoil the Child,” May 6, 2014) about Oregon’s juvenile justice system. That story reported that Beckwith had been arrested three times as a juvenile before being shot during a 2007 home invasion. He served time in the juvenile and later adult correctional systems for that crime. In a February 2014 clemency petition Beckwith filed, he wrote, “Since being incarcerated, I’ve had time to prioritize my life and get a handle on my anger. The time I have spent in the Oregon Youth Authority correctional facilities probably saved my life.” But as The Oregonian first reported, he will now return to prison, after pleading guilty to manslaughter.