Portland to pay people to stop fleeing the city?

Portland schools lose more students. There’s a 20% reduction in the past decade. Only 20% of the people who live in Portland have kids in the schools and now the City of Portland is asking what it can do to keep the people in the city–the same people they’ve systematically disaffected by making the city les attractive to working families. Who’s left? Old schoolers? Liberals? Does this mean they want the Reagan Republicans back? Maybe. But here’s the story, now the city wants to pay people to stay or lure them back with rent subsidies, mortgage subsidies and underwriting mortgages through the PDC. Find the big plan by Erik Sten here.

How did they let this happen?

By siphoning money from the general fund to pay off their union pension plans By skimming money that would have gone to the schools, fire and cops to go to urban renewal plans, or, as I like to call it, "The Homer Williams full employment Plan." By its anti car culture by making it untenable to drive thus making little Susie’s trips to ballet, spanish, or art after school (since the schools can’t afford that stuff anymore) too difficult–try carpooling, grocery shopping, and after school activities on a bike with your kids. By making inner city housing too expensive through urban renewal and the urban growth boundary restricting supply of land Now, after all that (plus undoubtedly many more) the coupe de grace is this: they’ve reduced themselves to having to pay people to stay.

By the way the other thing you might want to take a look at in THIS DOCUMENT calls for a take over of the schools.

This article was reprinted with permission from Victoria Taft’s excellent blog located here. Please visit.

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Posted by at 07:51 | Posted in Measure 37 | 24 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Chris

    I read this city plan with much amusement. My wife and I sold our house in Portland last month and moved to sunny Phoenix. We like our new city’s approach to traffic congestion (building more roads) better than Portland’s (telling citizens to drive less). Our taxes are much lower, our unemployment rate is much lower, and our state has a $1 billion budget surplus. We even have a county sheriff (Joe Arpaio) who believes that jail should be an unpleasant place to be. So Portland’s leaders can “vision” all they want–I’ll still be down here relaxing by the pool.

    • Oregon taxpayer

      Taxes lower in Arizona? That’s not what they data say. Try:


      It says Oregon is #43 and Arizona #24 in state and local tax burden as percent of income. Granted, this is not specific to Portland. But it is the overall picture for the two states.

      • Chris

        The table you linked is titled “2005 State Tax Revenue” so I don’t think it includes local revenue. Here’s a table comparing taxes for the largest city in each state:


        On this table, Portland is #6, and Phoenix is #44.

        I can tell you that property taxes are much lower here than what I paid in Multnomah County.

        • Oregon taxpayer

          I had jumped around the tables a bit on that site. The table I referred to with #43 and #24 were from:


          The columns on the right.

          As far as I can tell, it is all state and local revenues “total tax” combined.

          Oregon does have fairly high property taxes and very high income taxes. On the other hand, as we know, it has no sales tax.

          All comparisons I know of the tax burden in Oregon show it on the low side compared to the national average.

        • Oregon taxpayer

          And regarding the CNN table: It does indeed show Portland to be high, largely because of the property taxes. That doesn’t negate the data on Oregon as a whole, but it does highlight that Portland may be out of line.

          On the other hand, property taxes of greater than $4000 for a family of four with only $75,000 income sounds high to me. I don’t live in Portland, my income is greater than $75,000, but my property taxes are about $1000 less than the Portland CNN figure.

          If Portland is really that expensive, my adice to a family of four with $75K income would be to move out of the city, to where it’s cheaper, unless you really love Portland that much.

          I doubt that Portland can bribe such people to stay. It should either try to lower its expenses, or just accept that it’s not going to be a place for middle class families.

  • Abe

    The Housing Authorities (HUD housing) in Longview and Salem are having a huge boost in biz with all the poorh folks with tons of kids fleeing the high rents in Portland.

    This should help the crime rates go down in Portland and Police overtime go up elsewhere.

  • Steven Plunk

    This illustrates the utter worthlessness of modern urban planning.

    Planners upped the density requirements in order to promote public transportation over private automobiles. Families were so turned off by homes with no yards and people piled atop one another they looked to commuter communities for places to live. Now we have more people in cars commuting into Portland. Vehicle miles traveled has not been reduced.

    Planning staffs seem to follow whatever is in fashion as far as how a city should grow. Light rail, high density, social engineering, it all amounts to fighting the free market system of urban growth. Let the people with a true stake in what happens make the decisions one transaction at a time and then have the local government build infrastructure that fits the needs.

    Planning officials instead go to seminars (we pay for) in order to try and outsmart all of us. Slogans like “we can pave our way out of this” is the result. For years we have heard this from planners and ODOT officials. We need more roads and they want us to stay home and not drive. Who governs who in this sort of system.

    Years ago I heard the Planning director for Medford admit that for the last 40 years they got it all wrong but now they have it right. Sure. Now they have it right.

    We would all be better served by dropping government planning agencies and letting the citizens through the free market build our cities efficiently.

    • SoOrCat

      Can you give some examples of cities, in Oregon or otherwise, that have let the market rule? …Houston perhaps comes to mind. My understanding is that it has no zoning. It is certainly not a place that has any appeal to me, none whatsoever. It’s not what I would call an example of urban success.

      I’m not, nor have ever been, a Texan of ANY form, so I’m not “defending home turf”. I’m just trying to figure out what “an example of urban success” might be. Consider:

      Houston, TX 2005 2000 1990
      Population 2,016,582 1,953,631 1,630,553
      Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 Population Estimates, Census 2000, 1990 Census

      Portland, OR 2005 2000 1990
      Population 533,427 529,121 437,319
      Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 Population Estimates, Census 2000, 1990 Census

      Cities with 100,000 or More Population in 2000 ranked by Population: Percent Change, 1990-2000
      Houston – 15.1% increase
      Portland – 8.9% increase

      Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX Metro Area 5,193,448
      Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA Metro Area 2,063,277

      Portland is the 27th largest city in the US in 1940 to the 30th largest in 1990…Houston goes from 21st largest in 1940 to the 4th largest today.

      Let’s see…a MUCH bigger city that’s growing at roughly twice the rate…but it’s not a “success”? It’s amazing how less governmental interference causes such “failures”! 😉

      • Oregon taxpayer

        Cancer grows fast, too. There are plenty of third world cities that are growing faster than Houston, too. Growth per se does not count in my book as urban “success”. Economic success is part of the story, but not all.

        Another thing: you have to look at the whole metro area, not just within the city limits. You can have cities with huge boundaries (Texas) and cities with truncated boundaries — Boston comes to mind.

        How many square miles in Houston proper? How many in Portland?

        • SoOrCat

          True…economic success is not the whole story – but it’s the paper that the REST of the story is written on.

          I’m unsure of what geographic size “proves”, except whether a city is able to annex or not, but here are the figures you asked for:

          According to the United States Census Bureau, Houston has a total area of 601.7 square miles (1,558.4 km²) — 579.4 square miles (1,500.7 km²) of it is land and 22.3 square miles (57.7 km²) of it is water. The total area is 3.7 percent water.

          According to the United States Census Bureau, Portland has a total area of 145.4 mi² (376.5 km²). 134.3 mi² (347.9 km²) of it is land and 11.1 mi² (28.6 km²), or 7.6%, is water.

          The point is that the two cities were essentially equal in population 60 years ago, but – despite what most people would call “a large advantage” in weather – Houston has lost sight of Portland in its proverbial rear-view mirrow in growth, while Portland is losing so many couples with children that a recent study found that Portland is now educating fewer children than it did in 1925.

          The basic idea that government, not individuals, knows “what is best” is a highly-debatable one. Houston leans one way, Portland the other, and long-term residents of either city would probably find the other city “odd”. Families are voting with their feet, though, and Portland’s approach is losing in that election.

          • Oregon taxpayer

            The point about geographic size is that a small inner city (Portland now, Boston a long time ago) can become “mature” and stop growing, while the surroundings (suburbs in the case of Portland, Boston; the larger urban boundary in the case of Houston) can continue to grow.

            Or take New York. The innermost borough, Manhattan is about 25 sq. mi. — about the size of Boston, as I recall.

            It has probably been losing population for a century — at one time it had 3 million or so people, now it has half that.

            You probably wouldn’t want to raise a family there unless you were really well off or really poor.

            But it would be hard to say that New York — Manhattan — was a flop in the twentieth century. And I’d bet it will be the leading American city of the 21st century too.

            Whatever the merits or failings of Portland’s government, it’s hard to see that the Portland metro area has been a failure. It’s growing plenty fast for most people’s taste, I would wager.

  • Oregon taxpayer

    I might agree that Portland has not done things very well. At least it does have some urban appeal, though, which is more than I can say for very few Oregon towns and cities.

    Can you give some examples of cities, in Oregon or otherwise, that have let the market rule? How have they turned out?

    Houston perhaps comes to mind. My understanding is that it has no zoning. It is certainly not a place that has any appeal to me, none whatsoever. It’s not what I would call an example of urban success.

  • Brass V

    Chris, I too packed up my family and escaped PDX with a move to Scottsdale, AZ over a year ago. As for lower taxes, there is no comparison. Our household earns more money in AZ, and pays lower taxes (includes Auto registration, Property, Sales and Income Tax) than we did in OR with just property and income tax. Plus, our household income in OR was lower.
    As for the urban social engineering that goes on in PDX, with light rail, urban growth boundary, trams, TOD’s, high density living and no new roads, I got tired of it being crammed down my throat. Those reasons, along with sub-par over funded schools is why we moved. I’ll also throw in the fact that it seems like it rains every GD day there. There is a very slight, I mean slight, movement towards that in metro PHX, but not even close to how extreme it is in PDX. The difference is, in metro PHX, there is moderation. The politicians and planners don’t take the “Our way or No way!” approach to making decisions. This is the opposite of the extreme liberalism that exists in PDX.
    Its commical the PDX City Counsil would even consider adopting Erik Stens plan. Thank God I only have to go for an occasional visit. I will say this, I miss the beer.

    • Chris

      Glad to hear I’m not the only refugee from Portland down here!

  • Captain An-on

    Thoughts to ponder:
    1. building new roads is outrageously expensive. the cost to add more right of way in a city that has very expensive land. the right of way needed to expand the freeways or even roads is amazing. adding a lane of traffic each way requires at minimum 24 feet of pavement, and probably about 8 feet more for sidewalks, utilities etc. any time there is an overpass, underpass, or barrier, the ROW need increases. The time it takes to build a new road, while allowing traffic through, is very high. Repairs the the Broadway bridge took two years. adding one lane each direction at the Slyvin overpass took 7 years. by the time new lanes open, the capacity of the roads are already full due to massive population increases from migration to the city. Pretty much where ever new roads have been built, they are at capacity as soon as they open.

    2. Houston doesn’t have zoning – at least in the downtown. But it does have design requirements which in effect alters the market and does pose restrictions on development. it’s not a tree free market either. nevertheless, Houston is a city of massive congestions, incredibly wide roads that act as barriers to any kind of foot traffic, which helps boost economic development of commercial shops etc. smog is bad. congestion is bad. and the people there are now demanding more mass transit in the form of busses and light rail. Just because it is big does not make it an urban success. i don’t know anyone who would call Houston one of the best places to live, one of the most appealing places, or a high destination location. I hear all those things about portland. it is routinely called one of the best cities in america, politics aside.

    3. We don’t have a sales tax, that will undoubtedly skew our property tax ranking.

    4. while many don’t like small lots, there is an abundance of small lots in the suburbs as well as the city of portland that are selling like hotcakes. Gresham is seeing townhomes and rowhomes built at a rate similiar to those of single family dwellings. Tualatin, Lake Oswego, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Troutdale etc are all seeing increases in small lot homes, townhomes, row homes etc. the increased density is happening everywhere and is selling. Portlands population as continuously grown since the 1990’s. The metro area has continually grown. that is not a sign of families fleeing.

    5. Planning officials and elected officials are the rudder in urban planning agendas. the elected officials steer the planning departments. the planning commissions set the agendas. the beaurocrats work within the system they are given and with the marching orders they have. want change? change the elected officials and commissioners.

    6. letting citizens plan cities would result in chaos. each would have thier own agenda which would conflict with everyone elses agenda. there would be no rhymm or reason to anything, road systems would be out of whack etc. Look at Seattle. Three families built the CBD there and there are three different road grids that all conflict with each other and have caused traffic nightmares since. Citizens would want the narrowest roads possible because giving any more to roads woudl deprive them of thier land. narrow roads = slower traffic, emergency vehicle access problems etc. really, there is a whole slew of problems associated with not having some entity in charge of chohesive planning of streets, design standards etc.

    7. Those who hate the portland model have many other places they can live. such as Vancouver Washington which has accomodated the automobile. They have super wide roads, two interstates and several state highways, no design standards, large lots and a much more free market for land use. people can also move to eastern oregon, sandy, medford, salem, the dalles and hood river.

    8. As much as people on this board hate portland, and the metro area’s politics and movements… truth be told, they are in the big minority. With a majority of the people enjoying portland, its agenda, and what it stands for, the representative democracy will keep that model going. I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

    • Brass

      I agree 100% on your comment #8. As a non-liberal, I felt the only change I could make in PDX was to move far away…

  • Jerry

    The fools who keep using the tax burder charts are completely clueless. The charts cover all people – so if you make more than 60 – 70K AND own property your taxes in Oregon are HIGH – and they are higher than many, many other states. If you are broke, make under 30K, and own no property your taxes in Oregon are not that bad. Averaged out it sounds OK, but believe me, the top wage earners in Oregon are paying a lot of taxes if they own property.

    • Oregon taxpayer

      Jerry, you may be right, but I need to see data, not conjecture. Do you have any?

      I have seen studies purporting to show that the tax poor is actually unfairly skewed against the poor in Oregon. I don’t necessarily buy that, but these studies do have data. I haven’t seen any refutation.

      In any case — Oregon property and income taxes are high because there is no sales tax. The people have been pretty clear that they don’t want a sales tax.

      Tilted against the rich or not, I think we’re stuck with Oregon’s tax system.

      • Anonymous

        The other aspect is that taxes are almost always levied through a gradient system – with the wealthy paying more. its the same with the federal income tax, same with the oregon income tax and it makes sense with those who own land. you own more, you pay more – particurally in gross numbers, and probably in averages. So if the top wage earners are paying a lot in taxes if they own property, well, that’s the the system works, thats the way oregonians want it, and its a fair way. If you own property, you owe taxes on it. if you don’t own property, you don’t owe taxes on it. if you make 80K, you’re going to pay more taxes than if you make 30k – in gross numbes and probably average. the numbers i have seen show oregon not being a high tax state overall. I guess i don’t see the problem Jerry.

  • I see a thread of logic above which essentially says you either have Portland style planning or nothing at all.

    This is a serious problem with the debate. Many conservatives believe in urban planning. I can point to many very conservative cities that have reasonable zoning and planning measures. The conservative critique against Portland isn’t that no planning should take place its that open, fair and consistent planning should take place.

    The problem with Portland’s planning, taxes, and a host of other general city management roles is not whether they should be done at all. It is whether they are doing them honestly and as the voters, be they liberal/conservative or otherwise, would want.

    I personally feel the strong showing of conservative ballot measures inside the city of Portland shows that over 60% of Portland resident voters don’t agree with how the city manages and spends money. The PDC and intensive planning being one of the largest and easiest criticisms.

    Portland goes far beyond the planning of any other city I’ve ever heard of. This is the where the debate should be.

    • Oregon taxpayer

      I think you are right. American city planning has not been very successful. Portland is one of the more appealing American cities, but it is not “world class” in most people’s book, and it seems to have a lot of things going badly wrong.

      What is the way to do cities in the modern age? I don’t know.

  • Dave A.

    I find it pretty laughable that Portland is even considering subsidizing housing. Of course, they aren’t going to find
    many families with kids that will want to live in crackerbox
    apartments or rowhouses with no yard. And that’s what will
    likely be offered them based upon what’s currently being
    built now.
    I see these shitholes being built in my area of Gresham,
    and contrary to what someone posted above THEY ARE NOT
    SELLING FAST AT ALL! I think it should be pointed out that
    I used to own a row house in San Francisco nearly 20 years
    ago. It had a tunnel type garage that could hold two full
    size cars with lots of room to spare, a driveway long enough
    that at least one car could be parked off the street without
    blocking the sidewalk, and a skinny yard that went back from
    the house at least 20 X 60 feet. Compare that to the shitholes
    they are building now with NO DRIVEWAY, NO YARD, and NO
    amenities to speak of. People are starting to wake up to the
    fact that these crackerboxes will ruin nearby property values,
    suck up lots of nearby parking space (since none was built in
    to speak of), and create more congestion than they are
    worth. Even the east county issue of the Oregonian has had
    an article about this. And they are not friendly to families
    with kids. (Not to mention which family has only ONE car
    these days?)

    • Captain An-on

      I know a few real estate friends and they have found that the row houses and town homes sell like hot cakes. even though i agree with you that they are mostly ugly, they still sell because it is what is on the market and what the developers are offering. they are cheaper because they are on smaller lots and more affordable to first time home buyers or empty nesters who can’t afford the 350,000 detached home. I saw that east county article and how the city of Gresham is contemplating putting design standards on them. I think they should. I also think they need to start putting design standards on the tract homes that are popping up all over the metro area. seriously, a subdivision of 100 homes with only 4-5 housing styles? LAME! i’m not aware of anyone who LIKES that, and everyone who ever says anything about it says how much they hate it! design is a big issue that should be revisited by jurisdictions!! one thing that made old neighborhoods great and so desirable is thier unique character of homes.

      I’d mush prefer a San Fran style row home. they have character adn good design elements. but sadly, the developers around here build what they do because they are fast, cheap, banks will quickly loan for them, and people buy them since it is what is available.

      regardless, one of my points above was that small lots are selling fast. even with the crap on them. and that is a fact. the suburbs have the same housing styles going in as portland does (Tualatin, lake oswego, beaverton, hillsboro, gresham, troutdale, even fairview) and they are selling. people keep moving in.

  • Jerry L.

    Victoria is right, Portland area residents are fleeing the city-and based on two important facts. Urban Planning is not being responsive, and Taxes are higher here than elsewhere for similar kinds of service.

    I own property in Arizona and have carefully done tax comparison analysis between Tucson and Portland. Tucson wins easily. If you add in the “dying tax” costs, disparity is even higher. This also applies to other neighboring states.

    Urban Planning has/is creating chaos in the Portland area. The infrastructure needed to make higher density work is not keeping up. We are at least 25 years and more behind in infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, sewers, etc,)

    Review all the blogs and notice how many comments are made from throughout the urban area, and beyond, lamenting the “density factor”:

    the mother-in-law bulding in the backyard;

    the two rowhouses stuffed in the backyard of a 50 ft. wide lot with a existing cottage house in front with a 12 ft. wide access to the rowhouses in the side yard;

    the four story lofts next to a 1 1/2 story modest house;

    the elimination of on-street parking because of condos/rowhouses;

    the endless variances for a project that reduces sideyards and outdoor spaces to 3 ft. or less;

    the skinny houses;

    the TOD housing/commercial space right against lower scale housing neighbors;

    the 325 ft. high condos blocking views’sunlight, creating traffic with no funding for traffic solutions;

    the intrusion into historical neighborhoods with no sensitivity;

    the pace of change that doesn’t allow the digestion that citizens need for change;

    the inequitable application of zoning regulations;

    traffic congestion and poor maintenance of roads and other infrastructure partly due to subsidizing “density” through uber-urban renewal districts throughout the metro area;

    the decline of public education due to the immediate above-urban renewal which has cost public education in the metro area alone of over $45M dollars;

    keep adding to it.

    This is not an argument against “density”, but a call for analysis of how successful it has been and if the citizens are liking the results when we are only 1/3 of the way to METRO’s density goals. And there are other methods to achieve “density” , if that is our only goal, than METRO’s model. When have we had a vote on “density”? We need a reality check now since most of us are experiencing it, even out in Gresham.

    And the Portland metro area is not the only urban area of the state that can consider this matter. Bend/Redmond, Eugene/Springfield; Medford/Ashland; Salem, McMinnville, and even some smaller cities need to be aware of the above. Urban Renewal has become a part of many cities/towns-Wilsonville, coast towns, etc. and are experiencing it’s consequences. It is one of the tools being used to create “density” that is considered the major tool to meet the M100 Statewide Comprehensive Planning Goals.

    This is not a put-down on Planning, State Goals, etc, but asking again for a reality check to see if the citizen’s expectations are being met, and not just the lobbying groups.

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