Oregonian Editorial Board sounds alarm on State decline data

By Taxpayers Association of Oregon

The Oregonian ran a hard hitting Editorial this weekend, exceptional observations, here is a sample,

“…. Census figures show that about 16,000 more people left Oregon than moved in from July 2021 to July 2022. It’s the first decline for Oregon since the 1980s when the nation was engulfed in a recession, as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Jamie Goldberg reported. And the news is even worse for Portland, once the darling of national media. The census shows that Multnomah County lost more residents in the past two years nationwide than most every other county of its general size. While Seattle’s King County saw more people moving there in 2022 after a dip in 2021, Portlanders are continuing to leave.

…The state depends on population growth to fill jobs, provide tax dollars for public services and inject the energy and perspectives that build thriving neighborhoods and communities. A stagnant or declining population instead dictates a future of cuts and diminished opportunities that can lead to even more people moving out. As student enrollment drops, which schools should a district close? As tax dollars dry up, what services should a county health department cut? These are the kinds of questions that no community wants to have to answer.

As Goldberg’s story noted, Oregon’s massive housing shortage may be the biggest factor driving the population loss – a problem that will take years to rectify. Gov. Tina Kotek has made housing one of her biggest priorities, recently signing a $200 million package of housing-related investments. Additionally, her Housing Production Advisory Council is hitting the right notes on how to remove barriers to more construction, including recognizing some values, such as public process and sustainability, may need to take a backseat to the imperative to build, as OPB’s Tiffany Camhi reported.

But the task force’s recommendations aren’t due until December and the housing package focuses primarily on preventing homelessness rather than generating new units. The state should look to partner now with individual cities or communities that can pilot new permitting processes, suspend non-essential requirements, assess projects in the pipeline to accelerate production and try out ideas that task force members have already proposed. Oregon needs to focus on getting more units built as soon as possible.

On homelessness, the governor and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson have in the past given their general support to a proposal by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to create a large, sanctioned encampment where homeless people can live and access services. But they have yet to provide the money and collaboration to help make it happen. Such little progress on both increasing housing and curbing unsanctioned camping is particularly frustrating, considering the state saw one of the biggest increases in its homeless population in the country from 2020 to 2022. Letting people live in the elements – many of whom suffer from untreated mental illness or substance addiction – without access to services and at greater risk of homicidal violence isn’t compassionate. Nor does it consider the justified frustration among residents over a declining sense of safety and weariness over the campers, tents and trash that have taken over sidewalks, trails and parks.

The proliferation of drug use and increasing overdose deaths also demand a stronger response from law enforcement to shut down drug dealing, and from the Oregon Health Authority to develop a more strategic approach. We cannot Narcan our way out of the opioid crisis. While providing lifesaving interventions like naloxone is necessary, we need more addiction treatment and recovery programs in every community as well as a better way of getting people to seek help. House Bill 2513, sponsored by Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, offers several promising fixes to flaws in the administration of Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs and redirected funds to addiction services. But the approach to getting people to seek treatment in the first place remains too hands-off. Oregon does not have to recriminalize drug possession, but the current program lacks the targeted pressure that has been effective with many court-run drug-diversion programs…”