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It's a Renters' Crisis.


I was surprised at the lack of demographics available on renters in Portland. It may be that I didn't know where to look or was asking the wrong people. Meanwhile, the other half of the equation, housing units, was also reported as missing.

Recently, the Oregonian wrote an editorial on the total lack of information on housing: "We know we don't have enough housing, but we also don't know exactly how much we have." And they thought a proposed database of buildings -an inventory - is a good idea. Me too. One I might add made better if we understand it is to be integrated with census data and other demographic-based databases so we know where the units and people are by neighborhood. The Oregonian reported the inventory as containing (to start) "basic information - units and addresses." I presume it would give the type of information that allows us to compare Portland's inventory with national numbers like these:

It's not only housing we don't know much about, but renters and that makes understanding the housing situation difficult. For example, getting landlords to address and adopt best practices, as the City's Rental Services Commission is doing, rests on a one size fits all assumption and tends to address the most problematic of renters when it comes to security deposits and rental requirements. If the local numbers are similar it also means that not addressing single-family rentals when making rental rules would be to ignore a significant number of renters, a situation the City Council created then remedied in favor of renters.

There is, however, some information on units and renters by neighborhood in the census data sheets on the ONI website. Prepared by PSU folks, the Community GIS coordinator at the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies says it's information due for a revision in late summer. I think it still gives a snapshot that can contribute to the conversations we are already having on what is a renters crisis around housing - affordability and availability.

First, I'm coming from a marketing background as opposed to a housing or redevelopment one, and coupled with being a lifelong renter my focus is on renters, users in techspeak. It is a consumer relationship as well as a citizen one as renters constitute a large number of constituents and government plays a major role in housing.

As consumers and citizens, a lack of basic information about the product,

the producers of the product, and the users in a marketplace known for its volatility - real estate - is a key element of the havoc being created within our community up and down the supply chain from increases in homelessness to an increase in luxury apartments to a decrease in below market subsidized housing a.k.a. affordable housing.

Who's at the controls anyway?

From a marketing point of view we don't know where to begin to answer that question:

  • what or where the product is located, especially the "affordable" product;

  • what's in the pipeline?

  • are we easing the backlog?

  • what is the relationship of the pipeline to the needs of buyers in terms of pricing and configuration - single vs. family, income levels, race, gender, age.

  • who are the buyers, except, as a rule, what we know based on income data, they are most likely to be living on fixed-income, or unable to work, or work in low paying jobs, with many a step away from being homeless. All major racial and ethnic groups were more likely to rent in 2016 than a decade earlier; way too many people are priced out of the market completely (homeless); and those under 35 are renting, not buying homes until much, much later, if at all.

Using 2010 Census Data parsed by neighborhood I did come up with some numbers. There are nearly 250,000 renters in Portland and since 2010 there has been a growth in rental units. I think it's a fairly reliable number so I'm going to share more information from these reports.

This is information I learned from what is out there on the ONI website.

Over 40% of Portlanders are renters and renter occupied units ring in at 43%.